As cars, words and fists flew during the last lap of the Daytona 500 here today, Richard Petty scooted past the squabblers to win an unprecedented sixth victory.
Petty's first victory in his last 46 starts came after leaders Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough crashed each other out of the race about a mile from the finish line, bringing on a fist and kicking fight between Yarborough and Allison's brother Bobby.
The 41-year-old Petty beat Darrel Waltrip by a car length. A. J. Foyt came in third. Only 19 of 41 starters finished the race. Donnie Allison was placed fourth, Yarborough fifth. The first five cars were Oldsmobiles.
As the field began the last of 200 laps around the 2.5-mile oval, it looked as if either Yarborough or Donnie Allison would take the prize. Petty, Waltrip and Foyt were half a lap behind the pair, who had been one-two for 75 miles, with Yarborough trailing by no more than a length.
Approaching the third turn, Yarborough attempted to pass Allison on the inside. The cars touched at a speed of 190 miles per hour and parted. They collided again, this time the impact forcing both toward the outside track wall. Both hit the wall, bounced off it and slid down the steep bank into the infield as Petty and his pursuers sped past.
Waltrip tried to get beneath Petty in the final dash to the finish but fell short. Foyt was behind both cars and had no chance.
After the spinout, "Yarborough and Donnie Allison began screaming at each other," said Rick Field, an Associated Press photographer stringer who was nearby.
"Bobby pulled to a stop and he seemed to yell something at Cale because Cale ran over to Bobby's car.All of a sudden, Bobby was out of his car and all over Cale.
"Bobby and Cale were slugging and kicking and there were a couple of helmets swung. (First Bobby went down, then) Cale ended up on the ground. Donnie was out of his car and trying to keep Bobby off Cale."
Yarborough claimed Bobby, who was running three laps behind the leaders, slowed his car and tried to help Donnie win.
"Bobby waited on us so he could block me off," Yarborough said. "The films will show it. I had him (Donnie) beat and he knew it. They double-teamed me. It was the worst thing I ever saw. My left wheels were over in the dirt and Donnie knocked me on over in the dirt further. He carried me on into the grass. I started spinning and Donnie started spinning. Bobby pulled up over there and I asked him why he did it. He bowed up and I swung at him. It was the worst thing I've ever seen in racing."
"Naw, I didn't block them," Bobby responded, "I wasn't even close."
"I don't think Bobby slowed down and Bobby didn't move anywhere," Donnie said. "Cale made up his mind he would pass me low and I had made up my mind he was gonna have to pass me high. When he tried to pass me low, he went off the track. He spun and hit me. I feel like I had to keep from getting knocked out and I didn't do that.
"When Bobby came up to find out if we were all right, Cale went over and punched Bobby through the screen. Then he came at me and started calling me names. They broke it but I'll tell you one thing, it would have been a good one."
Said a streaming-hot Yarborough: "If they don't suspend the Allisons, there ain't no justice in NASCAR. It's the worst thing I've ever seen in racing. I had the race won, there was no doubt about it."
Bill France Jr., a Daytona director, said, "We'll look into the films of the incident and then we'll take appropriate action."
A crowd of more than 100,000 was left breathless at the finish and gave Petty, the favorite son, a resounding ovation.
Petty collected a record $73,500 from the $600,000 purse. He averaged 143.977mph, well below a record.
"I sort of backed into a deal, didn't I?" said Petty, whose father Lee won the first Daytona 500.
"That's as bad a race as I've been in for lead changes, cautions and jumping around the track." he added.
Petty said he could not wait to see a replay of the fight between Yarborough and the Allisons.
"You run all day and you get so close in the biggest race there is," said Petty. "It's not hard to get mad. I'll tell you what; nobody gave anybody any breaks. I've lost some this close, but I never won one this close."
The race started sedately at 100 mph as the first 40 miles were run under the caution flag. Morning showers had soaked the track so the racers circles to dry it. When racing speeds were allowed, Donnie Allison immediately took the lead from the front row, trailed by Yarborough, Bobby Allison and Benny Parsons.
Buddy Baker, the fastest qualifier and easy winner in two races earlier in the week, was never a factor. His Oldsmobile suffered engine trouble and he retired after 95 miles. It was the 11th time in the last 12 years Baker had led the race without ever winning.
"I can't begin to tell you," he said in a voice cracking with emotion, "what a disappointment this is."
At 80 miles, the two Allisons and Yarborough all spun off the second turn, apparently skidding on a damp spot. No damage was done and all three returned to the race, Donnie Allison losing one lap to the leaders, Bobby Allison two and Yarborough three.
The frequent caution periods scrambled the standings to the 250-mile mark when Donnie Allison again took the lead chased by rookie Dale Earnhardt and others who rarely figure in the final result. Petty had never been worse then seventh through the race's first half although it seemed he could not keep up with the leaders.
Yarborough, who had been lapped by the field during one of his early pit stops, made up that lap by 375 miles. Allison was still leading but all contenders still had at least one stop to make for fuel. The 22-gallon tanks allow only about 80 miles of nonstop racing.
At 425 miles, Donnie Allison pulled in for gas with the field at racing speeds. He lost his lead only for moments as Yarborough, Petty, Waltrip and Foyt then made stops of under 15 seconds for fuel. When all got back on the track, Allison led Yarborough by a length with the other group a half-lap behind.
It was a lucky break for Petty. "I got out of the pits slow and missed hooking up (drafting) behind Donnie and Cale. Darrell (Waltrip) and A.J. (Foyt) came by and I got in behind them," he said after the race. "Now, look how smart I was."
Petty said he decided to get in front of his three-car train "and let the others pass me. Then I could try to hang on for third or fourth place. You had to be right smart faster to pass anyone down the stretches," he commented.
The win balanced Petty's 1976 loss to David Pearson in this event when the two rivals collided and spun off the track 200 yards from the finish. Pearson got his car going again to limp across the winner, Petty's smashed racer refused to move.
Bill Dennis, Glen Allen, Va., placed 14th, four laps behind the winner, driving a Chevrolet. Lennie Pond, Chester, Va., in an Oldsmobile, led the race for five miles but retired after 207 1/2 miles with broken suspension parts. He was placed 30th. Ronnie Thomas, Christianburg, Va., was 34th after completing 160 miles in a Chevrolet.
Don Williams, the Madison, Fla., driver who crashed in Saturday's race for late model sportsman class sedans, still is listed in critical condition at the Halifax Medical Center. He is under intensive care. His vital signs are reported stable.