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 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.
Moving over the next six decades, we take a look at the other 59 years of DAYTONA 500 history.
The 1960 race saw the largest-ever field with 68 cars competing. Junior Johnson cemented his place in DAYTONA 500 history driving a car that owner John Masoni had crew chief Ray Fox put together in just seven days. Johnson made use of a little-understood phenomenon at the time, the draft, which he claimed allowed him to run 20 mph faster.
In the 1961 race, Marvin Panch was running third with just a handful of laps to go before both Banjo Mathews and Fireball Roberts blew their engines. Roberts had led a then-record 170 total laps prior to the mishap that would allow Panch to take the lead and the victory. Panch used his winnings to purchase a home in the Daytona Beach area.
The following year, Fireball Roberts would lead 144 laps en route to victory in 1962, which made him the only winner of the DAYTONA 500 to be born in Daytona Beach.
1963 DAYTONA 500 champion Tiny Lund wasn’t even scheduled to run in “The Great American Race;” however, after a last-minute recommendation from an injured Marvin Panch – whom Lund heroically pulled from a burning car just 10 days earlier – the 34-year-old was tabbed by the Wood Brothers to drive the No. 21. In a major surprise, Lund went on to win the race and was awarded the Carnegie Medal of Heroism for his actions earlier that week.
“The King,” Richard Petty, became the first driver to win multiple DAYTONA 500s with his 1964 and 1966 victories. Another driver wouldn’t accomplish that feat until 1968 champion Cale Yarborough won his second DAYTONA 500 nine years later. Through 2016, only 11 drivers have won two or more Daytona 500s.
In 1965, Fred Lorenzen won the first ever rain-shortened DAYTONA 500, which lasted 133 laps out of 200. With possible weather looming, Lorenzen elected not to stop to refuel late in the race, and was able to edge Marvin Panch for his only DAYTONA 500 win. More history followed in 1967 as Mario Andretti led 112 of the 200 laps to capture his first and only NASCAR victory, the first open-wheel driver to do so.
The final two years of the decade saw victories claimed by Cale Yarborough and LeeRoy Yarbrough, respectively. Yarbrough and Yarborough were running 1-2 for much of the 1968 race, but with five laps to go Cale made a successful slingshot pass in Turn 3 to take the lead from LeeRoy, one which he would never relinquish. LeeRoy rebounded the following year as he scored the victory on a last-lap pass of Charlie Glotzbach off of Turn 4 to take the checkered flag by one car length.
2 (’64, ’66) – Richard Petty
• Fireball Roberts qualified on the pole for a record three-straight DAYTONA 500s (1960-62) – a record that only Bill Elliott (1985-87) and Ken Schrader (1988-90) have matched.
• Three drivers – Roberts in 1962, Petty in 1966, and Yarborough in 1968 - took the checkered flag from pole position.
• Ford led all manufacturers with four victories in the decade (1963, 1965, 1967, 1969).
• Both Tiny Lund (1963) and Mario Andretti (1967) earned their first NASCAR Cup Series wins in the DAYTONA 500, with Andretti’s victory serving as his only career NASCAR Cup Series win.
• Richard Petty’s 1964 victory made the Petty family the first family to be able to claim multiple DAYTONA 500 wins following his father’s inaugural 1959 win.
• Mario Andretti remains the only foreign-born driver to win “The Great American Race.”
• In 1968, Dave Marcis began a record streak of 32 consecutive starts in the DAYTONA 500.
• In 1964, Richard Petty led for 184 laps of 200, a mark that still stands today.
What was your favorite moment from the DAYTONA 500 during the 1960s? Let us know by leaving us a comment below! Be a part of the next chapter of history by attending the 60th running of the DAYTONA 500. Tickets are on sale now and going fast! Buy now or call 1-800-PITSHOP for tickets and information.