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April 8 in NASCAR: Waltrip edges Petty in epic last-lap battle at Darlington

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The last five laps of the 1979 Rebel 500 at Darlington Raceway were pretty wild.

The final dash of the April 8 race featured Richard Petty and a young Darrell Waltrip in the early stages of their year-long battle for the title (which Petty would claim).

Together, Waltrip (242 laps) and Petty (89) led 331 of the race’s 367 laps. But it came down to a five-lap shootout where they traded the lead almost 10 times, with each driver leading twice on the final lap.

Petty led at the white flag before Waltrip dove underneath him in Turn 1.

Petty pulled up to Waltrip’s left-side door for the length of the backstretch before he briefly pulled ahead entering Turn 3. That’s when Waltrip darted to the inside and rocketed to the lead and the win.

Darrell Waltrip in victory lane after the 1979 Rebel 500 at Darlington. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

It was the second of seven wins for Waltrip that season.

“We touched several times,” Waltrip said afterward according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.” “We knew the show was still going on. I’d wave at him or he’d wave at me. I never thought for once he’d wreck me. It was tight, but fair and square.”

The day also marked the end of one of the most historic pairings in NASCAR history.

After earning 42 wins together from 1972-79, Wood Brothers Racing and three-time champion David Pearson split up.

It came after a pit miscue that saw Pearson leave his pit box when the team had only changed two of the intended four tires. The left-side tires came off the car as Pearson reached the end of pit road.

Crew chief Leonard Wood later denied it was because of the pit incident.

“It was the climax of several small things,” Wood said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing.”

Also on this date:

1951: The premier series put on two races on this day, in Mobile, Alabama, and in Gardena, California. The California race, at Carrell Speedway, was the first Grand National event held west of the Mississippi. It was won by Marshall Teague, who led all 200 laps on his way to securing his second of seven career wins (in 23 starts). He was a two-time winner on the Daytona Beach course.

1956: Tim Flock won his third race of the year, at North Wilkesboro, and then quit the team he was racing for, the Chrysler team owned by Carl Kiekhaefer he won a title for in 1955. Flock was replaced by Buck Baker. Flock would only win one more time that year while driving for Bill Stroppe and it would be his last of 39 career wins. Baker would win the next two races and 10 more after that on his way to his first of two championships.