Daytona's Firecracker 400 was often the mid-point of the season. In 1973, however, the race represented the 17th of the year's 28-race schedule.
The story of the season, however, was David Pearson and his #21 Wood Brothers team. Running a limited schedule, the Purolator Mercury team raced in only 10 of the season's first 16 races. Yet Pearson won seven of his ten starts. Even more impressively, those seven wins came in the previous eight starts - with Pearson nabbing a second at the only race he didn't win during that streak.
Bobby Allison won the pole for the Firecracker - his first for a Daytona race. He'd win one other pole at the speedway in his career, the 1981 Daytona 500. Allison dominated the race but lost it to Petty's 43 on an epic pit call by Dale Inman. *snicker*
Cale Yarborough, a two-time, back-to-back winner of the Firecracker in 1967-68, qualified second alongside Allison followed by Bobby Isaac in Bud Moore's Ford. Petty, who celebrated his 36th birthday two days before the race and had finished second in the 400 the past two years, qualified fourth. Independent driver from Columbia, TN, Coo Coo Marlin, laid down a fantastic lap to earn the fifth starting spot. Pearson, the defending winner of the race, lined up beside Marlin in sixth.
Two USAC Indy car regulars, Gordon Johncock and A.J. Foyt, started 16th and 18th respectively. Both had quick cars but were ineligible for a top starting spot because they missed the first day of qualifying on Sunday, July 1. Both were in Pennsylvania for the running of the Schaefer 500 at Pocono, a race won by Foyt.
Allison got the jump as the race went green and led the first lap. Isaac battled back, took the lead, and then led laps two and three.
|Source: The Pantagraph|
Despite leading 33 laps early in the race, Yarborough's day was done after 65 laps. He blew a tire coming through the tri-oval, pounded the fence head first, and was done for the day.
With two of their biggest competitors in the garage with DNFs, Petty and Pearson took the rest of the field to the woodshed. The two drafted each other and swapped the lead every few laps the remaining 150 miles.
As per usual, the Petty Enterprises and Wood Brothers crews nailed their jobs. This ensured the two legends would settle the race on the track rather than have one prevail because of a miscue on pit road. If whoever captioned the following photo for Getty Images is correct, the race was the first time the second generation Wood, Eddie, went over the wall as a crew member.
The career rivals separated themselves from the field. They hammered down and eventually lapped the field - including the third place car by four laps. As the white flag fell, Pearson was comfortably in front of Petty - but still may have been wondering about the possibility of the King's pulling a slingshot by him. With a restrictor plate on his big block hemi, however, Petty's STP Charger didn't have the needed punch. Pearson continued his lead all the way to the checkers, and he won the Firecracker by about six car lengths.
|Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal|
Pearson headed to victory lane for the eighth time in eleven starts in '73. The King had to have scratched his head wondering "what the...?" after finishing second for the third consecutive year.
|Source: Warren Times Mirror and Observer|
|Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive|
Another racer attending the shin-dig also provided the featured entertainment. Marty Robbins who finished eighth at Daytona sang several songs and quipped "This is as close as I'll ever get to David Pearson going across the finish line." Spartanburg songwriter Joe Bennett also performed his song Little David. Come on internet, cough up an MP3 of this single!