THROWBACK: When David Pearson Defeated Richard Petty in a Classic at 1974 Daytona

Published 08/27/2021, 5:17 PM EDT
DAYTONA BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 20, 1983:Nascar Driver Richard Petty in action in the STP #43 car during the Nascar Winston Cup Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, FL. Petty finished 38th in the race. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)


Back in 1974 at the Daytona International Speedway, David Pearson bested Richard Petty. However, he employed some bizarre tactics to do so. With a couple of laps to go, Pearson was leading Petty and held a comfortable margin. Strangely enough, the #21 driver decided to back off the pace and allow the #43 driver to take the lead.

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A lap later, it turned out to be a strategic masterstroke, as David Pearson hunted down Petty. On the final lap, he made his move down the inside of the legendary driver and snatched the lead. From there, he held onto it until the chequered flag. Speaking after the race, he said, “If I let him stay behind him, he would draft me and beat me. So I just backed off on the last lap at the white flag and let him by and then got him back.”

Without a doubt, it was one of the most daring race finishes in NASCAR history. It is worth David Pearson was quite a formidable figure on the superspeedway scene. Case in point, he dominated for the Wood Brothers team between 1972 and 1974, taking 20 wins in the #21 car. This included back-to-back Firecracker 400s and both involved close battles with Richard Petty.

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How did David Pearson defeat Richard Petty?

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Obviously, the dogfight did not start out as a two-horse race. Instead, there were many cars involved, like the Allison brothers (Bobby and Donnie), A. J. Foyt, Buddy Baker and Cale Yarborough. Additionally, there was a record-setting 45 lead changes among nine driver, until it was broken in 2010. Bobby Allison led 50 laps until a broken intake valve scuppered his chances. Gradually, the lead pack steadily whittled down to Pearson, Petty, Baker, and Yarborough.

In the final few laps, just Pearson and Petty were left to duel, with a seven second buffer to third. Petty’s gameplan was to wait until the last moment to overtake and prevent a counterattack. Owing to this, David Pearson took the white flag and performed a cheeky move by stamping on the brakes.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL: Nascar driver Richard Petty in this portrait sitting next to the STP #43 car before the Nascar Winston Cup Daytona 500 race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, FL. Petty finished 3rd in the race. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

A startled Petty gratefully the lead and tried to build a gap. Unfortunately, he was left vulnerable without a tow, and the Wood Brothers racer snatched back the lead. To be perfectly honest, Richard Petty did not appreciate the cheeky move and confronted Pearson after the race.

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Dhruv George

11975 articles

Dhruv George is a senior Formula One and NASCAR analyst for EssentiallySports, having authored nearly 12000 articles spanning different sports like F1, NASCAR, Tennis, NFL, and eSports. He graduated with a PG Diploma in Journalism from the Xavier Institute of Communications. Dhruv has also conducted interviews with F1 driver Pierre Gasly and Moto2 rider Tony Arbolino.

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