In 1962, Daytona continued with the twin 100 mile qualifying races. Let's begin with the first one where Fireball Roberts was able to run 100 miles in just over 38 minutes and beat Junior Johnson when Johnson's Pontiac began to sputter with an empty fuel tank. When the green dropped on this race, it was a Roberts and Johnson show. The two traded the lead back and forth as the "drafting" effect was still being perfected. After the race Fireball said Johnson was ticking him off because Johnson chose to follow more than lead and Fireball wanted the benefit of the draft to save some fuel. As it worked out, it was Johnson who had the fuel issues. Fireball was driving for Smokey Yunick and Smokey's cars were known to get excellent fuel "mileage" at Daytona. "Mileage" is quoted because the story is well known about the time NASCAR took the fuel tank from a Yunick car only to have Yunick drive off with the fuel left in all the hidden places he had constructed.
Fireball averaged 156.999 mph for the 100 miles to win over Jack Smith. Top Five finishers were:
1. Fireball Roberts, Smokey Yunick Pontiac
2. Jack Smith, Smith Pontiac
3. Cotton Owens, Owens Pontiac
4. Dan Gurney, Lafayette Ford
5. Junior Johnson, Holly Farms Pontiac
The Second 100 miler started with a bang as pole winner, Darel Dieringer, by virtue of his victory in a 25 lap qualifying race for the 100 milers held five days before this event, was involved in a spectacular 6 car melee on lap three that eliminated him as well as Marvin Panch, Speedy Thompson and Bobby Johns.
When the race resumed, Banjo Matthews was leading in his Pontiac until lap 12 when Joe Weatherly pushed his Bud Moore Pontiac to the front. Weatherly would lead the rest of the way to win with an average speed of 145.395 mph. Top five finishers were:
1. Joe Weathery, Bud Moore Pontiac
2. Nelson Stacy, Holman Moody Ford
3. Rex White, Louis Clements Chevrolet
4. Richard Petty, Petty Engineering Plymouth
5. Johnny Allen, B. G. Holloway Chevrolet
The Sunday of the 500 dawned clear and bright, although a little chilly. As the cars lined up for the start, the black and gold of Fireball's Pontiac seemed to add a luster to the field as it sparkled in the sun. The cars rolled off pit road behind the pace car and the earth shook, literally, as the parade and then pace laps allowed the cars to warm up to race temps.
It was the plan of Smokey and Fireball to run "flat out" the entire race. Roberts had been a major factor in all three previous 500s only to be denied by mechanical failures. This year he had won everything Daytona had to offer and was prepared to take home that trophy as well.
On the green flag, Joe Weatherly slipped his Pontiac to the point before losing the lead on lap 2 to Fireball. On lap 4, Junior Johnson, always the lead-foot, took over but could only maintain that lead for 1 lap before Fireball went back out front. From lap 16 to lap 41, Johnson and Roberts swapped the lead back and forth as the draft and the slingshot were being put to the test. On lap 42, a young Richard Petty in the bright blue Plymouth took over and was able to lead 4 laps before the swift Pontiac brigade of Roberts and Johnson went back to the battle for the top spot.
As the Pontiacs flexed their superior horsepower, Petty managed to tuck his smaller Plymouth behind the brutes with the Indian head emblems and hung on for dear life. The last 100 laps of the race were between Fireball and Johnson, for sure, with Fireball dominating, but Petty would slip into the lead on occasion. Petty would last lead on lap 150 before Fireball went to the front on lap 151 to lead the remaining 49 laps in fine fashion.
The checkered flag was waving for Fireball as he roared off turn four, 27 seconds ahead of Petty, and finally, after such heartbreak in the previous 500s, this one was his, all his. He had virtually dominated Daytona during Speedweeks of 1962.
Buck Baker had crashed on lap 83, putting his Chrysler hard into the wall. Buck was taken to the hospital but was released with only minor injuries. Darel Dieringer who was supposed to start a Ray Fox Pontiac, was left without a ride at the last minute when NASCAR allowed only one Fox Pontiac to start. Darel took over for Banjo Matthews and was able to finish 8th in the Matthews Pontiac. This was also the race that saw a young, brash, Cale Yarborough make his first Daytona 500 start. Cale was driving for Julian Buesink in a Ford that made only four laps before ignition wires burned and parked the car, giving Cale a last place finish in his first Daytona 500.
After the race. the Petty team filed an official protest with NASCAR, alleging the Yunick crew pitting Fireball, had more men over the wall on pit stops than the allowed six. Three days later NASCAR issued it's ruling that the protest was based on "hearsay" and had no "merit" and was therefore dismissed.
