By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ahead of the 60th running of the Daytona 500, two members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame – Richard Petty and Ray Evernham – looked back at their memories of the Great American Race and expressed just how much this track and race means to them and the sport as a whole.
Richard Petty, one of the members of the inaugural Hall of Fame class in 2010, is on the Mount Rushmore of NASCAR, both in terms of championships and Daytona 500 wins, with seven in both categories.
Petty competed in the Daytona 500 starting with the original race in 1959, all the way through the 1992 season when he retired, so when it comes to experts about Daytona, Petty is at the top of the board.
“Daytona is our Super Bowl, World Series, Kentucky Derby, whatever,” Petty said. “It starts in the middle of winter basically. There’s nothing else in racing going on in the world, so we get people from all over the world looking at Daytona. If you’re fortunate enough to win Daytona, you’re a winner all year long no matter what happens the rest of the season.
“We were fortunate enough to win a few times and go on and still have some good seasons. But we won Daytona and not had good seasons too. The Daytona deal will make your season. It doesn’t necessarily break it, but it’ll flat make it. This is the world center of our racing, as far as Cup racing, so everybody points to Daytona maybe more so now than they used to.”
One of the newest members of the Hall of Fame told a story about visiting the track growing up and realizing that racing at Daytona was going to be his dream.
Evernham would see his dream come to fruition, as he became crew chief for Jeff Gordon, winning 47 races with him, including two Daytona 500’s.
“I remember standing down there in the infield and looking up at the cars going by like they were on a billboard,” said Evernham. “You know right then and there that this is where you want to be. That’s where you’re working to get here. You don’t know how you’re going to get there, but you know you’re coming. You’ve got to come and race at this place.
It just has that effect. I know other young racers that have talked about the same thing, coming in there and seeing those cars go by that fast, that high in the air. It’s just amazing.”
When it comes to the Daytona 500, it is special to everyone involved, no matter if you are a NASCAR Hall of Famer or just starting out in the sport. On Sunday, another driver will write their name into the record book and will have their own story to tell in the years to come about how they came away victorious in the biggest race of the NASCAR season.