A look at David Pearson’s Wild ’74 Win – NASCAR Firecracker 400
The NASCAR Firecracker 400 race, held each July at Daytona International Speedway, got its start in 1959. It was named the Firecracker 400 for many years due to being held on Independence Day. Since we’re in the middle of summer, what better time to look back on the race held during the glory years of NASCAR before restrictor plates choked the life out of the stock car game.
But the 1974 NASCAR season wasn’t as wide open as some might remember. By 1974, most teams had phased out the seven liter big block engines opting for small block setups. The reason for moving to smaller engines was twofold. In 1970, NASCAR began toying with restrictor plate use on the big block cars but not on small blocks. The most important reason however, was the OPEC-induced gas crunch. The gas crunch was so crippling to American automobiles and racing competition, NASCAR shortened their races by ten percent out of fear of limited fuel supplies and rising costs.
All that aside, the 1974 NASCAR Firecracker 400 was a bad ass event with the biggest names in the sport dicing it up big time in 90-degree, horribly humid weather. In watching ABC’s abbreviated coverage of the race in the movie below, a few things stand out. First off, the legendary voice of Keith Jackson adds a dramatic narrative only enhanced by the insight from Englishman Jackie Stewart. Race coverage back then was raw and real.
Pearson’s event win in the Wood Brothers Purolator Mercury Montego would go down as one of the most epic finishes at Daytona. As the white flag flew, the cagey veteran was on the lead with King Richard reeling him in using the draft, or “slipstream” as Stewart called it.
Then Pearson pulled a Muhammad Ali Rope-A-Dope on the King. On the backstretch, Pearson eased his big Merc down on to the apron, appearing as though he had car trouble. Petty shot past him. Turns out, Pearson was afraid of getting passed via the draft on the final turn. As soon as Petty went by him, Pearson stabbed the gas and resumed the chase. Pearson’s move happens at the 25.04 second in the clip if you want to fast forward to it.
Incredibly, Pearson made up seven car lengths in one half of a lap (aprox 1.25 miles) and pulled out of the draft to pass Petty in the tri-oval just before the finish line stripe. Jackson and Stewart as well as the crowd went completely nuts.
The NASCAR Firecracker 400 eventually became the Pepsi race with the catchy “Firecracker” label sadly getting phased out. It is no longer held on July 4th either but for those glory years, it was truly a midsummer classic.