At 190 miles per hour, two stock cars suddenly thought they were airplanes and took off flying upside down. Later, one of today's qualifying-race winners, Bobby Allison, was accused of running an illegal car. Then Darrell Waltrip, the other winner, was said to be dumb and dangerous. Just another day at the office with the good ol' boys.
In the only Pontiac LeMans here, Bobby Allison won the first of today's 125-mile qualifiers for Sunday's $800,000 Daytona 500. "That LeMans looks like one guy built the front end and another guy built the back end -- and they were mad at each other," said Richard Petty, seven times the national stock car driving champion.
"Don't look like no Pontiac I ever seen," said Waltrip, whose Buick, presumably without sin, qualified Monday at 194.506 miles per hour, barely a 10th of a second slower than polesitter Allison.
Waltrip won the second qualifier today, earning $12,000, with a piece of last-lap maneuvering that infuriated Petty and left Benny Parsons wondering if it would be safe to ride to the grocery store with Waltrip.
On that last lap around the 2 1/2-mile Daytona International Speedway, Waltrip was running second to Parsons, right on his bumper at 190 mph. As they came toward the finish line, Waltrip cut inside Parsons to pass him.
Now, it is okay to pass on the left.
Only thing is, there isn't any race track on the left where Waltrip went.
At the start-finish line here, the track has a slight curve, a banked dogleg that is called a tri-oval. The track is shaped like a coat hanger, with the finish line at the top bend.
So when Waltrip decided to try to pass Parsons on the left coming into the dogleg, that meant he had to drop off the 18-degree banked track and onto the more level apron. It meant Waltrip had to cross over a dotted white line painted to let you know you've gone too far left.
Parsons, running in front, could simply steer his car to the left a little -- say put the left wheels across that dotted line -- and force Waltrip all the way off the apron and into the grass infield. To win Sunday's race, with its $250,000 prize and everlasting prestige, Parsons might do just that, leaving Waltrip to find his way home through the weeds.
But today he let Waltrip go down there. Not only that, Parsons then moved over to the right and allowed Waltrip to come back up on the regular track. Waltrip won the race by half a car length when he might have won a ticket to the nearest hospital had Parsons been a bad guy.
Petty, who finished fourth, had a wonderful view of the goings-on.
"Darrell done some of the stupidest things today I've ever seen anybody do in racing," Petty said. "Going down the backstretch on that last lap, he was running on the inside and then the outside and then back on the inside. And then when he got back around to the tri-oval, he just flat moved down and slid up into Benny.
"It's just a good thing that Benny has enough sense to back off and let him go ahead with something like that. If he wants to win races that bad, I'll back off and let him win them. He ain't going out there and endangering my life like that."
Parsons, the 500 winner in 1975, said of Waltrip's trip, "I took the inside lane away from him, but he went down there anyway. Maybe I should have run all the way down to the apron. When he started coming back onto the track, I could have kept him off. But he was going to crash 12 cars and before I'd let that happen, I just turned right and let him go."
Waltrip said it was no big deal.
"It's my job, to win races," he said.
Wasn't it dangerous?
"Didn't anybody wreck, did they?"
What about Petty's angry words?
"The older you get," said Waltrip, 34, of Petty, 43, "the more dangerous you get."
For two weeks, the drivers here have complained that the new Grand National rules -- shorter cars, narrower tires, different body styles -- have made this 190-mph work even more dangerous than usual.
The most insistent complaint has been that the cars want to fly.
They flew today. Buffeted by 30-mph cross-winds as he came out of Turn 2, John Anderson went skidding sideways. Then, strangely, the passenger side of his Oldsmobile came off the ground, as if the car were sailing. It flipped six times, bouncing to a halt on its top. Anderson was not hurt.
"John said he didn't know what happened," said Harry Hyde, Anderson's crew chief. "He said he must have got a bad puff of air."
Not long after that, Connie Saylor's Oldsmobile went spinning out of that same turn. Now going backwards down the tracks, it too took off. It did a complete flip in the air and landed on the roof. The car skidded 1,000 feet down the track on its lid. Saylor was not hurt.
"The front wheels came off the ground and I don't know if it went straight over backwards or turned on its top sideways," Saylor said. "The car just took off."
"You see them cars coming off the ground?" said Waltrip, who blamed the airplane behavior on the new aerodynamics of these cars and the wide-open windows they have.
"They're not supposed to do that," Waltrip said, wide-eyed. "Them things weigh 3,700 pounds."