Happy “Back to the Future Day.” Marty McFly traveled to Oct. 21, 2015, in the second installment of the Back to the Future franchise in 1989. With today being the future from back then, it’s fun to look back at that classic film to see just what was predicted correctly and the things the film’s writers got wrong. Actually, I think it’s kind of eerie to think of all the stuff they actually did get right. But that’s beside the point.
As NASCAR fans, how better to celebrate “Back to the Future Day” than to think about climbing in to a DeLorean, getting it up to 88 mph (I’m sure Junior Nation loves that happy little coincidence) and travel back in time to some great NASCAR moments? Or maybe you’d like to be like McFly in the second movie and head down the road to the future to see what it may hold for NASCAR.
I didn’t want to venture into the realm of trying to predict the future. Instead, I’m imagining a few mini trips back in time to some memorable moments in NASCAR history. Here’s my travel itenerary:
Dec. 14, 1947, Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla. — Bill France gathers a group of racers and track promoters at the Steamline Hotel to discuss the formation a racing organization. The end result — the formation of NASCAR on Feb. 21, 1948. Oh, to be a fly on those walls.
Feb. 22, 1959, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway — The first Daytona 500 is held at France’s newly constructed Daytona International Speedway to replace the nearby yearly beach races. An estimated crowd of nearly 42,000 fans were on hand to watch the first race on the Daytona high banks, but they didn’t know the winner when they left the track that day. Johnny Beauchamp was declared the winner of the race after a photo finish, but Lee Petty successfully protested those official results and was declared the winner three days later.
July 4, 1984, Daytona International Speedway — This race was historic on multiple levels. It was the only race attended by a sitting president with US President Ronald Reagan in attendance. It was also seven-time champion and future NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty’s 200th and final Cup level win. Of course, we didn’t know then that it would be Petty’s last win, but hindsight’s 20/20 and isn’t that, after all, one of the benefits of time travel? Oh and Regan also sat down to a meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken with the drivers in the track’s garage area. As a Kentucky girl, I can definitely appreciate a meal from KFC, pre-creepy modern commercials featuring Colonel Sanders wannabes.
Nov. 15, 1992, Atlanta Motor Speedway — I would go back to watch the 2992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta for two reasons — Richard Petty and Jeff Gordon. The race didn’t go well for either. Petty spent time in the garage before returning to the track to finish 35th after starting an even worse 39th. Gordon did a little better, but just a little, finishing 31st. But we were witnessing history in the making that day, we just didn’t realize how much. Sure, we knew it was the end of an era as Petty’s last race as a driver and the first for Gordon at the Cup level. But we didn’t know what kind of legend Gordon would go on to become. One era may have been ending, but we didn’t know another was beginning. I guess this was another one of those hindsight 20/20 moments. Knowing what we know now, I think I’d appreciate this race much more.
Feb. 15, 1998, Daytona International Speedway — Is it just me, or am I making a lot of trips to Daytona, here? Oh to have been at Daytona to witness the late Dale Earnhardt finally winning the Daytona 500. After years of winning races at Daytona in July, in the Busch Series, in The Busch Clash-turned-Bud Shootout, in the Daytona 500 qualifying races, one trophy just kept eluding the seven-time champion and future NASCAR Hall of Famer — the Harley J. Earl trophy awarded to the Daytona 500 winner each year. After 20 years of trying and several near misses in the form of flat tires and seagulls, Earnhardt finally won NASCAR’s premier event in 1998.The race ened under caution back before the days of green-white-checker restarts, but that little detail has been forgotten over the years. What hasn’t been forgotten is the sight of that black No. 3 driving down victory road and high fives from pretty much every member of every crew on pit road that day. I admit I got misty eyes by that sight on my TV.
Nov. 20, 2011, Homestead-Miami Speedway — Tony Stewart declared several weeks prior that he was just taking up space in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Given his lackluster regular season performance, he didn’t think, at least not publicly, that he deserved to be in the Chase. If anyone else felt the same, Stewart probably changed their minds once the Chase started. Stewart wound up winning five of the 10 Chase races, including the season-finale at Homestead to beat out Carl Edwards for his third Cup in the closest championship battle in NASCAR history. Smoke and Edwards ended the season in a points ties, with Stewart taking the title by virtue of a tie-breaker (most wins). Stewart’s Homestead run, alone, was action-packed, as he raced from the back to the front multiple times on his way to the race win and Sprint Cup championship.
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