mobile app bar

NASCAR History: Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty’s Historic Battle at Darlington in 1979

Gowtham Ramalingam

NASCAR History: Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty’s Historic Battle at Darlington in 1979

NASCAR has seen plenty of mind-bending races since its inception in 1948. One of the most enthralling of such combats came at the infamous Darlington Raceway on April 8, 1979, between Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip. To this day, the battle between the icons remains a tale of legend. Petty, a multiple-time champion, and a young Waltrip were engaged in a fight for the championship when the 1979 Rebel 500 came along.

The drivers combined to lead 331 of the 367 laps in the race and brought it all down to be decided between them. With 5 laps to go, they raced each other so hard that the lead changed nearly 10 times before the checkered flag flew.

Petty took the white flag before Waltrip drove underneath him going past Turn 1. As the former pulled up again and inched ahead entering Turn 3, Waltrip cruised to the inside lane and shot to victory. It was his second of seven victories in the season. Despite the close fight on the track, there wasn’t a single moment of unethical racing between them.

Waltrip said, according to ‘Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era’, “We knew the show was still going on. I’d wave at him or he’d wave at me. I never thought for once he’d wreck me. It was tight, but fair and square.” Waltrip piloted the #88 Gatorade Chevrolet for DiGard Motorsports in the race. Driving the iconic #43 Petty Enterprises car, Petty would win his final championship later in the year.

How the Darlington race leveled up an already explosive 1979 season

1979 will forever be one of the most iconic seasons in NASCAR. In the weeks leading up to the Darlington battle, there’d already been several instances that made it one for the history books. It all began with the fight between the Allisons and Cale Yarborough in the Daytona 500. Richard Petty was the surprise winner in that race and Ken Squier’s iconic call on national television was born.

Following the tensions between the Yarborough and the Allison name, a rookie Dale Earnhardt earned his first victory in the Southeastern 500 at Bristol. Also on the front page of papers was the incredible power under the hood of Buddy Baker’s #28 Ranier Racing Oldsmobile. Nicknamed “The Gray Ghost”, the car won the pole for the Daytona 500.

With so much going on in the season, living up to the hype was a task for the Darlington race. Safe to say, it ended up punching well above its weight.

About the author

Gowtham Ramalingam

Gowtham Ramalingam

Gowtham is a NASCAR journalist at The SportsRush. Though his affinity for racing stems from Formula 1, he found himself drawn to NASCAR's unparalleled excitement over the years. As a result he has shared his insights and observations by authoring over 350 articles on the sport. An avid fiction writer, you can find him lost in imaginary worlds when he is not immersed in racing. He hopes to continue savoring the thrill of every lap and race together with his readers for as long as he can.

Read more from Gowtham Ramalingam

Share this article