NASCAR Hall of Fame announcement fuels memories of 1979 Daytona 500

 
1979 Daytona 500 fisticuffs / Headline Surfer
YouTube download / NASCAR video / Below, Highlights of the 1979 Daytona 500 won by Richard Petty and the fisticuffs that ensued after the finish between Cale Yarborough and the Allisons, the latter illustrated in the photo at left as well. This was the first Daytona 500 broadcast live on television. Ken Squier of CBS Sports called the race. 
 
By HENRY FREDERICK
People, Places & Things
Headline Surfer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- When I was a kid growing up in Connecticut, I looked forward to two races every year on TV: The Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. My favorite race was the 1979 Daytona 500: Cale Yarborough was battling for the lead on the last lap when he and Donnie Allison got tangled up and both cars flew into the infield. Allison's brother, Bobby, joined in on the fisticuffs.

This is what got me wanting to move to Florida after graduating from college, though I went to New York first where I worked as a metro reporter for the Journal News in Rockland County. In 1996, I moved to Florida as a reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal, and the following year saw my first live race at Daytona International Speedway.

I've been to every race since then with the exception of 2005-'08.At the end of 2004, I was hunting for a new journalism job and found a new opportunity as city editor of the Taunton Daily Gazette in Massachusetts, sandwiched between Providence and Boston. I would fly back and forth from Orlando to Providence, a job I loved for nearly two years, but I was flying back and forth to my home in Port Orange on most weekends or when I got the rare chance to come home.

Suffice to say, NASCAR was not in the picture.

I moved to New Smyrna Beach in 2008, and that April, launched NSBNews.net. The following year, I resumed going to Daytona International Speedway for the big February race, as well as the Coke Zero 400 in July.

Two years ago, I took my dad and my wife, Sera, to the Daytona 500, firsts for both of them.

I must admit I'm not as much of a NASCAR fan these days. "The Chase" is boring, as is the two-car tandems for restrictor-plate racing. But I was excited Tuesday when the news broke that Cale Yarborough had been inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.

Yarborough was joined by four others: driver Darrell Waltrip, crew chief Dale Inman, nine-time Modified champion Richie Evans and pioneering driver Glen Wood.

Yarborough was my favorite driver when I watched the Daytona 500 on TV as a kid. A lot of the attention was focused on Richard Petty and his flashy race car with the STP emblem on it. But Yarborough was a great driver in his own right, having won 83 races and three consecutive season championships from 1976 to 1978.

As NASCAR likes to point out with its modern-day branding, only Jimmie Johnson's current streak of five titles is longer.

I've never met Yarborough, though I have met Petty, Waltrip, Kyle Petty, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and others at the track over the years. I was at the track in 2001, when Dale Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

Other reporters assigned to the race covered his death, though I was the reporter for the Daytona Beach News-Journal who covered his widow Teresa Earnhardt's civil trial in circuit Judge Joe Will's courtroom at the Justice Center in Daytona Beach, in which she successfully stopped the media from gaining full access to her husband's autopsy photos. The judge did allow a motorsports safety expert hired by the Orlando Sentinel to review the photos in chambers, but not its reporters. 

I've never met Yarborough, though I have met Petty, Waltrip, Kyle Petty, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and others at the track over the years. I was at the track in 2001, when Dale Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

Other reporters assigned to the race covered his death, though I was the reporter for the Daytona Beach News-Journal who covered his widow Teresa Earnhardt's civil trial in Circuit Judge Joe Will's courtroom at the Justice Center in Daytona Beach, in which she successfully stopped the media from gaining full access to her husband's autopsy photos. The judge did allow a motorsports safety expert hired by the Orlando Sentinel to review the photos in chambers, but not its reporters. ​

These days, the only drivers I really follow are Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon and I look forward to seeing them race in July. But those memories of yesteryear with the delayed tapings on CBS of the Daytona 500 are etched in my mind, Yarborough, Petty, David Pearson, the Allison brothers and others. Wow!

My favorite drivers in the Indianapolis 500 growing up were A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, the latter being the only driver to win both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. I haven't been to an Indianapolis 500 race, but you never say never.

My father liked the Daytona 500 race for the atmosphere, but he's not a big fan. Neither is Sera. She loves the NBA and Major League Baseball. When my son, Henry, was little, we'd go to Daytona International Speedway and camp in the infield for the Rolex 24 weekend race, but now at 17, that was many moons ago. He couldn't care less about racing or sports for that matter. He's a cyber geek.

And so I follow racing on my own, though I love to keep up with all sports and sports-related entertainment; translation: professional wrestling. But that's for another blog.

Congratulations to Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and the other NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees.

Column Posted: 2011-06-14 23:15:53

Henry Frederick Picture

Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.