Legendary drivers: the golden age DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 23, 1998) (Note: This is the first of monthly features that will coinicide with the quarterly themes celebrating NASCAR's 50th Anniversary. This particular article is part one of a...
Legendary drivers: the golden age
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 23, 1998)
(Note: This is the first of monthly features that will coinicide with the quarterly themes celebrating NASCAR's 50th Anniversary. This particular article is part one of a three-part series on NASCAR's legendary drivers.)
THE GOLDEN AGE
From the first few times the angular youngster drove jalopies at short tracks in the Miami area in the late 1950s it was apparent that he had a talent and love for racing.
Bobby Allison loved it so much, in fact, that he soon was traveling to speedways across the Deep South to pursue his passion. He liked the Birmingham area in Alabama so much that he soon adopted it as his home. Before long the whole state had adopted him as one of its heroes.
Allison entered his first race at what is now the NASCAR Winston Cup level in 1961. He became a regular -- and a force -- on the circuit in 1966, scoring three victories. His best overall season came in 1972, when he triumphed 10 times while forging a storied combination with car owner Junior Johnson.
Allison won the NASCAR Winston Cup championship in 1983 after finishing as the point chase runner-up four times.
The 1988 tour was marked by great triumph and then awful tragedy for Allison. He won the season-opening Daytona 500 by edging his son, Davey, in a dramatic 1-2 father/son finish. Just six months later, the elder Allison suffered injuries in a crash at Pocono Raceway that ended his driving career. He rebounded as a car owner until 1996.
Greater tragedy followed. Allison's son Clifford lost his life in 1992 after an accident in practice at Michigan International Speedway. Then, in July of 1993, Davey Allison died as the result of injuries he suffered in the crash of a helicopter he was flying.
Bobby Allison posted 84 NASCAR Winston Cup triumphs, tying him for third on the all-time list. One of the most respected drivers ever, he remains extremely popular among fans.
Although David Pearson was the NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year in 1961, few fans knew much about the shy South Carolinian.
That changed in the Coca-Cola 600 in May of 1961 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Pearson, a late entry in a Pontiac fielded by master mechanic/crew chief Ray Fox, won the sport's longest race after battling stars like Joe Weatherly, Ralph Earnhardt, Jack Smith, Ned Jarrett, Fireball Roberts and another relative newcomer named Richard Petty.
One newspaper in the Carolinas featured this headline on its story about the 600: "Little David Slays Goliaths."
David Pearson was destined to become a Goliath himself. Before his driving career ended in retirement in 1986, Pearson posted 105 victories, including a record 10 at Darlington Raceway. He claimed three championships.
Pearson, nicknamed "The Silver Fox" because of sly moves on the track and his thick, prematurely gray hair, developed perhaps the sport's best rivalry ever with Richard Petty.
Pearson was followed into auto racing by his three sons. The eldest, Larry, became a two-time champion of NASCAR's Busch Series driving cars owned by his dad.
What Babe Ruth was to baseball, what Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus are to golf, what Michael Jordan is to basketball, that's what Richard Petty is to NASCAR racing.
From the time in the late 1950s when the second generation driver joined his father, Lee, on the tour, it was obvious that he was someone special.
There simply was an aura about him, even as a teenager.
Richard Petty triumphed for the first time in 1960. It was the beginning of a reign that was to make him beloved as "King Richard," the winner of seven NASCAR Winston Cup championships and an astounding 200 races -- including seven Daytona 500s.
Of these triumphs, 27 came in 1967, the record for a single season. Of these, 10 were in succession, also a record. Petty also holds the mark for Daytona 500 wins.
The last of his victories has been widely rated as the greatest, most exciting moment in NASCAR's 50 years.
Petty won the Pepsi 400 on July 4, 1984 in a tight, dramatic duel with Cale Yarborough, spurting ahead by inches at the flagstand after the two rubbed sheet-metal for much of a 1/2-mile at Daytona International Speedway. Among those watching the smoking "shootout" was Ronald Reagan, the only sitting U.S. president ever to attend an auto race of any kind.
Petty, known for his brilliant smile and willingness to sign autographs for fans, retired as a driver in 1992. The greatest "ambassador" ever in NASCAR, he continues as a NASCAR Winston Cup winner as a team owner.
In 1950 a tad of a lad from tiny Timmonsville, S.C., crawled under the fence at Darlington and sneaked in to watch the inaugural Southern 500.
He vowed that day to win the race when he grew up.
Yarborough kept his promise ... In fact, he kept it repeatedly, winning the Labor Day weekend classic a record five times.
As a youth, Yarborough once had to search under the back seat of a passenger car for enough change to get across a toll bridge to reach a race track where he was to drive in a weekly event.
Such determination eventually led him to rides provided by storied team owners like the Wood Brothers, Glen and Leonard; and Junior Johnson.
It was with Johnson from 1974-80 that Yarborough experienced his greatest success, becoming the only driver to win three successive NASCAR Winston Cup championships, 1976-78. Yarborough drove Johnson cars to 51 of his 83 victories. The latter total places him fifth on the all-time list.
Yarborough won the Daytona 500 four times and ranks only behind Richard Petty in the sport's most famous race.
The greatest example of Yarborough's uncommon courage came at Daytona in February of 1983. He wrecked his Chevrolet during a second qualifying lap after becoming the first driver to top 200 mph at Daytona International Speedway on the first lap. Undaunted, Yarborough turned to a backup car and won the race.
A highly-successful businessman, Yarborough won at Daytona again in 1997 -- as team owner of the Ford driven by Pepsi 400 victor John Andretti.
Source: NASCAR Online