AP Was There: Petty wins fight-marred 1979 Daytona 500

<p>
              FILE - In this Feb. 18, 1979, file photo, 41 cars roll around the wet Daytona International Speedway track under a caution flag as the Daytona 500 auto race gets under way 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, File)
            </p>

EDITOR’S NOTE __ Having grown up in Ohio, I had never seen a NASCAR race in person until the weekend of racing that climaxed with the Feb. 18, 1979, Daytona 500.

That’s when, as an Associated Press sports writer newly based in Florida, I covered what would be one of the most memorable Daytona 500 races of all time. It ended chaotically, with a last-lap crash followed by a brawl that allowed the great Richard Petty to get a surprise victory.

The AP is republishing my race story as part of the run-up to this Sunday’s 500, as it appeared in the Beaumont (Texas) Journal the day after the race.

—Dan Sewell, AP Cincinnati correspondent.