From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, February 26, 1979
THERE IS AN UNWRITTEN RULE ABOUT DRIVING INTO A TURN ON the last lap of a race this important, and Richard Petty knows it by heart: "You took chances all day long, so now is the time to go for broke. You don't run into somebody on purpose, but you don't get overly concerned with him, either." � Thus spoke Petty on Feb. 18, after he had won the Daytona 500 thanks to the two leaders' crashing into each other on the next-to-last turn of the race.
It would be safe to say that Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison weren't overly concerned about each other—at least not each other's welfare—on the last lap of the 500. With 499 miles behind them, Allison led Yarborough by a car length. Earlier Yarborough had twice shot past Allison, and they both knew he was capable of doing it again. As they approached Turn 3, Yarborough's car dropped beneath Allison's and drew up alongside on the backstraight. Donnie moved down to prevent the pass. To complicate matters Bobby Allison, Donnie's brother, was ahead of Yarborough. Cale had two choices: slow down and lose the race, or try getting by down on the grass, which is really no choice at all for a racer. With two wheels riding on grass slickened from an overnight rain, Yarborough's blue-and-white Oldsmobile was hit by the left side of Donnie's maroon Olds. They bounced off each other several times as they careered up into the cement retaining wall and then back down across the track, coming to rest at last on the grass verge. Petty, half a lap behind in third place, breezed by their wreckage and held off Darrell Waltrip and A.J. Foyt at the flag. Meanwhile, Donnie and Cale, soon joined by Bobby, were duking it out across the track by Turn 3.
Speaking generally, because he hadn't seen the crash and wasn't about to place blame, Petty said, "If you're leading, you can cut the other guy off, but you always give him a way out."
As the two demolished Oldsmobiles were towed back to their garages, Yarborough was quivering with rage. "They double-teamed me," he fumed. "Bobby held me up and waited on Donnie so they could block me out. I run up on the back of Bobby, and Donnie came down on the apron and knocked me on the grass. I knew it was going to happen. I just couldn't do anything about it. So I knocked the hell out of him. We just kept bumping into each other all the way into the wall.
"I got out of my car and went over to Donnie and said, 'That's the worst thing I ever seen.' Then Bobby came over. I asked him why he slowed down. Then I swung at him. Then all three of us went at it. That was the first fistfight I've been in since I was a teenager.
"I knew how to win the race. I had him beat. He knew it too."
Donnie, with a look that could kill, said, "I was prepared for anything. I wasn't fixing to back off. After we hit the wall, he came over and started calling me a son of a bitch and a bastard. Bobby had stopped, and he punched at Bobby through his window. If he had hit me, I'd have beat his brains out.
"Won't do any good to say anything else."