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.
NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison opened the decade by claiming the final victory for Mercury in NASCAR, with his six car length victory over David Pearson. Allison’s Mercury was joined in the top six by five Oldsmobile’s. In only his third summer race at DAYTONA, Dale Earnhardt began what would be a long and distinguished career at DIS as he claimed his highest finish ever (third), while leading a career-best 44 laps.
1981 saw Cale Yarborough claim his fourth and final July 4 victory at the World Center of Racing, cementing him as a legend with the second-most wins in event history. In only his second career race at DAYTONA, Kyle Petty did his family’s racing dynasty proud with an impressive sixth-place finish – right behind his father Richard’s third-place finish. The race was notable for the fact that usually strong performers Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt, Ricky Rudd, Benny Parsons and A.J. Foyt all finished below 30th.
While Bobby Allison claimed another victory in 1982, on his way to a second-place finish in the overall series standings that year, the 1983 race was the final career win for beloved NASCAR legend Buddy Baker, who added to a resume that included the 1980 DAYTONA 500.
The 1984 race stands as perhaps one of the most significant moments in DIS history as it helped push NASCAR into the mainstream of national consciousness. President Ronald Reagan, the first sitting President to attend a NASCAR race, gave the starting command from Air Force One, and then witnessed Richard Petty claim his 200th and final career victory.
After he took the white flag for the win, Petty made his way to the press box to greet the President, who congratulated “The King” on his historic win. The moment, a NASCAR classic, was followed up by the timeless image of the two men sharing a barbeque dinner in celebration of the Fourth of July holiday.
The next year, virtual unknown Greg Sacks shocked the motorsports world by becoming the third driver to score his first (and only) career victory with a most surprising win in the Independence Day weekend classic.
Tim Richmond claimed his only victory at DIS in the 1986 race, in what would amount to 12 career starts at the track on the course of the 1980s.
While 1985 put Bill Elliott on the map, 1988 was the year in which he emerged to win not only the 1988 Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola, but the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
The Allisons (Bobby and Davey) kept things in the family toward the end of the decade, bookending 1988 winner Bill Elliott with wins in 1987 and 1989, respectively.
Most Wins of the Decade
3 (’80 -’82, '87) - Bobby Allison
- The 1980s became the first decade without a consecutive race winner
- A record seven different drivers won the race in the 1980s
- Greg Sacks is the only winning driver in event history with only one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory
- Cale Yarborough set a record for most pole wins in a single decade with four (1980-81, 1983-84).
- Before Buddy Baker’s win in 1983, he started a record 21 times before finally winning.
- After his final race at DIS in 1998, Cale Yarborough held the record for most career laps led in the event (644) – a mark that still stands today.
- From 1980-2009, the 40 lead changes in 1980 would be the most in any DIS summer race
- The 1986 race was notable in that Richard Petty became the first driver in NASCAR history to log 1,000 career starts.
What was your favorite Coke Zero 400 moment during the 1980'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 new motorsports stadium. Tickets are going fast! Buy now or call 1-800-PITSHOP for tickets and information.
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