Thursday, Feb. 15, will mark the 25th anniversary of the most famous finish in NASCAR history between Richard Petty in the No. 43 Dodge and David Pearson in the Wood Brothers No. 21 Mercury at Daytona International Speedway. Petty and his son ...
Thursday, Feb. 15, will mark the 25th anniversary of the most famous finish in NASCAR history between Richard Petty in the No. 43 Dodge and David Pearson in the Wood Brothers No. 21 Mercury at Daytona International Speedway. Petty and his son Kyle Petty recount the finish of the 1976 Daytona 500.
RICHARD PETTY (Car owner Petty Enterprises Dodge Intrepid R/Ts) “It wasn’t a big deal then. When it was over, it was over. I don’t think Pearson was mad at me. He shouldn’t have been. Well, he should have been and he shouldn’t have been. I wasn’t mad at him. It was just one of those things. I was trying to win, and he was trying to win, and it just happened. “I got the white flag, and I was leading the race. We went up the back stretch and he pulls out and drafts me. We got into No. 3 and he moves up a little higher than he had been running. I cut down under him, and I had a draft back on him. I thought I had cleared him when we got off turn four. Naturally, I was trying to shut the door on him, too. If I had known there had been those six inches, I sure wouldn’t have pulled up in front of him. I thought I had cleared him. I was going to pull up in front of him so he was going to have to do some cutting to get by me which would have bogged him down a little bit to the start finish line. The deal was I lacked about six inches clearing him. “When I went up on him, and he had to turn left. If he didn’t, he was going to run head-on into the wall. When he did, I think he hit the wall anyway. That got my car sideways and I finally spun. He came down through the grass into the infield. A car came down pit road that he hit that straightened him out. If it hadn’t been for that, he would have hit the inside guard rail. Then he wouldn’t have won the race because neither one of us could have got going. I wound up about 20 yards short of the start/finish line, and in low gear, he went across the grass and got there before I did and that was it. “I wound up a lap down. They came out to push the car, and that’s an automatic lap taken if you touch the car on the last lap. We were a lap ahead of Benny, so that still allowed me to run second. As close as that race was, Pearson was a lap ahead, so that makes it one of those trivia deals. “It was just another race. We knew it was a big deal. The last lap, the whole deal. I told Cale and Donnie and them they didn’t have any class. They said, ‘what do you mean?’ And I said, ‘me and Pearson did it on the front stretch so everybody could see it. Ya’ll did it on the backstretch in ‘79 so nobody could see it.’ “I don’t think they had spotters then. Pearson will probably tell you that Leonard or one of the boys was talking to him about where he was at and what he was doing. They couldn’t really see what was going on. We had radios, but we were just getting started with them. “Nobody said anything. After looking at it, talking to me and talking to Pearson, it wasn’t a deal where he ran at me and I ran at him. It wasn’t done in any intentional way. If there was a mistake made I made it because Pearson was just there. I was doing the moving around. He went by me, which was good, and I went almost back by him. That experience I carried over to ‘84 with me and Cale on the last lap, so I knew how to handle that particular situation because I had been in it the same situation before. Cale hadn’t been in it. Usually when the guy goes by you, the momentum just carries you on and you don’t get a chance to pass ‘em again. “You’ve always got that what if deal, but you know that part of your life is in a different stage now. If we can get everything running, it’ll be a lot of fun. I enjoy life, but it just puts a little icing on the cake if we do good. If we don’t do good, then that brings me down a little bit. I think Kyle has done a good job of organizing some of this stuff. I was still playing from the old school -- this is the way we used to do it and it worked. We got behind because we didn’t push the envelop. We used to push the envelop. I kept pushing it at the same speed and somebody else speeded it up. New technology and new stuff like that, we really didn’t get into. We said, ‘why do we need it.’ These other guys have had it all along and hadn’t been doing nothing with it, but they finally got it to work.”
COMMENT ON DODGE PERFORMANCE SO FAR AT DAYTONA “You don’t know. The race is what it’s all about. No matter what you do and how you practice, they pay for the race. It didn’t look too good in the Budweiser Shootout, but that was just one car under certain circumstances. We’re not putting any of our faith in any of the rest of the Dodges anyway. We’re putting our faith in our cars. You don’t worry about what they do. You worry about what you do.”
KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T) “I carried tires on the pit crew in ‘76 and helped clean the grille. I was 16 when they had their deal down here. It was a typical Petty-Pearson race, and that’s all it was. When it all boiled down to it and you look back at it, it was just a typical Wood Brothers-Petty Enterprises, Richard Petty-David Pearson race that came down to the last lap. They got into each other and spun down through the grass. Pearson got his started and passed the start/finish line. The King’s wouldn’t start, and we went out to push it across. He got penalized, but he still finished second. There were only two cars racing anyhow. You didn’t have anything to lose and everything to gain. “You didn’t know anything. We’d only had radios for a couple of years. You didn’t know who was close, who was far away, clear or anything. It was just all by feel. They had such respect for each other, and they had always given each other room. It was just they cut each other too close that time. I never remember The King saying anything bad about it. When I was driving for the Wood Brothers, they never said Pearson said anything bad about it. The one thing that separated those guys and that group that raced at that period of time, yeah, they might get mad at each other but they had a tremendous amount of respect for each other. “Richard Petty thought David Pearson was a great race car driver, and he thought Bobby Allison was a great race car driver, and Baker and those guys, and he had a lot of respect for their ability. When they got into each other, they didn’t jump out and mouth like we do today. They just didn’t think about it because they knew they had to go back and race against each other the next week. They were all pretty decent friends.”
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