The first DAYTONA 500 at Bill France Sr.’s newly constructed 2.5-mile tri-oval superspeedway took place on February 22, 1959. Famously, the race ended in a three-wide photo finish with Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp seemingly in a dead heat for the win. While the on-the-spot unofficial decision went to Beauchamp, after examining photos – including T. Taylor Warren’s signature image – NASCAR reversed the decision to give the victory to Petty by a margin of approximately two feet.
After coming close to a DAYTONA 500 victory in many of his previous 19 career starts, Buddy Baker finally went to Gatorade Victory Lane in 1980 as he won “The Great American Race” in record fashion. He dominated the race from the pole position, leading 143 laps in his No. 28 Oldsmobile nicknamed the “Gray Ghost.”
The following year, Richard Petty capped his DAYTONA 500 dominance by winning the race for the seventh and final time in his historic career. The victory was notable for the strategy utilized by Petty's crew chief Dale Inman. With 24 laps to go and on Petty's final scheduled pit stop, Inman chose not to change any tires and only took on fuel, which allowed Petty to beat Bobby Allison across the line by 3.5 seconds.
Despite the second-place finish in 1981, Allison came back stronger the following year, claiming his second career DAYTONA 500 victory.
In the 25th running of the DAYTONA 500, Cale Yarborough pulled off a last-lap pass of Buddy Baker, making Yarborough only the second driver ever to capture three DAYTONA 500 victories. However, Yarborough didn’t stop there, winning again in 1984 after earning the pole for a record-tying fourth time -- this time with a record speed of 201.848 mph.
Two of the next three years saw the emergence of Bill Elliott as he won the DAYTONA 500 in 1985 and 1987 for Melling Racing and earned the moniker, “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.” Despite his success in the actual race, it’s his 1987 qualifying lap that will live on. The 210.364 mph lap set the record for fastest qualifying lap, a record which still stands to this day.
Sandwiched between Elliott’s victories was Geoff Bodine leading 65 laps and delivering owner Rick Hendrick his first of eight DAYTONA 500 wins.
The decade’s final years came to a close with plenty of excitement. The 1988 DAYTONA 500 saw the only 1-2 father-son finish in race history as Bobby Allison edged out his son Davey. On the final lap in the final turn, Bobby went high and Davey ducked low; however, he wasn’t able to pull off the pass. In 1989, on his 17th attempt at winning the DAYTONA 500, driving the No. 17 car, Darrell Waltrip and crew chief Jeff Hammond played fuel strategy to perfection to give Waltrip a seven-second victory over Ken Schrader. In Gatorade Victory Lane, Waltrip danced the “Ickey Shuffle,” which would become one of the most memorable moments in DAYTONA 500 history.
2 – Bobby Allison (’82, ’88), Cale Yarborough (’83, ’84), Bill Elliott (’85, ’87)
• The 1980s are just one of two decades in which three different drivers won multiple DAYTONA 500s.
• In 1981, Richard Petty became the only driver to win the DAYTONA 500 in three different decades.
• In 1988, Bobby Allison became one of only five drivers to have won three or more DAYTONA 500s.
• Cale Yarborough’s 1984 DAYTONA 500 pole win marked the first time a car qualified at DIS at more than 200 mph (201.848 mph).
• Bill Elliott’s three consecutive poles from 1985-87 tied the 24-year-old record set by Fireball Roberts in 1961-63
• Bill Elliott set the DAYTONA 500 qualifying record with a speed of 210.364 mph. In fact, this stood as the fastest lap ever at DIS until when Colin Braun turned a lap of 222.971 mph in a Daytona Prototype sports car in October 2013.
What was your favorite moment from the DAYTONA 500 during the 1980s? Let us know by leaving us a comment below! Be a part of the next chapter of history by attending the 59th running of the DAYTONA 500. Tickets are on sale now and going fast! Buy now or call 1-800-PITSHOP for tickets and information.