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".
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
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