Wood Brothers 4th Daytona 500 Victory In arguably one of the greatest finishes of modern era automobile racing, the 1976 Daytona 500 would forever memorialize the incredible battle between legendary drivers David Pearson, driving the Wood Brother’s #21 Purolator sponsored Mercury, and Richard Petty, driving his #43 STP sponsored Dodge.
David and Richard had endured years of battling each other on the track, regularly finishing first and second. Fifty-seven times in the prior 13 seasons the two had finished first and second – David winning 29 times and Richard winning 28 times. No one expected the 1976 Daytona 500 to be any different. However, no one could have scripted the events that unfolded on the last lap of that sunny February day.
The week leading up to the race was filled with controversy. The top three qualifying times were disallowed – two for use of nitrous oxide and one for illegal blockage of a radiator. After it was all said and done, Ramo Stott, a bean farmer from Iowa, ended up with the pole position. A gentleman by the name of Terry Ryan sat on the outside pole. David Pearson had qualified 7th and Richard Petty qualified just ahead of him in 6th.
As the race began, David and Richard immediately began their battle to the delight of the 125,000 plus fans in attendance. In 1976, NASCAR did not require the cars to use restrictor plates. The added horsepower from the unrestricted engines in cars that were much less aerodynamic than today’s cars resulted in an incredible display of “slingshot passing.” Such was the case on this day as the pair battled the entire race, along with other legendary NASCAR drivers such as Benny Parsons, Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, A.J. Foyt, and Darrell Waltrip.
As the white flag waived, indicating the final lap of the race, Petty was leading with Pearson in his rear-view mirror. As they came out of turn two and down the back stretch, Pearson passed Petty. Upon entering turn 3, Petty saw an opening to the bottom of the track, drove his STP Dodge under Pearson and took the lead by half a car length. As the two exited turn 4, Petty drifted up the track. The right rear of Petty’s car brushed the left front of Pearson's Mercury turning Pearson head-on into the wall. Almost immediately, Petty’s car began to swerve with Richard trying to save it for about 200 yards down the front stretch. He then hit the outside wall head-on too. From there both cars spun multiple times into the grass infield.
Fortunately for Pearson, he depressed the clutch to keep his engine from stalling (a lesson he learned in the previous year’s 500). Petty’s car, on the other hand, had stalled giving Pearson the edge. Petty’s car finally stopped only 150 feet from the finish line. While spinning, Pearson radioed Eddie Wood and asked him where Petty was. Eddie responded that Richard was still in the infield and had not crossed the start/finish line. Pearson righted his banged up car and incredibly drove the #21 car across the start-finish line for the Wood Brothers' fourth Daytona 500 win.
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