1. Fireball Roberts, Smokey Yunick Pontiac, winning $24,190.00
2. Richard Petty,Petty Engineering Plymouth, winning $10,250.00 (27 seconds back)
3. Joe Weatherly, Bud Moore Pontiac, winning $7,100.00 (1 lap back)
4. Jack Smith, Smith Pontiac, winning $4,025.00 (1 lap back)
5. Fred Lorenzen, Lafayette Ford, winning $2,975.00 (1 lap back)
6. David Pearson
7. Rex White
8. Banjo Matthews with relief from Darel Dieringer
9. Ned Jarrett
10. Bob Welborn
11. Bill Wimble
12. Ernie Gahan
13. Bunkie Blackburn
15. Jim Cushman
16. Johnny Allen
18. Billy Wade
19. Paul Burrow
20. Thomas Cox
21. Art Brady
22. Herman Beam
23. Curtis Crider
24. Jim McGuirk
25. Gerald Duke
26. George Alsobrook
27. Dan Gurney
28. Buck Baker
29. Buddy Baker
30. Bobby Johns
31. Larry Thomas
32. Ed Livingston
33. Cotton Owens
34. Junior Johnson
36. Bob Burdick
37. Ralph Earnhardt
38. Charlie Griffith
39. Sal Tovella
40. Red Farmer
41. Jim Bennett
42. Tommy Irwin
43. Nelson Stacy
44. Marvin Panch
45. G. C. Spencer
46. Larry Frank
47. Elmo Langley
48. Cale Yarborough
PERSONAL MEMORIES: This was my first trip to Daytona. Uncle Bobby had decided, about two weeks before, that we would go. His wife, my Aunt Mary, their daughter Debbie, Uncle Bobby and I would head south for the race. Uncle Bobby said we also needed to be there Saturday for the Modified-Sportsman race so the plan was to leave Friday. Enter my Aunt Mary's love for Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone" (which I shared by the way) that came on at 10:00 p.m. on Friday night. It was decided we would watch "Twilight Zone" and then head south.
As soon as the show was over, we climbed in Uncle Bobby's 1957 Plymouth and began what would turn out to be a "Twilight Zone" type trip. It was one very foggy night. By the time we were on Highway 17 through Georgia (maybe 17A) the fog was so thick we could barely see the chrome fender markers on the front of that Plymouth. Fortunately, traffic was almost non-existant as we made the trip.
We arrived at the track just as the sun was coming up and went through the tunnel into an infield the likes of which my imagination had never envisioned. It seemed endless. Uncle Bobby secured us a spot up next to the fence in turn one and that is where we would spend the next two days. The modified sportsman race was exciting but what I remember most is those early 50s Studebakers coming by like rockets. Not sure but maybe it was LeeRoy Yarbrough winning that day.
After sleeping in the spacious Plymouth (back when I was much smaller) I was up against the fence, sitting in a lawn chair we had packed, long before the race was due to start. I think I was absolutely in awe of what I was seeing but I was not prepared for the sound of those cars when the "Gentlemen, Start Your Engines" command was given. All my years around the short tracks and every those trips to Darlington since 1957 had not prepared me for the guttural sound of that much horsepower. When the green flag waved and those cars came by me at speed on the first lap my eyes must have been as big a Chevrolet Hubcaps!!
To wrap up my feelings from that day, I was excited to see my driver, Richard Petty, lead the laps he did, and to be able to draft so closely to the black and gold Pontiac of Roberts. I was disappointed Petty didn't win but I figured, at that time, that running second at Daytona and that second being to Fireball Roberts was a pretty good outing. I do recall that watching Fireball that day I realized that he was the epitome of a race driver for a track like Daytona. I can still see that Pontiac roaring around those turns as smooth as a silk sheet. Fireball was awesome that day, as he was so many days at Daytona. He came back to win the 250 in July to totally rule Daytona in 1962.
As the memories of that race are so vivid in my mind this morning, I have a lot to smile about. It was as awesome a race as has ever been run at Daytona. It was inconceivable to me that day in 1962, that 52 years later I would be invited to attend the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony by the grandson of Fireball Roberts. Matty McDaniel, said grandson, invited me to the banquet and the ceremony and during that event, videos of that race were shown several times. Watching that number 22 again really took me back to that infield fence on that cool Daytona Sunday in 1962. It was a great feeling!
Honor the past, embrace the present, dream for the future
updated by @tim-leeming: 12/05/16 04:00:58PM