The 63rd annual Daytona 500 is here. The Great American Race has had it fair share of iconic moments in NASCAR’s storied history. It’s not all that surprising that a lot of the lasting memories comes from this race. I mean it’s the biggest event of the season for NASCAR.
When looking back on the past 62 editions of the Daytona 500, it was hard to pick out just five moments that were the best. But, here are my five.
5. 1993 – The Dale and Dale Show
Ned Jarrett had an iconic NASCAR career. He’s a Hall of Famer after all. But, he’s most best known recently for his call of the 1993 Daytona 500 when he called his son home for his first Great America race triumph.
“It’s the ‘Dale and Dale Show’ as we come off Turn 4! You know who I’m pulling for, it’s Dale Jarrett. Bring her to the inside, Dale! Don’t let him get down there! He’s gonna make it! Dale Jarrett’s gonna win the DAYTONA 500!”
Jarrett, moved into the lead on the final lap and held Dale Earnhardt off from winning his first Daytona 500 still.
4. 1959 – Photo Finish
We don’t have an audio for an iconic call, but how can I leave this moment off the list? The first race on the superspeedway and we get a photo finish for the win in the Daytona 500. The new historic track opened its doors for a race on asphalt with banking instead of the sands of Daytona Beach.
Then, you get Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp finishing side-by-side with a lapped car at the end for the win. In that day and age, you didn’t have replay like we did now. You just had photographs.
At the time, Beauchamp was declared the winner. Petty was irate. NASCAR spent three days looking through photos before declaring Petty not Beauchamp was the winner instead.
Nobody knew what to expect from the very first DAYTONA 500, which was held at the brand-new, state-of-the-art Daytona International Speedway. What they got was an appropriate beginning to what would become The Great American Race.
The photo above by T. Taylor Warren, Daytona International Speedway’s official photographer, captured the finish.
3. 1976 – Petty vs. Pearson
We’ve seen this video played time after time. How can you forget the voice of Bill Fleming saying, “They did hit. Will they cross the finish line? He’s going to win it spinning as I believe he is going to take the checkered flag. No he did not cross. Here comes Pearson. Petty has his car going. He wins the race!”
This was one of the best endings to a race ever – until 1979 that is.
Petty vs. Pearson was already an intense rivalry. Now, two of the best to ever do it were battling for a Daytona 500 win. Petty held the lead and was on his way to his sixth Daytona 500 triumph. But, Pearson passed him on Lap 199 on the backstretch as some say Petty slowed to let him by only to get him back after with the slingshot.
Petty caught Pearson back as planned and when he went to pass him in Turn 4, Pearson blocked and the two made contact. Both spun into the grass just shy of crossing the finish line for the win. Then, remarkably, Petty’s car wouldn’t start. Pearson got his started but barely had any power. He was inching closer to the finish line and actually won that way.
2. 1998 Daytona 500 – Earnhardt’s Win
This was such a huge moment for the sport. Another iconic call took place. This time from Mike Joy up in the CBS booth.
”20 years of trying, 20 years of frustration. Dale Earnhardt will come to the caution flag to win the DAYTONA 500. Finally!”
Earnhardt, the best of this generation tried 19 times to win the biggest race of the season and failed 19 times to reach victory lane. The seven time champion had won everything to have won in NASCAR but this race. He was close so many times but something always snagged the victory out of his reach.
This time, it wasn’t going to happen.
A crash on the backstrech led to a final caution. In those days, there was no overtime. They raced to the yellow. With it being so late in the race, this was it. Earnhardt was leading and the yellow/white flag was in his sights. Could he hold off Jeremy Mayfield, Bobby Labonte and others?
Mike Joy made that call as he came off Turn 4 and headed towards the tri-oval. It was an emotional day for sure.
1. 1979 Daytona 500 – The Fight
Ken Squier’s voice still rings in my head when I think about this race, “And there’s a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison. The tempers overflowing. They’re angry.”
Boy were they ever.
This race was a perfect storm for NASCAR. This was the first ever Daytona 500 to air live flag-to-flag on broadcast TV. On top of that, much of the east coast of the US was stuck under several feet of snow. A huge blizzard set in and trapped everyone inside with nothing else to do but watch the race.
Then, on the final lap of a thrilling race, you get a fight with a helmet flying in the air? How perfect for NASCAR to debut to mainstream America.
The reason it happened was Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison were battling for the lead on the final lap. They got into Turn 3 side-by-side, bumping and banging. Two turns left. Yarborough vs. Allison for the win in a huge race for the sport but instead they crashed each other in remarkable fashion.
Richard Petty would sneak by to win his sixth Daytona 500. It was a fitting win since a few years earlier, his sixth win was taken from him in a weird fashion with the last lap crash with David Pearson. Now, here he is winning but no one is paying attention.
That’s because there’s a fight in Turn 3 between Yarborough and Allison. Allison’s brother then pulled over after the race and joined the fray against Yarborough.
A three man fight. Brothers vs. Yarborough. Two of the three crashed while battling for the win on the last lap. The most iconic driver at the time in Petty winning. The east coast slammed from a blizzard and inside to watch the first live Daytona 500 event on TV.
How could this not be No. 1?
1989 – The Ickey Shuffle
Darrell Waltrip tried for year to win the Daytona 500. Like Earnhardt, something always took him out. This year, he wasn’t to be denied.
Waltrip, went the final 53 laps without a pit stop to earn his first Daytona 500 triumph of his career. He won by 7.6 seconds as a result. But, it was what transpired after to what made this moment so iconic.
“I won the DAYTONA 500! I won the DAYTONA 500! I can’t believe I won it! Don’t lie to me, this is DAYTONA, ain’t it? I’m not dreaming, am I?,” Waltrip said after doing his Ickey Shuffle.
2001 – Black Sunday
The only reason this isn’t in the top five was because of how dark this day was. We lost Dale Earnhardt. But, the call at the end is deserving to be on this list as one of the top calls. It would slide in up in the top five and bump the ’59 race out since the ’59 race didn’t have an audio call like the others.
But, how can we forget Darrell Waltrip calling his brother Michael Waltrip home for the win. It was reminiscent of Ned Jarrett calling his son Dale Jarrett across the finish line for the win eight years prior.
“Come on Mikey you got it man. You got it!. You got it! You got it! You got it! Mikey!” said Waltrip.
Michael was 0-for-462 in his Cup career prior. He joins DEI to drive for his buddy Dale Earnhardt. This was their first race together. Earnhardt is behind blocking for his son Dale Jr. and Waltrip and he crashes in Turn 4 in doing so. He’s tragically killed.
Waltrip, earns his first career Cup win and it happens to be in the Daytona 500. Unfortunately, his joy is short lived. His buddy was gone and couldn’t enjoy the moment with him. It was a sad and tragic day but one of the better calls at the end before anyone knew what had happened.
2012 – Jet Dryer Incident
This still gets brought up a lot. How can we forget the infamous incident when Juan Pablo Montoya spun in Turn 3 and crashed into the jet dryer causing a massive fire down the banking of the race track. Montoya’s career is almost defined by this. Forget the guy won in F1, won the Indianapolis 500, won in NASCAR, etc. When his name gets brought up, usually this is one of the first mentions.
This was also a rare race that saw it being the first Daytona 500 run in primetime. It was also the first year that the race was rained out until the next day too. That made this is the most watched Daytona 500 in history and this fluke incident just happened to occur during it.