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 race ever aired on national television 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.
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 of their stock cars went into the infield grass as Petty held off now NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Darrell Waltrip for the win. As Petty started to celebrate his win, a fight broke out between Yarborough and Allison.
Bobby Allison joined his brother 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.
It was one of the first major events that garnered nationwide attention for NASCAR. The story of the fight made the front page of The New York Times, and it’s still considered one of the most important races in the history of the sport.
Old school auto racing fans consider it to be among the greatest races of all time, and given what was at stake with so many people watching, it’s hard to argue otherwise.