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 nearly six decades and 57 years of history in the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola.
DAYTONA Doubles After Fireball Roberts won both the DAYTONA 500 and Coke Zero 400 in 1962, Cale Yarborough and LeeRoy Yarbrough closed out the decade in historic fashion with each claiming a DAYTONA Double. It remains the only time in history that the feat has been accomplished in back-to-back years.
Medal of Honor Tradition In 1969, Bill France Sr. began a proud tradition by inviting all surviving Medal of Honor recipients to DIS for the 4th of July weekend extravaganza. DAYTONA’s strong relationship with the military continues today as three Medal of Honor recipients will be in attendance for the 2017 Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola.
Pearson Dominance 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).
1977 Breakthrough 1977 proved to be an exciting landmark as three women lined the starting grid– the first in event history. The talented trio included Italian Formula One driver Lella Lombardi, 24 Hours of Le Mans regular Christine Beckers and Janet Guthrie, who still holds the highest points finish of any woman in NASCAR history.
Petty & The President The 1984 race stands as 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 U.S. President to attend a NASCAR race, delivered the starting command from Air Force One, and then witnessed Richard Petty claim his 200th and final career victory.
Unbelievable Upset Virtual unknown Greg Sacks shocked the motorsports world in 1985 by becoming the third driver to score his first (and only) career victory with the most surprising win in the history of the Independence Day weekend classic. To this day, Sacks is the only winning driver in event history with only one career victory
Dale Earnhardt’s First Prior to his 1990 Coke Zero 400 victory, Dale Earnhardt had never won a points race at DAYTONA. He finally broke through with a win in the mid-summer classic and went on to win his fourth series championship that same year. After that victory, Earnhardt recorded top-10 finishes in nine of his final 10 Coke Zero 400s, including another victory in 1993, and became DAYTONA’s all-time winning driver.
October Night Racing Originally scheduled to be held on July 4 as the inaugural night race in DAYTONA history, the 1998 race was postponed until October due to widespread wildfires in Central Florida. Jeff Gordon solidified himself as DAYTONA great by becoming the first Coke Zero 400 champion under the lights.
Smoke’s Show Starting in 2005, Tony Stewart set a new standard for modern-era greatness, winning three of the decade’s final five Coke Zero 400s. His back-to-back victories in 2005 and 2006 made him the first consecutive winner in the event since David Pearson in 1973 and ‘74.
The Closest Jamie McMurray clinched a thrilling victory in the 2007 Coke Zero 400 as he nipped Kyle Busch at the start/finish line by a margin of .005 seconds, the closest finish in the Independence Day weekend classic since the advent of electronic timing and scoring.
Harvick-Kahne Duel The decade began with a bang as Kevin Harvick edged Kasey Kahne to the start/finish line by .092 seconds to capture a nail-biting green-white-checkered finish, giving him the distinction of being the last driver to win before the latest repave of Daytona International Speedway.
Dale Jr.’s Second Win 2015 saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. in top form as he led 40 of the race’s first 80 laps and a race-high 96 total laps en route to the 16th DAYTONA victory of his career. His second Coke Zero 400 victory along with his two DAYTONA 500 victories solidified him as one of the most prolific drivers ever at DAYTONA and the third most overall wins in DIS history.
What is your favorite decade in Coke Zero 400 history and why? 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.