Holy cow. 25 years? A quarter of a friggin' century? Really? Yet its true. Saturday, July 4, 2009 will be the 25th anniversary of win #200 by The King, Richard Petty, in the Firecracker 400 back on July 4, 1984.
I was fortunate enough to attend 3 straight Firecracker 400 races from 1990-1992. One race Id didn't attend was the 1984 edition. I won't try to recap the race itself because (1) I wasn't there and (2) better writers than me have already written plenty about the occasion. Writers such as:
Petty won the Miller 500 at Charlotte in October 1983; however, NASCAR determined in post-race tech the 43 had an over-sized engine and the wrong tires on the wrong side of the car. When all was said and done, NASCAR allowed the King to keep the win but fined the team a lot of money and points. Many folks suggest it was NASCAR's attempt to allow Petty to save face and move forward with his march to #200 - and also knowing the number of winnable moments for him was dwindling. However, others point to the fact the 2nd place car of Darrell Waltrip didn't leave them much choice but to let the 43's win stand. When the race was over, the 11 Junior Johnson team quickly loaded up DW's car and was outta there leading many to speculate his car was just as cheated-up as Richard's Pontiac.
The other factor that nearly kept the King from getting his magical victory was Cale Yarborough. One of the toughest drivers of all time, Cale didn't give a rip about the King getting the victory. HE wanted it. Yet the 43 car barely edged out Cale in his Hardee's #28 Chevy. The car was owned by Harry Ranier who later sold the team to Robert Yates.
Perhaps what chaps me most in the way of memories of this race are the ones I don't have. I was spending the summer in Jacksonville - living with my aunt and uncle and working as a truck loader between college semesters. My aunt and uncle had planned a 4th of July cookout to celebrate the retirement of my aunt's boss. I told them I'd be glad to help out with cooking, serving, visiting, whatever, and that's what I did.
The race wasn't broadcast flag-to-flag on TV. Just the last little bit was televised on ABC. I didn't get to see any of it because of all the party guests and didn't learn until that evening that the King had won.
The next day, my uncle sheepishly told me he had been given 2 tickets to the 400. He knew he couldn't go because he was committed to helping my aunt with the party. He didn't mention it to me because he figured I wouldn't want to go alone.
That's one of those personal secrets I wish he had taken to his grave. I could have been there. I would have been there. I SHOULD have been there to see the King and the Gipper!
Nonetheless, Petty's win is without a doubt the hallmark stat for NASCAR Cup racing. His 7 Daytona 500 championships are three more than the closest challenger. Only Dale Earnhardt has as many Cup championships as he's got. But 200 wins is the standout stat when rattling off the KPI's of the top Cup driver of all time.