No. 4 most memorable Daytona 500: The crash

No. 4 most memorable Daytona 500: 1976.

Updated: February 15, 2007, 6:05 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Watching David Pearson and Richard Petty trade paint while trying to win a race was nothing new in 1976. One of them had won while the other finished second in 57 races entering that season.

What was happening in 1976
• Average household income was $12,886.
• The price of a stamp was 13 cents.
• Jimmy Carter was elected president.
• The sticker price of a Mercury Cougar (similar to David Pearson's winning ride) was $5,125.
• The top movies were "Rocky" (the original), "Taxi Driver," "Network" and "All the President's Men." But the Academy Award went to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
• Alex Haley's book "Roots" was published.
• Top sitcom was "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
• Grammy for Record of the Year went to Captain & Tennille for "Love Will Keep Us Together."
-- Terry Blount

Five most memorable
Daytona 500s

• No. 1: 2001 | ESPN Video
• No. 2: The fist fight | ESPN Video
• No. 3: Dale gets his | ESPN Video
• No. 4: The crash | ESPN Video
• No. 5: The photo finish | ESPN Video

It was fierce competition whenever the two NASCAR legends were near each other heading for a checkered flag, but nothing compared with the final seconds of the 1976 Daytona 500.

Pearson was 41 and had won three championships when the '76 season started, but he was 0-for-14 in the Daytona 500.

He finally won it in his 15th attempt by coaxing his heavily damaged No. 21 Wood Brothers Mercury across the finish line after a last-lap crash with his rival.

The incredible ending makes the 1976 race No. 4 on our list of most memorable Daytona 500 moments.

The finish wasn't the only crazy thing that happened that year. A.J. Foyt won the pole at 187.477 mph, but Foyt and No. 2 qualifier Darrell Waltrip had their qualifying laps disallowed.

NASCAR officials found evidence that Foyt and Waltrip used nitrous oxide (so-called laughing gas) to enhance the performance of the engines and add horsepower.

Waltrip admitted concealing his bottle of nitrous oxide, but Foyt was furious at NASCAR's decision. He was seen angrily lecturing NASCAR president Bill France Jr. before Bill France Sr. showed up.

France Sr. had retired in 1972, but he still was rough and tough "Big Bill" to everyone in the garage area. Few people had the guts to confront Foyt one-on-one, but France Sr. was one of them.

When Foyt and France Sr. walked out from behind closed doors, France had his arm around Foyt's neck and Foyt was saying, "Yes, sir, Mr. France."

Dave Marcis, the third-fastest qualifier, also had his lap disqualified, in his case because of an illegal blockage of the radiator.

Petty started sixth and Pearson started seventh in the 42-car field on race day. Despite starting 31st, Foyt led 66 of the first 140 laps before dropping out of the race.

Richard Petty
AP PhotoRichard Petty's car crashed into David Pearson's car, then hit the wall on the final lap of the 1976 Daytona 500. When Petty's car came to rest, Petty couldn't get restarted. Pearson limped his car across the finish line, relegating Petty to second place.

Pearson and Petty dominated the last quarter of the race, with one of them in front for 45 of the last 46 laps. Petty passed Pearson for the lead on Lap 188 and remained in front until the last lap.

The final mile of the race ranks among NASCAR's wildest moments. Pearson used the draft to pass Petty going into Turn 3.

The momentum of the pass pushed Pearson's car up the track, allowing Petty to slide back underneath him. But Petty didn't clear Pearson.

The two cars ran side by side through Turn 4 before Petty moved up the track as the cars made hard contact heading into the frontstretch. The bump sent both cars into the wall.

"I'm not sure what happened," Pearson said after the race. "He went beneath me and his car broke loose. I got into the wall and came off and hit him. That's what started all the spinning."

Petty's No. 43 Dodge spun down the track and into the infield grass, less than 50 yards from the finish line. His engine stopped, and he couldn't get it restarted.

"It was just one of those racing deals," Petty said later about the crash. "Pearson would have done the same thing. We didn't have spotters back then, so I didn't know I wasn't clear."

Pearson slid to the pit entrance and made contact with Joe Frasson's car. Pearson spun back toward the track as the engine continued to run. He checked his radio and asked his pit crew what happened to Petty.

"I told him Richard was in the grass and he wasn't moving," said Eddie Wood, who was on the pit box. "David said, 'Well, here I come.' And he came poking along."

The best news for Pearson at this point was that no other driver was on the lead lap. So Pearson straightened his car, gave it some gas and crept across the finish line for the victory.

Petty's crew attempted to push his car across the line, but that isn't allowed under NASCAR rules. He still was credited with second place.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter