By admin | February 2, 2014
I have been a NASCAR fan for as long as I can remember, and a significant number of my racing memories have come from the Daytona 500. There have been 55 Daytona 500’s to this point and every one of them has been historic in its own right. In this series that will run in the days leading up to this year’s running of ‘The Great American Race’, I will list the twelve versions of the sport’s most important event that I consider to be the most noteworthy.
By Richard Allen
Some races are great because of the way they play out and some are great because of who won. The 1967 Daytona 500 had each of those elements come together in the same event.
Mario Andretti had only started six NASCAR races coming into the race and after finishing sixth in his qualifying preliminary, he didn’t look like a favorite to take the home the trophy on Sunday. However, he would go on to win the event and become the only driver in racing history to have won the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and a Formula 1 World Championship.
Andretti had won USAC Champ car titles prior to his Daytona start so the Ford Motor Company sent him to ‘The World Center of Racing’ to serve as a teammate to Holman-Moody driver Fred Lorenzen. Legendary crew members Waddell Wilson and Jake Elder were a part of that team so the cars were certain to be strong, but it was Lorenzen who was considered the auto manufacturer’s ‘golden boy’ at the time.
Despite the odds being stacked against him, Andretti decided to go all out for the win. Unlike many other drivers of the time, the 27-year-old Italian-born driver asked that his car be set up as loose as possible. His crew obliged and the No. 11 Ford went around the big 2.5 mile tri-oval as if it were racing on dirt for much of the 500 mile distance.
“He almost wrecked on every lap,” Wilson said of Andretti’s driving style that day. “We thought he was a wreck just waiting to happen. I’ve never seen a driving performance like Mario put on that day. It was such a radical style, no one expected him to finish. He was the class of the field.”
The race was not without a certain element of controversy. Andretti came to pit road for the final time on lap 163 with a sizable lead over Lorenzen. However, when the cars left the pits, Lorenzen held a six second advantage. But Andretti chased his teammate down to retake the top spot. A late race blown engine by Richard Petty ended the race under caution but the outcome had already been determined.
Andretti made only seven more starts in NASCAR and never won another race. But in the one he did win, he most definitely left a mark on the sport.
The 1967 version of ‘The Great American Race’ was certainly one of the most historic of the 55 Daytona 500’s to have been contested.
*On a personal note- My dad attended this race and still talks about Mario Andretti winning by driving sideways virtually the whole race.
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