Racing History Minute - Daytona 500 - 1978

Tim Leeming
02/23/14 09:17:12AM
3,119 posts

The afternoon of February 16, 1978, was a foggy one in Florida, at least at the track known as Daytona International Speedway. It was through the fog that the first 125 mile qualifying race ran. The 50 lap race had 23 of those laps run under caution and there was a wreck on the last lap that involved three cars but did not impede the dash for the finish line where A. J. Foyt would hold off David Pearson to win by 2 car lengths.

There were 55,000 fans on hand to witness the race which included the first impressive run by a slow-talking red-head from North Georgia. Bill Elliott said, after the race, that "it was a thrill to run up front with those guys. We just haven't got quite enough engine to outrun them". (think ahead about the irony of that statement). Elliott finished 5th in the 125.

Top five finishers:

1. A. J. Foyt, Foyt Enterprises Buick

2. David Pearson, Wood Brothers Mercury

3. Donnie Allison, Hoss Ellington Chevrolet

4. Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson Chevrolet

5. Bill Elliott, George Elliott Mercury

The second 125 rolled off with Ron Hutcherson on the pole in another Foyt Buick. The race, however, would be between Richard Petty in a Dodge Magnum and Darrell Waltrip in the DiGard Chevrolet. Between the two, they would lead 46 of the 50 laps with only Hutcherson, Lennie Pond, and Benny Parsons getting to lead during the event. The final outcome was D.W. winning by a car length after the and Petty had swapped the lead three times in the final lap.

Ricky Rudd crashed his Chevrolet on the 21st lap. His father, Al, owned the car and it was the only race car the Rudds owned at the time. Ricky said, after the crash, that the accident would "force him to abandon the NASCAR tour.

Top five finishers:

1. Darrell Waltrip, DiGard Chevrolet

2. Richard Petty, Petty Enterprises Dodge

3. Benny Parsons, L. G. DeWitt Oldsmobile

4. Ron Hutcherson, Foyt Buick

5. Dave Marcis, Rod Osterlund Chevrolet

Sunday morning "dawned", if you wish to call a very cloudy morning "dawning", and it was cool by central Florida standards. Cale Yarborough was on the pole with Ron Hutcherson to his outside. A. J. Foyt would roll off third, Darrell Waltrip fourth and David Pearson fifth. When the green flag was given to the field, Cale and D. W. would swap the lead back and forth for the first 10 laps before Richard Petty pushed his Dodge to the front. For the next 50 laps, Petty, Waltrip and now David Pearson, were hooked up in a nose to tail battle, rim-riding the high banks as they literally "flew" away from all challengers.

On lap 60, between turns 3 and 4, the rear tire on the red and blue Dodge blew and Petty slipped into the wall, and Yarborough and Pearson got caught up in the aftermath. After sliding down the track into the inside wall, Petty and Pearson were out of the race. Waltrip was in the pits for some 65 laps for repairs before returning to the race.

The remainder of the race was a battle between Yarborough, Buddy Baker and Bobby Allison with Baker able to seemingly lead at will as he was almost a lap ahead in the final stages. With 11 laps remaining, Allison took over the lead as the Baker machine seemed to be losing a little speed. With 5 to go, the engine in Baker's M.C. Anderson Oldsmobile gave it up completely although Baker coasted another lap to finish 7th, four laps down. Afterwards Baker said "What have I got to do to win? Man, I almost had a lap on the field, then this. I feel like crying". It was the second time in six Daytona 500s that Baker had the race in hand with less than 10 to go and had an engine fail.

The race would serve as an indicator of things to come for the small team from Dawsonville, Georgia as Bill Elliott came home in 8th place.

One interesting sideline to this race was the official reporting of prize money won by Bobby Allison. NASCAR's official payout report showed Allison receiving $44,300.00 but the press was told Allison won $56,300.00 NASCAR "clarified" the misunderstanding by saying "We know Bobby won more than that ($44,000.00). He may have been eligible for more than the $56,300.00 announced to the press but we have no way to know the precise amount".

