Hamilton's 1970 Win Starts Countdown of Greatest Daytona 500 Upsets
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 8, 2007) -- Part and parcel to the appeal of sports is the possibility of the upset, the memory-making victory that jars the senses, tilts the axis even, but most importantly ... further endears a fan and hastens them to come back for more.
Everyone has their personal short list of the great upsets. Probable common denominators: Joe Namath and the Jets beating the Colts in Super Bowl III; Muhammad Ali thrashing Sonny Liston to win the world heavyweight championship in 1964; the World Series champion "Miracle Mets" of 1969; or the "Miracle on Ice" in the 1980 Winter Olympics, the U.S. hockey team's semifinal win over Russia.
NASCAR fans can relate, especially when it comes to upsets at the Daytona 500. The "Great American Race" has provided its own series of surprise endings during its previous 47 years.
Today starts a countdown of the five greatest Daytona 500 upsets, a list that will most-assuredly be open to conjecture and debate. Nonetheless, here goes, leading off with a victory that immediately found a place in 500 lore:
Daytona 500 Upset No. 5: Pete Hamilton, 1970
* The Favorites: Richard Petty, David Pearson.
* The Intangible: Petty's car had engine problems on the race's seventh lap, which led to a 39th-place finish for the two-time series champion.
* The Winner's Stats: Started 9th; led 13 laps; average speed 149.601; $44,850 in prize money.
* The Rundown: Petty Enterprises hired 28-year-old Pete Hamilton, a northern modified star from Dedham, Mass. to wheel their second Plymouth Superbird winged creation for the 1970 season. While his more-renowned teammate struggled, Hamilton stayed near the front of the field. When the upset opportunity presented itself, Hamilton took advantage, outrunning three-time series champion Pearson in a last-lap duel.
* Hamilton's Take: "The first thing the Pettys told me was that you have to finish a race before you can win it. I did what they told me and ran as easily as I could so I wouldn't wear the car out too quickly. When the time came toward the end, I knew I could catch David Pearson, or, if I got in front of him, I could hold him off. And that's the way it happened, just the way the Pettys said it would".
* The Follow-Up: Hamilton went on to win both Talladega Superspeedway events in 1970, showing that while the 500 win was an upset, it certainly wasn't a fluke. His fourth and final series victory came in '71, when he won the first of two 125-mile qualifying races for the 500. At the time, a win in one of the "Twin 125s" counted as a series victory. ... Hamilton left NASCAR after the 1973 season because of a neck injury, an exit considered premature -- and unfortunate. ... Hamilton, who now lives in Atlanta, became a successful real estate investor.