There once was a time in NASCAR when no matter how bad the crash, drivers raced back to the finish line to take the caution flag.
It was during this time, on April 3, 1977, that Darrell Waltrip won in a crazy finish at Darlington Raceway.
There were seven laps left in the Dixie 500 on this day and Waltrip was in fourth behind David Pearson, Bobby Allison and Richard Petty.
Allison was driving in relief of his brother Donnie and had managed to bring his No. 1 car back from being a lap down. And with seven laps to go, Allison passed Pearson for the lead on the backstretch.
That’s when chaos broke out exiting Turn 4 as J.D. McDuffie and Dick Brooks wrecked.
Debris from the wreck cut both ride-side tires on Allison’s car as Pearson backed off to avoid the carnage and Petty slowly navigated the mayhem.
Waltrip took the opposite approach and hammered the gas.
“I saw the wreck and knew it would take a long time to clean it up,” Waltrip said afterward according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.” “I let it all hang out running back to the caution. I knew it was my only chance to win.”
Waltrip’s No. 88 car went from fourth to first in half a straightaway as he narrowly beat Allison to the line to take the caution flag first and assume the lead.
The race never resumed and Waltrip took the checkered flag.
In victory lane, Waltrip was told by ABC that NASCAR was withholding its winner declaration until it could look at pictures of the finish.
“I got one right here and I know I’m right,” Waltrip told ABC as he pointed to his head. “I beat him to the line (by) well over a car length. I know I did.”
It wound up being Waltrip’s fourth Cup win and his first on a speedway.
Also on this date:
1960: The Cup Series held its last of four races, held over nine years, at the Arizona State Fairgrounds. John Rostek won in what was his second of six career starts. The race also featured Ron Hornaday Sr. in one of his 17 Cup Series starts. NASCAR’s premier series wouldn’t return to Arizona until the inaugural event held at Phoenix Raceway in 1988.
1966: David Pearson won a Cup race at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway. It was the first of four races – including events at Columbia (S.C.) Speedway, Greenville-Pickens (S.C) Speedway and Bowman Gray (N.C) Stadium – that were held over eight days that Pearson swept.
1969: Bobby Isaac won at Columbia (S.C) Speedway, the first of three races held over six days he swept.
2011: Kevin Harvick passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. with four laps to go to win at Martinsville.