The King, The President, and a July 4th in Daytona to Remember

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Written By: Lauren Perkins-Follow @perkylauren

July 6, 2013

For most NASCAR fans, Independence Day weekend means racing at Daytona. An event that was once held under the hot Florida sun, it is now an action-packed night race. The 1984 “Firecracker 400”, held on July 4th, was still a day race, and it would prove to be one to remember.

President Ronald Reagan was on the campaign trail hoping for a second term, and it was decided that one of his stops along the way would be a NASCAR race. What better way to introduce The President to the racing community, than on the most patriotic day of the year. President Reagan gave the command to “start your engines” from Air Force One and soon after landed in Daytona to watch the remainder of the race.

Cale Yarborough in the No. 28 Hardee’s Chevrolet started in the pole position that day, and it was he and Richard Petty in the iconic No. 43 STP Pontiac who would swap the lead throughout the race. Petty had won 199 Cup races in his career, and he was thirsty for number 200. And what better way to win it than with the President of the United States on hand for an Independence Day race. But with 100 laps in the books, it was looking like Yarborough might claim the victory and make Richard Petty wait another week to attempt win number 200.

As the President made his way to join Ned Jarrett in the announcer’s booth, things started turning around for Petty. He took the lead at lap 128 with only 32 laps to go. Petty and Yarborough were in a heated back and forth battle at the front as the laps wound down. A caution came out on lap 157 for an overturned car, and the two battled side-by-side back to the start/finish line, with Petty barely edging out Yarborough to the checkered/caution flag.

The current Green-White-Checkered rule was not implemented until much later, which meant the race ended under the caution flag, and Petty was the winner. He didn’t know it at the time, but his 200th win that day would also be his last in the Winston Cup Series.

After he took the white flag “The King” made his way to the press box to greet the President, and was in turn congratulated on his historic win. It was as perfect an outcome as NASCAR could have hoped for, and became an instant classic moment in the sport.

Now being run at night under the Daytona lights, this race is still producing exciting finishes for the fans. As Kyle Busch will lead the field to the green flag tonight in the “Coke Zero 400”, we can only hope for another instant classic performance from one of the 43 cars looking for a win. It is shaping up to be a Toyota show, with the manufacturer holding four out of the top five qualifying spots, but as everyone knows all too well, predicting a Daytona outcome is close to impossible.