Daytona 500 Always A Big Race With Even Bigger $$ Rewards
On Feb. 26 NASCAR’s most prestigious race – the Daytona 500 - is scheduled for its 54th running. Over a period of five decades it has experienced many changes.
Not the least of which is the purse; the total amount of money to be rewarded to the competitors.
For 2012, the loot that’s available is a perfect example of how much things have changed.
It’s a bit mind boggling to realize that a record purse of more than $19 million is up for grabs. Let’s add to that an award of $200,000 to be paid to the driver leading at the completion of lap 100, the halfway mark in the race.
If the race is under caution at lap 100, the leader of the race at the completion of the fifth consecutive green-flag lap following the caution will receive the award.
“There is plenty of incentive for drivers to run up front the entire race but even more so at the halfway point and the last lap of the Daytona 500,” said Joie Chitwood III, president of Daytona International Speedway. “This year’s ‘Great American Race’ stands to be one of the most exciting and thrilling ever seen, and will serve as a great kickoff to the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.”
To be specific, posted awards for this year‘s 500 total $19,142,601 with the
winner collecting a minimum – understand, minimum - of $1,431,325.
The second-place finisher will get $1,050,075, with $759,600 to third, $609,900 to fourth and a minimum of $486,550 for fifth.
That’s a huge amount of money for some of the top positions in what NASCAR considers to be its Super Bowl.
No wonder the drivers, crew chiefs and teams put so much emphasis into the 500 through the construction of new cars, backup cars and spend countless hours making sure engines are tweaked to perfection.
To take it a step further, if the last-place driver were to somehow lead the halfway lap – not likely but, hey, it could happen - that’s a sweet $550,000 payday that could help pay the bills for several early season races.
So for some, to make the 500’s starting lineup could be considered a win in itself.
I often wonder what the stars who entered the inaugural Daytona 500 on Feb. 22, 1959 would think of today’s enormous purse.
At sundown in 1959, when the 41,921 fans in attendance left the track, there were many differing opinions as to who had won.
Initially, Johnny Beauchamp was given the winner’s trophy that day but it came amid a controversial photo finish that wasn’t settled for nearly a week after the race had concluded.
Days after careful study of hastily developed black and white film, Lee Petty was declared the winner in a 1959 Petty Engineering Oldsmobile.
For three hours, 41 minutes and 22 seconds of work around the new 2.5-mile, high-banked speedway, Petty collected $19,050 for first place.
On the other end of the spectrum, Ken Marriott received $100 for his last-place finish after circling the track for one lap in his ‘58 Ford before his engine blew.
In 1964, Richard Petty won his first of seven- areer Daytona 500s. He led from lap 52 through lap 200 and he won by one lap and nine seconds over second-place Jimmy Pardue.
That day, 69,738 fans witnessed Petty’s total dominance before the “The King” of Randleman, N.C., rolled into victory lane to a $33,900 winner’s check.
Neil “Soapy’ Castles took last place that year after completing only one lap in Buck Baker’s Chrysler before his transmission failed. He and Baker split $725.
By the time America entered into its Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, a bearded Petty, driving the famed Petty Enterprises Dodge, engaged in a fierce battle with friendly rival David Pearson, the driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Mercury, for the 500 win.
As they came off the four turn nose-to-tail with the checkered flag in sight, the two champions made contact and spun wildly into the grass that separated the trioval from pit road.
Both struggled to get over the start-finish line. Even though Petty was closer to completing the lap, Pearson had the advantage, having had had the presence of mind to push in his clutch and save his engine. Petty struggled to get his car started as Pearson crept across the line at some 20 mph to take the win.
That day, Pearson wheeled his badly damaged Mercury to victory lane and a check for $46,800. Petty took home $35,750 for second.
Rounding out the top-five finishers were defending
Daytona 500 winner Benny Parsons in third, Lennie Pond fourth and Neil Bonnett fifth.
Cale Yarborough, in the Junior Johnson-owned Chevrolet, suffered engine problems on the first laps and collected last-place pay of $4,725.00.
In 1986, Geoff Bodine wheeled his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to the Daytona 500 win, collecting $192,715.
Bobby Allison, in the Stavola Brothers Buick, suffered a blown engine after 21 laps and colleted $18,760.
His career came to an end two years later after a serious crash at Pocono that nearly cost him his life.
"Not all of the Daytona 500s I entered had good outcomes, but I did enjoy three wins during my career, in 1978, '82 and '88," Allison said. "As a result of the Pocono crash I don't remember having (son) Davey race me for the win in '88 and finish second.
“The Daytona 500 is a very special and prestigious race and I'm thankful to have won it so many times. It was a race that a driver could count on for a chance at a big purse, even in the early days. And it still is."
In 1998, the year Dale Earnhardt finally earned an elusive Daytona 500 victory, the purse, as well as the prestige of the race, had risen dramatically.
Earnhardt had tried for 20 years to win NASCAR’s biggest prize and even though he came close on numerous occasions, it seemed as though he would never win the 500 after having won more races than any other driver at the famed speedway.
That year, Earnhardt led 107 of the race’s 200 laps and collected $1,509,805 for his memorable victory. On the other end of the spectrum, Kevin LePage was the race’s last-place finisher in the Joe Falk-owned Chevrolet and pocketed $71,230.
And last season, young Trevor Bayne pulled off the upset win of the season to give the Wood Brothers their fifth career Daytona 500 behind drivers Tiny Lund in 1963, Yarborough in ’68, A.J. Foyt in ‘72 and Pearson in ‘76.
Bayne won $1,463,513 after he held off Carl Edwards, David Gilliland and Bobby Labonte as their pack of cars crossed the start-finish line in.
At the end of the field was J.J. Yeley, in a Chevrolet owned by Dusty Whitney, who traveled only 10 laps before his engine expired. Yeley didn’t cry too much as he earned $268,550 for those 10 circuits.
This year’s Daytona 500 will certainly add to the lore of a race that’s carried a marquee status from that day in 1959 when the green flag was waved for the first time.
So what would Lee Petty‘s $19,050 payday be worth in today’s dollars? How about $140,865.62?
No wonder he was smiling when NASCAR’s founder Bill France handed him the check in Petty’s living room.