Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fond memories of the Daytona 500

The Daytona 500 turns 50 today, but, unfortunately, I only remember about 20 of them.
I admit that I wasn't an auto racing fan while growing up. In fact, I thought it was the biggest waste of time. I never even watched the Indianapolis 500.
That all changed in 1987 when my editor asked me what I was doing one Saturday night in June. I probably would have told him I was busy if I had known he was going to ask me to cover the American Speed Association race out at the Berlin Raceway in Marne.

Butch Miller of Coopersville won the race, and on my way home, I remember thinking, "That was some really cool stuff."
Daytona has produced some really cool memories over the past two decades, too. Here's my fondest memories of stock car racing's Super Bowl.

5. Harvick's home run (2007)Kevin Harvick edged Mark Martin at the finish, and right behind them came Clint Bowyer, spinning across the stripe on his roof. It provided for one of the most dramatic finishes in Daytona 500 history.
It sure was nice to see longtime car owner Richard Childress back in Victory Lane at Daytona. But you had to feel for Martin, who has yet to win at Daytona.4. Tell the doc he's busy (1997)The late Dale Earnhardt was involved in a horrific wreck on the backstretch late in the race. He was getting into the ambulance so he could be taken back to the infield care center for observation when he asked one of the track's safety officials if the car would start.
The Intimidator jumped out of the ambulance once the engine fired up, and he finished the race in his damaged Goodwrench Chevrolet.
Earnhardt won his first and only Daytona 500 one year later, but I feel that his actions in the 1997 race defined him more than any victory could.

AP PhotoJeff Gordon's gamble paid off in 1999.3. No fear (1999)It was the gutsiest move I've ever seen at Daytona.
Jeff Gordon almost went down to the grass to pass Rusty Wallace for the lead with 11 laps to go, and he nearly ended up in the trunk of Ricky Rudd's lapped car. But Gordon got the lead and held off Earnhardt for the victory.

2. Waltrip's Waltz (1989)To NASCAR's newest fans, Darrell Waltrip probably is just a commentator who tries way too hard to be Terry Bradshaw. But he was one of the best when it came to driving, and he recorded the biggest victory of his career in his 17th Daytona 500 start.
Waltrip won on a gas mileage gamble, then gave us one of Victory Lane's most memorable celebrations when he pulled off the Icky Shuffle and spiked his helmet.

1. The Dale & Dale Show (1993)Upstart Dale Jarrett held off Dale Earnhardt to win his first of three 500s.
His father, Ned Jarrett was in the television booth providing color, and he was given the play-by-play duties for the last lap.
"Gentleman, start your engines" may be the most famous words in all of motorsports.
However, Ned Jarrett's classic line -- "It's the Dale & Dale show, and you know who I'm rooting for" -- has to be in the top five.


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