The 1979 Daytona 500 would've been a monumental NASCAR race even without its infamous grand finale.
For one, it kicked off the rookie seasons of Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, and Harry Gant. Called by Ken Squier and David Hobbs, the race was aired on CBS Sports, marking the first time that a 500-mile race was televised from start-to-finish. Richard Petty would eventually walk away as the winner, earning his sixth Daytona 500 victory and further solidifying his status as the most dominant driver in Daytona 500 history. But, none of these are the reasons that the 21st running of the iconic race at Daytona International Speedway is etched into the minds of NASCAR fans everywhere. That distinct honor goes to Cale Yarborough, Donnie Allison, and his brother Bobby.
A collision on the last lap of the "Great American Race" created absolute chaos and showed those tuning in that NASCAR was a legitimate sport and not just a way to illegally move moonshine from one county to another. But, things didn't stop there. It was actually one fateful fistfight in Daytona Beach, Florida on February 18, 1979 that most auto racing fans and experts alike point to as what ultimately put NASCAR on the map.
WATCH: Cale Yarborough and the Allison Brothers Brawl at 1979 Daytona 500
On the final lap of the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race, Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison were battling for the lead when the two collided coming down the backstretch into Turn 3. Both Yarborough's No. 11 Oldsmobile and Allison's No. 1 Oldsmobile went into the infield grass as Petty, who was over half a lap behind both drivers, held off Darrell Waltrip to see the checkered flag. As Petty started to celebrate his win in Victory Lane, that's when all hell broke lose.
To kick things off, Donnie and Cale started yelling at each other on the infield grass, but it was when Bobby showed up — he had stopped at the spot of the wreck to offer Donnie a ride back to the garage — that tempers really flared. Even though he had been one lap behind the leaders at the time of the crash, Bobby took the brunt of the blame from Cale, as they had made contact earlier in the race, forcing Cale to repair his car and fall two laps behind. Yarborough decided to take out his anger on Bobby by striking him in the face with his helmet while he was sitting in his car. Bobby retaliated by jumping out of his car and hitting Yarborough in the mouth. Yarborough came back by knocking Bobby to the ground and smacking him in the back with his helmet twice. That's when Donnie got involved.
"Hey!! You wanna fight?! I'm the cat you should be fighting with," Donnie allegedly said, as he yanked Yarborough away from his brother and threw a punch at him. The three drivers scuffled for a few more seconds before eventually getting pulled away by track officials. Eventually, the Allisons and Yarborough were fined $6,000 for their actions that day and put on three-month probation.
Meanwhile, the 1979 Daytona 500 was one of the first major events that garnered nationwide attention for stock car racing. Over 15.1 million viewers tuned in to watch the actual race, while the story of the fight between Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers made the front page of The New York Times Sports section. According to Dick Berggren, a longtime motorsports journalist and announcer who called the 1979 Daytona 500 for the Motor Racing Network, the race was crucial to the spread of the sport's eventual popularity and a pivotal moment in NASCAR history.
"Nobody knew it then, but that was the race that got everything going," Berggren later said. "It was the first 'water cooler' race, the first time people had stood around water coolers on Monday and talked about seeing a race on TV the day before. It took a while — years, maybe — to realize how important it was."
WATCH: Bobby Allison Looks Back on the '79 Daytona 500
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 8, 2018
Back in 2018, nearly 40 years after the '79 dust-up at Daytona, Bobby Allison sat down with the folks at NASCAR on FOX and shared his recollection of that monumental Winston Cup race.
"My brother Donnie was winning the race and on the last lap he got wrecked by the guy trying to pass him," Allison said. "I went by the wreck and seen Donnie climbing out of his car so I went on and finished the race. This other guy starts saying the wreck was my fault, I caused the wreck. Well I was on the other side of the racetrack when those guys were wrecking."
Clearly, Bobby still had at least some sort of animosity for Cale, considering he just called him "this other guy." Though, he does shoulder some of the blame when it comes to things getting out of hand.
"I think I questioned his ancestry, which I probably shouldn't have done," Allison continued. "He had his helmet in his hand and he yelled some more and he ran toward me and he got right out here out from the car and he stopped and yelled some more, I think I questioned his ancestry a little further, I really shouldn't have done it."
"He lunged at me and hit me in the face with his helmet which really hurt, but it really surprised me. I didn't think a professional competitor would use a weapon to go after somebody and I felt like that's what happened."
If the story stopped there, it would be enough, but hearing Allison tell the next part just adds to his status as an old-school NASCAR legend.
"Cut my nose and my lip, blood's dripping in my lap and I said, 'gotta get outta the car and handle this right now or I'm gonna be running from him the rest of my life,'" Allison said. "So I got outta the car and the guy got to beating on my fists with his nose."
"I've had to stick with that story for a long time, but it's still true."
MORE: Ryan Newman's Crash at the 2020 Daytona 500 Could've Been a Career-Ender, But He Miraculously Bounced Back
Want More Sports News?
Get the biggest and best sports news sent directly to your inbox.