The first summer race at Daytona International Speedway was called the Firecracker 250 – the forerunner of the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola – and held on July 4, 1959. The race ran its scheduled 250 miles with no caution flags. Daytona Beach native Fireball Roberts won in dominating fashion, leading 84 of 100 laps and beating runner-up Joe Weatherly by 57 seconds.
Moving decade-by-decade, we take a look at the succeeding 56 years of Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola history.
While the decade started with Cale Yarborough becoming the first driver to win consecutive poles for the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola, the 1970s belonged to David Pearson.
In what was the most dominant stretch of any driver in the history of the event, Pearson, the event’s all-time leader in victories, won a record four times in the decade including three consecutive years (1972-74).
Pearson’s 1974 win stands among his most exciting performances. After leading at the white flag, Pearson slowed his 1973 Mercury, allowing Richard Petty to pass and jump out to a substantial lead. The unusual move was fueled by Pearson’s confidence in drafting – he preferred to be the driver trailing and then passing via the superspeedway “slingshot” maneuver rather than trying to hold off Petty from the lead position. As planned, Pearson passed Petty on the final turn of the final lap.
The 1974 race was also notable in that it resulted in the only recorded tie in NASCAR history ( Buddy Baker and Cale Yarborough tied for third place) and had 49 lead changes, (a race record that stood until 2011).
In 1975, in his 17th attempt, five-time DAYTONA 500 Champion Richard Petty finally won at Daytona International Speedway in July. Petty returned to Gatorade Victory Lane just two years later in 1977, further cementing his status as a DIS legend.
The 1977 race was notable in that there were three female drivers in the lineup: Lella Lombardi, Christine Beckers and Janet Guthrie.
In 1978, Pearson collected his final victory at DIS, becoming the only driver to win the Independence Day weekend event five times. He also became the winningest driver at Daytona International Speedway until Richard Petty reclaimed that status with his victory in the 1979 DAYTONA 500.
Neil Bonnett’s 1979 victory closed out an extremely successful decade for the Wood Brothers with the No. 21 car making five trips to Gatorade Victory Lane in the midsummer classic over the 10-year span.
Most Wins of the Decade
4 (’72 -’74, '78) - David Pearson
2 (’75, ’77) - Richard Petty
- Bobby Isaac, the 1971 winner, set a record with a starting position of 21st, which stood as the furthest back any winner had ever started until 2003.
- David Pearson, who holds a record five wins in the event, claimed his first victory in 1961.
- Thanks to David Pearson and Neil Bonnett, the Wood Brothers won a record five times in the 1970s, helping to make them the winningest team team in event history.
- Mercury led all manufacturers with five victories in the decade
- The average speed in 1979 was an event record 172.890 mph.
- After five previous DAYTONA 500 victories, 1975 marked Richard Petty’s first at DIS in the summer
- In 1970, pioneering African-American driver Wendall Scott made his final start in the event.
- University of Florida Head Football Coach Doug Dickey, Honorary Starter for the 1971 race, became the first football coach to be named Grand Marshal or Honorary Starter at the Fourth of July event.
What was your favorite part of the Coke Zero 400 during the 1970's? Let us know by leaving us a comment below! Be a part of the next chapter of history by attending the 2016 Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola -- the first in the newmotorsports stadium. Tickets are going fast! Buy now or call 1-800-PITSHOP for tickets and information.