The 1979 Daytona 500 was historic for a number of reasons. Richard Petty won the race — his sixth win at the Daytona 500 — but the victory was overshadowed by a collision and fistfight at Daytona International Speedway between some of the most popular race car drivers of that time.
It was the 21st Daytona 500 in NASCAR history, and it was the first time a 500-mile race was televised from start-to-finish. CBS aired the race, and millions of viewers tuned in for one of the most memorable finishes in the NASCAR history. It wasn’t Petty’s win, though, that made the race so memorable. As it turns out, a wreck on the final lap led to a scrap between Cale Yarborough and Donnie and Bobby Allison. And the rest is history.
Cale Yarborough vs. the Allison Brothers at 1979 Daytona 500
Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison were battling for the lead on the final lap of the race when the two collided into the Turn 3 wall. Both Yarborough’s stock car and Allison’s car went into the infield grass as Petty held off now NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Darrell Waltrip for the checkered flag. As Petty started to celebrate his win, a fight broke out between Yarborough and Allison.
Bobby Allison joined his brother Donnie for the fight, and the Yarborough vs. the Allison brothers scrap was caught on camera as viewers from all across the country witnessed the brawl.
Both Allison and Yarborough blamed each other for the last-lap fight, and both NASCAR drivers ended up getting fined.
The 1979 Daytona 500 was one of the first major events that garnered nationwide attention for NASCAR. The story of the fight even made the front page of The New York Times. It’s no surprise, then, that the fateful day at Daytona Beach is considered, by auto racing fans and experts alike, to be what ultimately put NASCAR on the map.
This post was originally published on February 6, 2018.