Richard Petty will be enjoying his 80th birthday over Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola Weekend. In order to get the celebration of “The King” started early, we’ll spend the next month recalling some of the memorable Daytona International Speedway moments in the career of the seven-time DAYTONA 500 champion.
1959 DAYTONA 500
While Richard Petty isn’t the first name that comes to mind when fans think of the inaugural DAYTONA 500, the race played a seminal role in laying the groundwork for the next 20 years of dominating DAYTONA performances for “The King”.
The first DAYTONA 500 at Bill France Sr.’s newly constructed 2.5-mile tri-oval superspeedway took place on February 22, 1959. 21-year old Richard Petty, who started in a promising sixth position, had to retire from the race with an engine problem after just eight laps. He earned only $100 for his 57th-place performance.
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.
Clearly, the younger Petty watched carefully on the next 192 laps as his father masterfully maneuvered through the field as Richard would go on to finish in third place the following year – just one spot ahead of his defending champion father. It would only be another few years until Richard captured his first of seven DAYTONA 500 victories in 1964, well on his way to becoming NASCAR’s most accomplished driver.
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