A couple of writers who have been around racing about as long as I have were talking about the Daytona 500 during Speedweeks. It was while we were at Daytona in February, and they were asking questions about the seven times I won the 500.
So we pulled the record books and began looking at what happened.
I won the 500 for the first time in 1964. The 500 is our first points race of the year now, but back then it was the eighth event of the season.
The Twin 125 qualifying races were point races back then. Junior Johnson won the first 100-miler, and Bobby Isaac won the second.
Plymouths finished 1-2-3 in the '64 500, and I was lucky enough to lead all but 16 laps of the race and finished 3 miles in front of runner-up Jimmy Pardue. Paul Goldsmith was third and Jim Paschal fifth in a Dodge. Marvin Panch squeezed a Ford into fourth place.
Chrysler products led all but two laps of the race.
In 1966, I became the first driver to win the 500 twice. We had a bunch of tire problems, but overcame them and took the lead on the 113th lap. We were in front when rain began to pour and ended the race two laps short of the scheduled distance.
Nearly everybody had tire problems. They were coming apart in chunks and knocked the windshields out of cars driven by Marvin Panch, Curtis Turner, and Dick Hutcherson.
Ours was the only Plymouth in the top 5. Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Harold Smith, and John Sears were all in Fords and finish-ed 2-3-4-5.
By 1971, when I won for the third time, the 500 was the fourth race of the season. We finished 1-2 that year. I won the 500 driving a Plymouth, and Buddy Baker was driving a Dodge out of Petty Enterprises. He finished second, about 10 seconds behind me.
The fourth victory in the 500 came in 1973. I gambled a little on a late pit stop, and it paid off. Buddy Baker was in a K&K Insur- ance Dodge. He started from the pole position and led 157 laps.
There was a caution flag, and it moved me into contention. I was pretty close behind Baker, and then I ducked into the pits on lap 188. The crew, headed by Dale Inman, poured in some gas and I was gone in a little over 8 seconds.
Baker came in a lap later, and it took his crew 10 seconds. Back on the track, I had a 4.2-second lead. Baker cut it to 2.4 seconds and his engine blew.
Bobby Isaac finished second, Dick Brooks third, Foyt fourth, and Hershel McGriff fifth.
I was lucky enough to come right back in the next year (1974) and win for the fifth time. Donnie Allison was leading the race, and I was running second a few car lengths back. I had a tire go down in turn 3. I whipped the car into the pits and took on rubber, but when I came back out, I was about 40 seconds behind Donnie.
Then, with about 10 laps to go, somebody's engine blew in the tri-oval. Donnie was behind the guy and ran over debris that punctured both front tires. Donnie fell back, and I led a parade of cars headed by Cale Yarborough and including Ramo Stott, Coo Coo Marlin, and A.J. Foyt. Our group rounded out the top 5, and Donnie finished sixth.
My sixth Daytona 500 win came in 1979, the year Donnie and Cale wrecked in turn 3 on the last lap of the race. Then Cale and both Allison brothers had a fight.
I remember I was on a 45-race winless streak and running 15 seconds behind when they wrecked.
Yarborough tried to go under Allison down the backstretch on the final lap. Allison blocked his move. Yarborough was down in the dirt, but he came back and took Allison to the wall.
My crew told me what had happened, and I beat Darrell Waltrip to the finish line. Foyt finished a close third. Donnie was credited with fourth and Cale fifth.My seventh and last victory in the Daytona 500 came in 1981. Dale Inman was a big factor. I was running fifth with 25 laps to go. The guys up ahead of me-Bobby Allison, Ricky Rudd, Buddy Baker, and Dale Earnhardt-began pitting for gas and two tires. Dale told me over the radio that we were wearing out tires, and that we were going to pit for gas only. We stopped for 7.8 seconds and came out of the pits with a 10.7-second lead. I was able to finish 3.5 seconds ahead of Allison.