Finishing order:

1. Bobby Allison, Bud Moore Ford, winning $44,300.00 OR $56,300.00

2. Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson Oldsmobile, winning $41,900.00 (33.2 seconds back)

3. Benny Parson, L. G. DeWitt Oldsmobile, winning $31,865.00 (1 lap down)

4. Ron Hutcherson, A.J. Foyt Enterprises Buick, winning $22,250.00 (1 lap down)

5. Dick Brooks, Junie Donlavey Mercury, winning $19,925.00 (2 laps down)

6. Dave Marcis

7. Buddy Baker

8. Bill Elliott

9. Ferrel Harris

10.Lennie Pond

11.Tighe Scott

12.Skip Manning

13.Richard Childress

14.Grant Adcox

15.Roger Hamby

16. Buddy Arrington

17. D. K. Ulrich

18. Dick May

19. Richard Wlodky

20. Jerry Jolly

21. Cecil Gordon

22. Claude Ballot-Lena

23. Jimmy Lee Capps

24. Frank Warren

25. Tommy Gale

26. Coo Coo Marlin

27. Neil Bonnett

28. Darrell Waltrip

29. Al Holbert

30. J. D. McDuffie

31. Joe Mihalic

32. A. J. Foyt

33. Richard Petty

34. David Pearson

35. Jimmy Means

36. Blackie Wangerin

37. Ricky Rudd

38. Jim Vandiver

39. Donnie Allison

40. Morgan Shepard

41. Harry Gant

PERSONAL MEMORIES: By this point in time, our "troop" traveling to the races consisted of my parents' motor home in which we would normally carry 8 to 10 folks and at least one car following along with another 4 or 5. We would set up a couple of tents by the RV and the rest would sleep in the RV. At this particular time of my life I was the big "party boy"so getting sleep was the last priority on my agenda on race weekend. Pretty much the same this Daytona 500. We had arrived at the track about 10:00 a.m.Saturday morning and signed in for press credentials but thinking back I don't recall going in the pits either Saturday or Sunday.

I do remember being on top of the RV with about 12 other fans as we watched the Petty Magnum lead the pack. I have, just weeks before, bought a new Magnum, white with red leather interior, bucket seats and T-tops. It was just like the one used by Dodge in the television commercials. I thought it was one "hot"car and I was sure the Magnum was going to make an excellent race car. Of course we all know that before the end of the 1978 season Richard Petty would abandon the Magnum for a Chevrolet.

It could be the consumption of too many of those adult beverages has dulled my memories of that race, but I can still see the Magnum sliding into the wall in turn four and then sliding down the track. Couldn't see what happened then but the headset radio quickly informed us it appeared Richard's day was over. I watched the rest of the race but as it got later and later in the event, the "beer goggles"became more and more cloudy as has my memories. Just one other note on that. I threw the "beer goggles" away for good in August, 1978. I won't mention the name of the beer that sustained me in those days, but let's just say when I gave it up, the company had to withdraw all NASCAR sponsorship money.

Ok, tomorrow is the 1979 Daytona 500 which I turn over to TMC Chase, the Petty teams historian. I'm sure he will have an excellent report with awesome pictures and maybe even some videos. I will have some special (at least to me) personal memories to add to that one.

Honor the past, embrace the present, dream for the future

updated by @tim-leeming: 12/05/16 04:00:58PM
TMC Chase
02/23/14 10:22:51AM
3,890 posts

To be honest, I really have no memories of this race - and it had nothing to do with an excessive amount of suds. I would've been at my parents I'm sure. I don't know if I simply ignored it because of the disappointments of 76-77, if I was sick, if we had to go somewhere vs. being in front of the TV, homework, whether my hard-working dad wanted to watch something else, or what. I simply don't remember any TV or even MRN coverage. I do remember the Magnum replacing the Charger - and I seem to remember seeing the picture in the paper the next day of Petty, Waltrip and Peason all wrecking. But that's about it.

After an incredible run of success by the Petty team with the Dodge Charger from 1972 through 1977, its day was done in Cup racing. The Dodge teams had to roll out a new model. And what did the engineers and marketers bring to use? The brick of a car named the Magnum. The Petty team put it through its paces in winter testing but were never really happy with it.

Even when the colors of Petty blue and STP red were applied, I still think it was a bit like putting lipstick on a pig.

