This Fourth of July marks the 34th anniversary of one of NASCAR‚Äôs most memorable races, the 1984 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway. The race was won by Richard Petty and watched by President Ronald Reagan, the first sitting president to attend a NASCAR race.
The victory was Petty‚Äôs 200th and would turn out to be the last of his legendary career, which ended in 1992. Many fans thought it was a little fishy that The King posted such a landmark victory after Reagan, running for re-election in 1984, flew on Air Force One to Daytona to watch the end of the race. He gave the command from Air Force One for drivers to start their engines.
A few hours after the race, some 2,000 invited guests attended a picnic at which Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pepsi were served and the country music star Tammy Wynette sang ‚ÄúStand By Your Man‚ÄĚ to Reagan. Petty gave the president a Reagan-Bush jacket.
Four months later, Reagan won re-election by landslide over Walter Mondale, so he probably could have stayed at the White House that day. But ever since, NASCAR has been seen as a safe space for Republican politicians. Stock-car fans are known to be conservative.
The big day also included a post-race fight between the late Tim Richmond and David Pearson, who punched Richmond in the face apparently after Richmond had flipped the bird to Pearson during the race after Pearson‚Äôs car blew a gasket and was leaking oil.
But those are details that most stock-car fans can recall about the day. Racing-reference.info¬†and other sources have fun, cool and quirky information about the famous race that shows just how much stock-car racing has changed in three decades.
1. The race, slowed by only three caution periods, took a mere 2 hours, 19 minutes 59 seconds.
2. It started at 10 a.m. local time on a Wednesday — 10 a.m.! — and was televised on tape delay by ABC.
3. Petty‚Äôs winning average speed was 171.204 miles an hour. No one has won a race at Daytona with an average speed of 170 miles an hour since the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. won the 1998 Daytona 500.
4. The race was the 16th of what was only a 30-race Winston Cup season.
5. Attendance was 80,000.
6. Unencumbered by a restrictor plate, Cale Yarborough won the pole position with a qualifying speed of 199.743 miles an hour.
7. Petty took home a princely purse of $43,755.
8. The last three drivers in the 43-car field — Morgan Shepherd, Buddy Baker and Lake Speed — took home $1,500 each.
9. Speed finished last in the No. 1 Bull Frog Knits Chevrolet. He failed to complete a lap.
10. There were 29 lead changes, but Petty led the last 33 laps.
11. The race finished under yellow after a car driven by Doug Heveron, a 23-year-old rookie from Liverpool, N.Y., wrecked his ‚ÄúSyracuse Classic‚ÄĚ Chevrolet on Lap 159 of 160. Petty won a race with Yarborough back to the yellow and white flags.
12. Petty, in a No. 43 car sponsored by STP,¬†drove one of six Pontiacs in the race. There were 26 Chevrolets in the 42-car field, with six Fords and two Buicks. Buddy Arrington drove the only Chrysler. Mike Alexander was the only driver in an Oldsmobile, which was owned by Dave Marcis, who drove a Pontiac.
13. Steve Moore, in the No. 73 ‚ÄúReagan in ‚Äė84‚ÄĚ Chevrolet, started 37th and finished 35th. He retired because of a broken push rod. It was Moore‚Äôs last race in the Reagan car.
14. Five drivers were sponsored by breweries. Four drivers, including runner-up Harry Gant in a Skoal Bandit Chevrolet, were sponsored by smokeless tobacco companies.
15. There was one foreign-born driver in the race: Trevor Boys, a Canadian. He finished 16th, just behind Ricky Rudd and just ahead of Pearson. Richmond finished 11th.
16. There were only six cars on the lead lap at the end of the race. Bill Elliott finished sixth in his No. 9 Melling Coors Ford. He took home all of $14,050.
17. Earnhardt finished eighth in his Richard Childress-owned No. 3 Wrangler Jeans Chevrolet, a lap off the pace, but he took the Winston Cup points lead from Darrell Waltrip, who was 31st in his Junior Johnson-owned No. 11 Budweiser Chevrolet. Earnhardt, with one championship at the time, had 2,359 points, Waltrip 2,307. Terry Labonte would go on to win the 1984 Cup championship.
18. There were only 29 cars running at the finish. Heverson and Bobby Hillin Jr. crashed, but the other 11 left the race because of mechanical problems. At the most recent 400-mile NASCAR race, Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, 37 of 39 cars were running at the finish.
19. The next race was 10 days later — the Pepsi 420 at Nashville Speedway, a three-fifths-mile track. Geoffrey Bodine won. It was the 42nd and last Cup race at Nashville.
20. The Firecracker 400, which was the Firecracker 250 for its first four years, was held every July 4 from 1959 to 1986. The last year the race had ‚ÄúFirecracker‚ÄĚ in its name was 1988.