(DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - December 26, 2012) - With Christmas in the rear view mirror, it's time to turn our attention to the New Year, and with it, a renewed focus on Daytona, the first race out of the gate each season since 1964.
Daytona Int'l Speedway will host the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards on February 16, 2013, the first big-league stock car race of the year, and one that annually kicks off Speedweeks at the "World Center of Racing". As the tour's biggest race of the year, this year's 200-miler carries even more meaning as the 50th annual Daytona ARCA 200. And despite so many changes around us over 50 years, the lure of Daytona, and the prestige it brings, remains constant.
In 1964, the Dow Jones Industrial Average for the year closed at 874; the average cost of a new home was $13,050; gas was 30 cents a gallon; a ticket to the movies was $1.25; Dr. Martin Luther King received the Nobel Peace Prize; US Congress authorized the war against N. Vietnam; the first Ford Mustang was manufactured; the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show; and the ARCA Racing Series, already 12 years old, debuted at Daytona, marking its first-ever superspeedway appearance. And the rest is history.
Daytona winners through the years are a who's who of iconic names including Nelson Stacy who won the inaugural 250-miler at Daytona in 1964 before ARCA Icon Iggy Katona triumphed in '65. Katona, who would go on to win six national titles, won three times at Daytona with two more wins in '71 and '74. Katona's win in '74 was at the age of 57, which still today, and marks the oldest superspeedway winner of all time, regardless of the sanction. Katona's victory in '74 also signified the return to 200 miles as the official race distance, which is still true today. Then three-time ARCA champion Jack Bowsher officially recorded his name in the history books with a win at Daytona in '66 before heading off to the USAC stock car world.
Ralph Latham won the 250-mile race at Daytona in '67 before Andy Hampton stepped to the plate in '68 with a victory in what had increased to a 300-mile race. Hampton repeated as the Daytona victor in '72. Two-time series champion Benny Parsons steered his way to victory lane in 69 after earning the pole with an average speed of 185.204 mph. By contrast, in 2011, the pole speed was 182.663, representative of the present-day restrictor plate world. Parsons won three consecutive poles at Daytona (68, 69, 70), qualifying with an average speed of 190.564 mph in 1970. Parsons's consecutive pole record at Daytona held for more than 30 years before Lebanon, Pennsylvania's Bobby Gerhart checked of four consecutive Daytona poles in 2003, 04, 05 & 06.
Two-time national champion Ramo Stott won the 300-miler in '70 prior to Charlie Blanton's victory in '73. Winners through the 70s included Ron Hutcherson (75), Lennie Pond (76), Woody Fisher (77), Jim Sauter (78) and Kyle Petty in '79, who won the race going away in a 1978 Dodge Magnum. His father Richard and grandfather Lee joined him for the Victory Lane celebration.
More big name winners would follow as Daytona victors throughout the 1980s to include John Rezek (80), Tim Richmond (81), Joe Ruttman (82), Ferrel Harris (83), Rick Wilson (84), Glenn Sears (85), Grant Adcox (86), Ralph Jones (87), Mickey Gibbs (88) and Ben Hess to close out the year as the Daytona winner in 1989. Hess also repeated with a win in 1991. The 1989 race also made history when Patty Moise became the first-ever female pole winner at Daytona with an average speed of 191.279 mph. It would be nearly 20 years before another female would return as the Daytona pole winner when Erin Crocker wrote her name in the history books earning the pole in 2007.
The 1990s followed with more big name winners including Jimmy Horton, who won in 1990 and 92. Jeff Purvis put his name in the record books with wins at Daytona in '93 and '96. Another well-known stock car name went to victory lane in '94 when Mike Wallace held off three-time series champion Tim Steele and Tim Fedewa to take the trophy. Although Steele would go on to dominate the ARCA Racing Series superspeedway stat books throughout the 1990s, the Coopersville, Michigan driver never managed a victory at Daytona, reminiscent of nine-time series champion Frank Kimmel who's won seemingly everywhere except Daytona.
Indiana's Andy Hillenburg, who would go on to win the 1995 ARCA Racing Series driving title, first got the attention of the stock car world when he drove the #52 Air Orlando-WESH Chevrolet to victory lane at Daytona in '95, holding off Gary Bradberry, Mike Wallace and Joe Ruttman for the win. Hillenburg repeated as the Daytona winner in '97 in James Finch's Gravy Train Dog Food-sponsored Chevrolet.
The decade of the 2000s would showcase some high-profile driver development teams which, with one big exception - ARCA restrictor plate King Bobby Gerhart - who would occupy a good portion of the Daytona headlines in the more modern era. And it was the late Kenny Irwin who showed the way in the driver development ranks with a big win at Daytona in '98 in a Robert Yates-prepared Ford. More driver development teams followed throughout the 00s; but it was longtime ARCA racer Gerhart who proved to be the biggest obstacle in the way of Victory Lane, becoming the driver to beat at Daytona starting with his first victory there in 1999.
David Keith opened the new decade with a Daytona victory in 2000 before Roger Penske's Ryan Newman went to Victory Lane in 2001 under Penske's ABC Plan', which stood for the progression from ARCA, to the Busch (Nationwide) Series, to Cup. Chase Montgomery triumphed at Daytona in 2003 in an Alice Cooper-promoted effort before Hendrick Motorsports development driver Kyle Busch came from one lap down to win in 2004.
Then Gerhart became the first driver to win three consecutive Daytona ARCA 200s with victories in 2005, 2006 and 2007, leading an incredible 83% of the total number of laps run during those three years.
Michael Annett, who utilized ARCA as a stepping stone to the NASCAR Nationwide Series tour, steered a Bill Davis Racing-owned Toyota to Victory Lane in 2008.
James Buescher, in a driver development program for Win-Tron Racing, was the next occupant in Daytona's victory lane in 2009, holding off ARCA champions Justin Allgaier and Bill Baird for the honor.
Then Gerhart, already the record keeper with five Daytona wins, put up three more consecutive victories in '10, '11 and '12. He's already the only driver in series history to win three consecutive at Daytona, as he aims for what would be a fourth consecutive victory in 2013.
Gerhart's potential ninth win at Daytona isn't the only goal that's got his attention.
"I'm close enough in age (54); I can't quit now. I think Iggy Katona is the oldest superspeedway winner in history, in ARCA, NASCAR, or anywhere else. He was 57 when he won at Daytona in 1974. That's a record that I'd like to break, and I'm feeling good enough to get there. Now that would be a neat record to hold."
The 50th annual Daytona ARCA 200, a preamble to NASCAR's Daytona Shootout, is LIVE on SPEED at 4:30 PM ET Saturday afternoon, February 16.