Fellow Mopar driver, Buddy Arrington, also brought a Magnum to Daytona. While not much better looking than the 43, the look was a bit unique compared the normal paint scheme used by Buddy in the 1970s and 80s. - Craig Bontrager

Neil Bonnett's J.D. Stacy team also switched the Magnum with limited sponsorship by Armor All. The team as well as the Pettys ran the Dodge for about two-thirds the season. The Pettys then changed to a Chevy for competitive reasons. Stacy changed cars for Bonnett to Chevys and Olds too, however, it was for financial reasons instead. Stacy couldn't pay the bills to keep the Dodge team intact. Instead, he contracted for GM cars to be built by Rod Osterland's team and raced by Neil.

For 1978, Buddy Baker moved from Bud Moore's team to join forces with M.C. Anderson after Sam Somers left following the 1977 season. In my opinion, the car was one of the best looking ones to hit the track - though I'm sure Anderson and Baker would have preferred to have some sponsorship on the sides. - Ray Lamm

As Tim referenced, rain and gloomy weather interfered with much of the schedule. The IROC race was run on a cold, damp day, and the 125 mile twins were postponed from Thursday to Friday. One team came prepared. Driver Jerry Jolly made 5 career Cup starts (one for RR's Will Cronkrite), and the 1978 Daytona race was his debut. But his team made a veteran (?) move with their rain ready headgear. - DBMJ

In the first qualifying twin, the former and current drivers for Bud Moore found each other. Baker's car wasn't badly damaged. Allison's Ford, however, was really used up. As described more in the video clip below, the Bud Moore team thrashed on Friday and Saturdy to rebuild vs. replace the 15 car. Come race day for the 500, it was all put back together and ready to win.

The calm before the storm in the 500 with three NASCAR HOFers running nose to tail 1,2, 3. - Richard Guido

But when the 43's tire let go, the back end stepped out on Petty's Magnum. With a nudge of Jaws by the Silver Fox, the first, second and third place running cars all skidded towards the muddy infield grass.

Waltrip was able to continue, and Pearson was done. The King took the worst lick of the three of them when he hit an inside guardrail - nearly going over it.

For the King, the wreck capped a pretty miserable Speedweeks. He finished 2nd to Waltrip in his qualifying twin, but that was about the only bright spot. In the IROC race, he tangled with Al Unser, Sr. and Johnny Rutherford. Unser sailed over the sand bank on the backstretch and almost ended up in Lake Lloyd. Petty and Rutherford came together, and Petty apparently hit his head on something in the car that knocked him out for a few minutes. Doctors believed he may have suffered a concussion. Today, he likely would be forced to sit. Back then, it was just a matter of 'getting your bell rung.'

I found a video clip of the IROC race; however, it can't be embedded here. You'l have to click the link to go to YouTube to watch it.


Another racing legend had a brutally tough day in the 500. Benny Parsons blew a tire going into turn 1 with A.J. Foyt and Allison right behind him. Parsons spun down through the grass, but he remarkably had little damage and continued around to his pit stall. Foyt had to check up as Parsons began to spin but then lost the car. He spun down to the grass that was still water logged from several events of rain and then began to flip as his car caught the wet grass.He had to be taken from the car and patched up a bit in the care center before being transported to the hospital.

Bobby Allison and Bud Moore reminesce about their coming together for 1978 - and almost falling apart before the 500 even took the green.

Video highlights

In the Permatex 300 late model sportsman race, the '74 Charger lived to race another day. Petty Enterprises driver Joe Millikan raced it as a #04 STP Charger.

He finished third behind Waltrip and Donnie Allison. All in all, Waltrip had a pretty good Speedweeks - somewhat like Kyle Busch has a lot these days. Waltrip won his qualifying twin, the sportsman and the modified races; and he finished 2nd in the IROC finale. - DBMJ

A.C. York raced this Chevelle to a 16th place finish in the sportsman race. Now I'm hungry for a pre-race, shoe-leather steak. - Danny Quick

Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.

updated by @tmc-chase: 02/17/17 12:24:34PM
TMC Chase
02/17/17 12:24:54PM
3,890 posts


Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.