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1979

Darrell Waltrip beats Richard Petty in last-lap NASCAR thriller

On this day in 1979, in the Rebel 500 event at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, drivers Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty swap the lead four times in a last-lap battle before Waltrip finally wins the race.

The race also featured a pit stop mishap in which driver David Pearson, following a miscommunication with his crew, drove away with only two of his four tires properly changed. Pearson’s car flipped over and had to be removed from the race. The embarrassing incident led to Pearson, who was a top driver, being released from his team, Wood Brothers.

At the time of his defeat by Waltrip at the Rebel 500, Richard Petty was a NASCAR legend. That same year, he won his seventh NASCAR championship, a record later duplicated by just one other driver, Dale Earnhardt (1951-2001). Petty, who was born on July 2, 1937, in Level Cross, North Carolina, is the son of driver Lee Petty (1914-2000), a three-time NASCAR champ who won the first Daytona 500 in 1959. Richard Petty began his own NASCAR career in 1958 and was a dominant competitor before retiring in the early 1990s. Nicknamed “The King,” Petty won a record 200 races in his career, including a record seven victories at the Daytona 500. Petty’s son Kyle (1960- ) also became a well-known NASCAR driver; his grandson Adam (1980-2000), NASCAR’s first fourth-generation driver, was killed in an accident during a practice session at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Darrell Waltrip, who was born on February 5, 1947, in Owensboro, Kentucky, began racing in NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series (now known as the Sprint Cup) in 1972. Aggressive and outspoken, Waltrip earned the nickname “Jaws.” He won the Winston Cup championship in 1981, 1982 and 1985 and claimed victory at the Daytona 500 in 1989. After retiring as a competitor, Waltrip became a race commentator. His younger brother Michael Waltrip (1963- ) is a two-time Daytona 500 winner.

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