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AP Was There: Yarborough-Allison brawl mars ’79 Daytona 500

February 16, 2019 GMT
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FILE - In this Feb. 18, 1979, file photo, Cale Yarborough, right, kicks and pushes Bobby Allison, center, who is catching his leg as brother Donnie, left, tries to pull his Bobby free from the fight which started after Yarborough collided with Donnie on the last lap of the Daytona 500 auto race, taking them both out of the finals in the race in Daytona Beach, Fla. The 1979 race was instrumental in broadening NASCAR's southern roots. Forty years later, it still resonates as one of the most important days in NASCAR history. (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File)
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FILE - In this Feb. 18, 1979, file photo, Cale Yarborough, right, kicks and pushes Bobby Allison, center, who is catching his leg as brother Donnie, left, tries to pull his Bobby free from the fight which started after Yarborough collided with Donnie on the last lap of the Daytona 500 auto race, taking them both out of the finals in the race in Daytona Beach, Fla. The 1979 race was instrumental in broadening NASCAR's southern roots. Forty years later, it still resonates as one of the most important days in NASCAR history. (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Richard Petty won the race. Who won the fight?

The 1979 Daytona 500 title may have gone to The King, but it is most memorable for the infield brawl between Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers, Donnie and Bobby. The tussle came after Yarborough and Donnie Allison wrecked while running 1-2 on the last lap of the race, giving Petty his opening.

Below is The Associated Press story on the fight and what the drivers said afterward as it appeared in The Decatur (Ill.) Herald on Feb. 19, 1979, the day after the race. The byline was Jerry Garrett and the story was labeled an “analysis’ of what happened.

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“You look back at all the great crashes in history — Cale and Donnie, Cale and me, Cale and Richard Petty, Richard and David, Cale and David, Cale and Marcis, Cale and Buddy, Cale and McQuagg, Cale and Lee Roy ...

“It’s always seemed to come down to a deal like this. Cale is always right. It don’t matter whether he was running first or second. He’s always in the right,” Bobby Allison said critically of the hard-charging Yarborough after a race-ending fracas between the Allison brothers and Yarborough in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Bobby Allison said he “just stopped to see what all the excitement was” after his brother Donnie and Yarborough crashed while running 1-2 and fighting for victory on the last lap of the $600,000 stock car classic. Instead, Bobby found himself fighting with the irate Yarborough while his brother tried in vain to join in tag-team style.

A series of Associated Press photos show Bobby choking Yarborough, while Donnie tried to nail the three-time national champion with a helmet. Yarborough is kicking Bobby in the abdomen. Yarborough said he was provoked into throwing the first punch.

Officials quickly broke up the fight, but the principals hardly were through sparring. Yarborough went through most of the unabridged dictionary describing the Allison brothers. The brothers, in turn, felt Yarborough was forgetting established rules of the road.

“The car in the lead owns the race track,” Yarborough said after a close victory last season when his blocking tactics were questioned.

“Now if that was true for Cale then, why ain’t it true now?” Donnie asked.

Allison “owned the race track” going down the backstretch on the last lap when Yarborough made the move almost everyone in the packed house of 120,000 knew was coming. Allison also knew it.

Yarborough tried to zoom past on the inside, using the slingshot effect in the draft.

Earlier, Yarborough had tried it successfully but the last 55 miles he was content to follow closely behind. He couldn’t have imagined he was fooling Allison by waiting until the last lap when Allison wouldn’t have a chance to slingshot back around before the checkered flag.

“I knew it was coming,” Allison said. “Cale had made up his mind he would pass me low, and I had made up my mind he was gonna have to pass me high.”

Television replays showed Allison moved over to protect the inside lane as Yarborough zoomed alongside — a textbook last lap maneuver. Their cars did not touch. Yarborough could have backed off then and settled for second. He kept the accelerator floored and veered back into the track. His momentum carried him into the side of Allison’s car, and he bounced back off the track.

At that point, Yarborough’s goals seemed to change. He jerked the steering wheel to the right and his car rammed Allison’s. Twice more he repeated the sequence. Both cars had heavy damage but still were heading straight ahead. As they headed into a left turn (turn three), Yarborough was shown violently turning right, into Allison and holding his steering wheel right, as both cars plowed straight ahead into the wall outside the turn. When Allison’s trapped car hit the wall, Yarborough tried to wrest his free, but by then it was too late.

“It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen in racing,” Yarborough raged. “Bobby waited on us so he could block me off. It was evident. The films will show it. They double-teamed me. My wheels were over in the dirt and Donnie knocked me over on the dirt farther. He carried me into the grass. I started spinning and Donnie started spinning.”

The TV replays didn’t show that. They appeared to back up the Allisons.

“Naw, I didn’t block him. I wasn’t even close,” Bobby said.

Bobby was about 500 feet ahead of the wreck when it happened.

Yarborough’s aggressive driving style — some say intimidating — has earned him enemies on the circuit over the years. The Allison brothers are not new to feuding on the track either. Yarborough sent Bobby to the worst crash of his career at Rockingham, N.C., in 1976.

Early in the race, Bobby said, “I got some help” from Yarborough when he tapped his brother and sent all three cars spinning off the track. Yarborough had to make up three laps after that to get back with the leaders. Donnie had to get back one lap. Bobby never did catch up.

“Then about 40 laps to go, Cale came up and knocked me good in the rear end again. I don’t know what that was for,” Bobby recalled.

Nobody seems to know if this will lead to a new feud in the seldom mild-mannered sport. All the principals face off again Sunday at Richmond, Va. Officials said they were studying the situation to see if any action needs to be taken “in the interest of sportsmanship.”

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The AP Corporate Archives contributed to this report.

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