One Dodge race ends as another begins

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., February 8, 2001 - Dodge and Daytona - two words that will forever be linked in the minds of many stock car racing fans. The two come together again this weekend as 10 drivers take their Dodge Intrepid R/Ts to the track to ...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., February 8, 2001 - Dodge and Daytona - two words that will forever be linked in the minds of many stock car racing fans. The two come together again this weekend as 10 drivers take their Dodge Intrepid R/Ts to the track to qualify for the 2001 Daytona 500.

When the green flag flies to start next Sunday's race, 500 days of intense preparation will come to an end and a new milestone will be etched in the archives of auto racing. The cars and the people of the Dodge team will begin writing a new chapter in the history of the company, the speedway and NASCAR.

"On Sunday, February 18, we finish one 500 as we begin another," says Lou Patane, Dodge Vice President for Motorsports Operations and Mopar Performance Parts. "The start of the Daytona 500 is always an exciting moment," he continues, "but this year you can expect an extra measure of emotion in the hearts of everyone in the Dodge family - customers, dealers, employees and race teams alike.

"Two thoughts will be foremost in our minds," says Patane. "We'll be proud to see Dodge back on the track in NASCAR Winston Cup racing, and we'll be thinking about the phenomenal job the team did to make that happen in only 500 days. It's the most incredible achievement I've seen in all my days in motorsports."

One reason Dodge and Daytona are so strongly linked, of course, is the famous winged warrior that bore the two names proudly as it took the world by storm in the late 1960s and early 70s. The Dodge Daytona won races, broke records and turned heads wherever it went. The aerodynamic profile and stabilizing wing dominated NASCAR races to such an extent the sanctioning body ultimately banned it. The car is now a prized classic, cherished by its owners and other auto enthusiasts.

Although the Dodge Daytona won plenty of NASCAR races, the best it did at Daytona International Speedway was winning one of the 125-mile qualifying races in 1970. Charlie Glotzbach won the second race on February 19, 1970, and the next five cars across the finish line were four Dodge Daytonas and a Plymouth SuperBird.

A number of other Dodge racecars won at Daytona, beginning with Junior Johnson and Bobby Isaac on February 21, 1964. They each won a 100-mile qualifier that day driving Dodges. They didn't win the 500 that year because someone named Richard Petty won it driving a Plymouth.

Petty had followed in his father's tire tracks by driving products made by Chrysler. Lee Petty used the Chrysler brand at the old beach course in Daytona and won the 160-mile race there on February 21, 1954.

Richard Petty won the Daytona 500 in 1973 driving a Dodge Charger, one of four Daytona victories for him in Dodge cars and one of 10 at Daytona at various distances. One of the most dramatic finishes in Daytona history was a race Richard Petty didn't win. In 1976, Richard's Dodge collided with David Pearson's car as they battled for the lead coming to the checkered flag. Richard ended up stalled about 100 yards from the finish line. Pearson managed to keep his car's engine going and got the battered car across the line for the win. Three years later Petty was the beneficiary of another famous last-lap Daytona 500 altercation as Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison wrecked and fought on the last lap while Petty sped by for the victory.

Richard's son Kyle maintained the family tradition by driving a Dodge Magnum in his first major race - a 200-mile ARCA event at Daytona in 1979. Only 18 at the time, he won. Kyle also won a pole for the Daytona 500 driving for Felix Sabates in 1993.

Other drivers winning a NASCAR race at Daytona behind the wheel of a Dodge are A.J. Foyt, Earl Balmer, Sam McQuagg and LeeRoy Yarbrough.

There are several Daytona winners among the 10 drivers campaigning with Dodge Intrepid R/Ts this season.

* Bill Elliott won in 1985 and '87, both times from the pole. He is back with the familiar number 9 his car sported when he won those races.

* Sterling Marlin won in 1994 and '95, becoming the first driver ever to have back-to-back Daytona 500s as his first two NASCAR Winston Cup Series wins.

* John Andretti won a Pepsi 400 at Daytona in the summer of 1997.

The 2001 Daytona 500 will be the first Winston Cup Series race with a Dodge entry since Phil Good drove a Dodge in a NASCAR race at Pocono on June 9, 1985 - a span of 15 years, eight months and nine days.

The first NASCAR race with a Dodge entry was held on May 30, 1950 at Canfield Motor Speedway, Canfield, Ohio. Between the first and last races, Dodge compiled a record of 160 wins and two manufacturer's trophies - in 1970 and 1975.

In a sense, the current Dodge team has already won a major 500. During a public announcement on October 14, 1999 - at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City - the Dodge team gave itself 500 days to build a racecar and assemble a team for the 2001 Daytona 500. The fact that five teams are ready to send 10 NASCAR-approved Dodge Intrepid R/Ts into battle this weekend is a major victory in itself.

"It's hard to find the words to express the pride I feel for the team that brought Dodge back to NASCAR Winston Cup racing," says Patane. "A lot of people contributed to this achievement and they all deserve our respect and admiration."

How many victories does the future hold for the Dodge Intrepid R/T and the 10 Dodge drivers? Only time will tell. And it's time.

-Dave Elshoff

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers John Andretti , Bill Elliott , Sterling Marlin , Richard Petty , Donnie Allison , Charlie Glotzbach , Felix Sabates , A.J. Foyt , Cale Yarborough , David Pearson , Lee Petty