The first race of the 1979 season would unfold at the Riverside Raceway road course in California. There would be 68,000 fans gathering to watch the event unfold. The race was January 14, 1979, and we all know what would happen in racing just over a month later in Daytona that would catapult a national television audience into the world of NASCAR racing. But, let's go back and recall a Sunday afternoon in January, 1979, in California.
David Pearson, once again in the Wood Brothers Mercury, would nail down the pole with a qualifying speed of 113.659 mph. Cale Yarborough in the Junior Johnson Oldsmobile would defend his title from the previous year by starting second. Bobby Allison in the Bud Moore Ford would start third, Darrell Waltrip in the DiGard Chevrolet he had named "Wanda" would start fourth and Benny Parsons in the M.C. Anderson Chevrolet would rumble under the green in fifth starting spot.
The first 30 laps of the scheduled 119 were hotly contested between Yarborough, Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Pearson and Al Holbert before Waltrip was able to put together a lead from lap 31 to 59. On lap 60 Holbert took over again, but Pearson moved him aside two laps later to lead a lap before Waltrip and Wanda came storming back.
Waltrip,Pearson and Yarborough, kept the fans entertained as they traded the lead among themselves through lap 106 when Waltrip took over and had actually opened a lead of more than 15 seconds over the second place fight between Pearson and Yarborough.
The thunderclouds were rolling in over the track as Waltrip was whipping "Wanda" around the twisting track as hard as he could, knowing full well that he had two of the best, Pearson and Yarborough, coming after him. The thunder was booming and, in fact, rain started to fall in the final circuits. Pearson was gaining on Waltrip and Yarborough was driving the wheels off the Oldsmobile and coming on strong. The race completed the full 119 laps, even as the huge raindrops fell on the cars, and Waltrip would win with a 3.27 second lead over David Pearson. Even though Pearson would finish second, it was Yarborough who worried Waltrip. Waltrip said, from Victory Lane, that "the only thunder I heard was that Oldsmobile (Yarborough) behind me". Pearson actually took second place from Yarborough on a last lap pass.
Richard Petty, who was suffering the longest losing streak in his career at 45 races after losing the engine in his Chevrolet on the 14th lap. Uncharacteristic for The King, he was preparing a new Oldsmobile for the upcoming Daytona 500.
Waltrip completed the 500 kilometers at an average speed of 107.820 mph (some of you experts convert that to kmh) and let us know how that equates. There were no caution flags displayed in the race.
1. Darrell Waltrip, DiGard Chevrolet, winning $21,150.00
2. David Pearson, Wood Brothers Mercury, winning $14,200.00 (3.27 seconds back)
3. Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson Oldsmobile, winning $12,675.00
4. Bill Schmidt, Schmidt Oldsmobile, winning $8,800.00 (1 lap down)
5. Donnie Allison, Hoss Ellington Chevrolet, winning $7,550.00 (1 lap down)
6. Joe Milligan
7. Buddy Baker
8. Jim Thirkettle
10. Harry Gant
11. James Hylton
12. Ronnie Thomas
13. Vince Giamforgiaggio
14. D. K.Ulrich
15. Richard Childress
16. Jimmy Insolo
17. J. D. McDuffie
20. Al Holbert
21. Dale Earnhardt
22. Don Graham
23. Harry Goulartte
24. Dave Marcis
25. Cecil Gordon
26. Benny Parsons
27. Frank Warren
28. Don Puskarich
29. Richard White
30. Jim Robinson
31. Don Noel
32. Richard Petty
33. Dick Brooks
34. Neil Bonnett
35. Terry Labonte
Honor the past, embrace the present, dream for the future
updated by @tim-leeming: 12/05/16 04:00:58PM