This Friday marks a significant 30th anniversary when NASCAR really came into being a national sport.
Now some will say that happened five years prior at the Daytona 500 which was the first nationally televised NASCAR race on February 18 1979 but the event that day was at the race’s conclusion with the famous fight between Cale Yarborough & Donnie Allison and that was one of NASCAR’s most memorable moments.
But it was Independence Day in 1984 that took stock car racing to the next level, not only did President Ronald Reagan give the start your engines call (from Air Force One), but that very plane landed behind the track (in a very memorable shot during the race), and the President also called part of the race. President Reagan had been a sports announcer in his younger days and he went back to his sportscaster ways for a little bit that afternoon.
And oh yeah Richard “The King” Petty won his legendary 200th race.
30 years ago this July 4th, NASCAR history was made when Richard Petty won the Firecracker 400 (at Daytona International Speedway), his 200th race (it was also be his last win), it was a classic race for that feat not to mention President Reagan congratulated Richard Petty on the win.
It was a different era of racing and although The King was past his prime, this race was a drive back in time when blue # 43 STP Pontiac (or previously Plymouth), dominated the track and lived in victory lane.
In today’s NASCAR 200 wins in a career is just unfathomable even for the best drivers, the current best driver is six time champion Jimmie Johnson and he has only 69 wins and future hall of famer Jeff Gordon has 89 wins. In The King’s day, there were more races (even some during the middle of the week), a less equal playing field and NASCAR wasn’t as strong as governing body as it is today, though in the 1983 season The King was heavily disciplined for using an illegal engine.
It can be argued the racing today has less dominant drivers but there are more quality drivers in the 43 car field every week and the racing is so much safer. But times brings change and on that July day in 1984 it was the King’s day, now granted he raced another eight years and up until his last race (which ironically was the first race for Jeff Gordon), he raced tough, even finishing in a busted up car on that day in November 1992.
NASCAR has since gained popularity, has achieved significant technology & safety upgrades and is more accessible than ever with every race televised, there are NASCAR tracks in just about every part of the country and the sport is very social media savvy.
But there is something special about 4th of July weekend and Daytona Speedway, now granted the premier race there is in February to kick off the NASCAR season but its pure summer to see that Independence Day race there.
And there was no greater July 4th race than the one 30 years ago in which The King went out on top.
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