COUNTDOWN: N0. 3 OF TOP 5 DAYTONA 500 MOMENTS ANNOUNCED No. 3: Lee Petty Wins Inaugural 500, In Controversial Finish DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 11, 2006) -- There's nothing like excitement to kick off a tradition. A little drama never hurts,...
COUNTDOWN: N0. 3 OF TOP 5 DAYTONA 500 MOMENTS ANNOUNCED
No. 3: Lee Petty Wins Inaugural 500, In Controversial Finish
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 11, 2006) -- There's nothing like excitement to kick off a tradition. A little drama never hurts, either. The very first Daytona 500 -- staged Feb. 22, 1959 -- offered generous amounts of both, serving notice the event would become NASCAR's cornerstone event.
The winner? Lee Petty, patriarch of the racing family that includes his son, Richard Petty, the seven-NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion, and grandson Kyle Petty, who currently drives for the family's famous Petty Enterprises operation.
But just how Lee Petty won is a remarkable tale -- a disputed finish that required three days of consideration from NASCAR officials. His photo-finish edging of Johnny Beauchamp in '59 is No. 3 on the list of Top 5 Daytona 500 Moments, a rundown being released daily, culminating with the No. 1 moment announcement on Monday, Feb. 13.
• At No. 5, "The Fight" involving Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough at the end of the 500 in 1979.
• At No. 4, "DW's Victory Dance" at the 1989 race, when Darrell Waltrip won the 500 for the first time, then did the "Icky Shuffle" in Victory Lane. (The "shuffle" was a celebration dance made popular by Cincinnati Bengals running back Icky Woods.)
The "Countdown" is a historical lead-in to the 48th annual Daytona 500 on Feb. 19. History commenced from the outset, as described below.
Top 5 Daytona 500 Moment No. 3: Lee Petty Wins Inaugural 500, In Controversial Finish ... Lee Petty's 1959 Daytona 500 victory was historic for a variety of reasons. After all, it was a big, new race -- at a big, new track. Daytona International Speedway also debuted that Sunday; the high-banked, 2.5-mile surface was unlike any track previously used by NASCAR competitors.
Fast and wide, it produced numerous lead changes. Out of a starting field of 59 cars, three had the chance to win in the final laps. Petty and Johnny Beauchamp took the checkered flag seemingly simultaneously -- joined at the finish line by the lapped car of Joe Weatherly.
Initially declared the winner, Beauchamp went to Victory Lane for the celebration and trophy presentation. Petty asked NASCAR to seek photographic evidence of the finish -- not an easy task in the days before real-time technology. Three days later, after viewing photos and video, NASCAR founder and president Bill France Sr. declared Petty the winner of the first Daytona 500.
Another note: Lee Petty wasn't the only family member to compete that day. His son Richard finished sixth in the 1959 Daytona 500 -- a formative step in the career of the driver who came to be known to all NASCAR fans as "The King".