February 16

This Day in History

Automotive

Feb 16, 1997:

Jeff Gordon becomes youngest Daytona winner

On February 16, 1997, 25-year-old Jeff Gordon claims his first Daytona 500 victory, becoming the youngest winner in the history of the 200-lap, 500-mile National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) event, dubbed the "Super Bowl of stock car racing." Driving his No. 24 Chevrolet Monte Carlo for the Hendrick Motorsports racing team, Gordon recorded an average speed of 148.295 mph and took home prize money of more than $377,000. According to NASCAR.com, Gordon was "a veritable babe in a field that included 27 drivers older than 35, 16 at least 40." Gordon's Hendrick teammates Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven finished the race second and third, respectively.

Gordon was born August 4, 1971, in Vallejo, California, and became involved in racing as a child. In 1993, he competed in his first full season of Winston Cup series (now known as the Sprint Cup), NASCAR's top racing series, and was named Rookie of the Year. He went on to win the Winston series championship in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001. Following his first victory at the Daytona 500 in 1997, Gordon won the prestigious race, which serves as the NASCAR season-opener, again in 1999 and 2005.

At the other end of the Daytona age spectrum from Gordon is 50-year-old Bobby Allison, who on February 14, 1988, became the oldest driver to win the Daytona 500. He had an average speed of 137.531 mph and collected over $202,000 in prize money. Allison's son Davey came in second place in that race. Bobby Allison, who was born on December 3, 1937, in Florida, drove in his first Daytona 500 in 1961 and went on to win the race in 1978 and 1982, in addition to his 1988 victory.

The first-ever Daytona 500 was held on February 22, 1959, at the then brand-new Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. A crowd of more than 40,000 was on hand to witness the 59 cars that started the event. Lee Petty narrowly defeated Johnny Beauchamp to win the race with an average speed of 135.521 mph. He collected prize money of some $19,000. By comparison, Matt Kenseth won the 2009 Daytona 500 with an average speed of 132.816 mph, and took home prize money of more than $1.5 million.

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