By admin | February 4, 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
In the previous entries to ‘Twelve Historic Daytona 500’s’, I have stated that some races are great because of the way they play out and some are great because of who won. Just like the other Daytona 500’s already recounted in this series, the 1981 Daytona 500 had both elements to come together in a memorable way.
Coming into 1981, Richard Petty had already collected six Daytona 500 trophies, and he had done so by essentially dominating the previous races he had won. But in 1981, the legendary driver would have to use his brain as much as his right foot to find his way to victory lane at ‘The World Center of Racing’.
Unlike many of their previous trips to the Daytona International Speedway, Petty and his crew chief/cousin Dale Inman did not unload the fastest car in 1981. Longtime rival Bobby Allison had instead shown the most muscle throughout SpeedWeeks in Harry Ranier’s #28 Pontiac. But as has been shown so many times throughout NASCAR history, the fastest car in the field is not always the one that gets to the checkered flag first.
As a matter of fact, Petty would only lead one time in this race for 26 laps compared to Allison’s multiple times at the front of the field for a total of 117 laps. However, the laps Petty led were the last 26 of the day.
Instead of out running everyone, the Hall of Fame driver relied on pit strategy to put him out front when it mattered most and it was his Hall of Fame crew chief who devised the plan that would lead to a startling victory.
“We had noticed tires hadn’t helped us that much all afternoon,” Inman explained. “I told Richard on the radio, I said, ‘Hey, bear with me on this last stop if I do something different. Be ready for anything.’ Bobby was going to beat us if we took time for two tires and gas, so I decided at the last instant, while Richard came down pit road, for just a little gas only. By the time he got back out, he was still ahead of everybody else by about nine seconds.”
After that final pit stop, Petty was able to feather the throttle enough to keep gas in the tank and still beat Allison to the line by three seconds. It would be the seventh and final Daytona 500 victory for ‘The King’.
The 1981 version of ‘The Great American Race’ was certainly one of the most historic of the 55 Daytona 500’s to have been contested.
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