But for Donnie's crashed rival, Yarborough, "cooling down" was not on the agenda. Outraged that Donnie's wild driving had knocked him out of the race, Yarborough went after Bobby, the innocent bystander. As Bobby slyly recalled the fracas, "Cale started beating my fist with his nose."
The "brawl that started it all" was in fact nothing more than a sloppy slugfest of roundhouse punches, flailing fists, and hurled helmets. It was gone in 60 seconds—but captured forever on film. Buddy Baker, the fastest qualifier in the race, remembered the dustup as "more of a slow waltz" than a fight: "If I ever get beat up, I wanna get beat up like that." But 10 million viewers nationwide stayed glued to their television sets for the scuffle's brief duration, solidifying NASCAR's outlaw image—and practically guaranteeing its future success. From that moment on, viewers could not wait to tune in to the next NASCAR race: who would crash another driver this time? Would the other guy crash him back? Might they jump from their cars and start swinging again?
NASCAR's romance with television—and thus the American consumer's love affair with NASCAR—was off and running.
Bechtel fills his recounting of the breakout 1979 season with a raft of colorful characters and their rowdy tales. After that bang-up start in Daytona, the season accelerated into an epic battle for the NASCAR championship that would not be settled until the final race. The reader rides shotgun as Kyle Petty ("King" Richard's son) makes his terrifying, 200-mile-per-hour racing debut at Daytona. We follow in the tire tracks of seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty and Darrell "Jaws" Waltrip (driving a car dubbed "Maybelline") as they contest one of the hardest-fought Winston Cup championships in history. And there are glimpses of future greatness, too, with a youthful (and fearless) Dale "Ironhead" Earnhardt knocking NASCAR for a loop en route to becoming NASCAR Rookie of the Year.