The 1971 Daytona 500, the 13th running of the event, was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series (now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) race held on February 14, 1971 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Spanning 500 miles (800 km) on the paved oval track, all of the racing action commenced during daytime hours and ended prior to dusk since there was no lighting available until at least the 1998 season. It was the first Daytona 500 in the Winston Cup era of NASCAR. During this time, Richard Petty (the race winner and the eventual Winston Cup champion) was becoming one of the winningest veterans on the NASCAR circuit.
Daytona International Speedway is a race track in Daytona Beach, Florida that is one of six superspeedways to hold NASCAR races, the others being Michigan International Speedway, Auto Club Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway. The standard track at Daytona is a four-turn superspeedway that is 2.5 miles (4.0 km) long. The track also features two other layouts that utilize portions of the primary high speed tri-oval, such as a 3.56-mile (5.73 km) sports car course and a 2.95-mile (4.75 km) motorcycle course. The track's 180-acre (73 ha) infield includes the 29-acre (12 ha) Lake Lloyd, which has hosted powerboat racing. The speedway is owned and operated by International Speedway Corporation.
The track was built by NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr. to host racing that was being held at the former Daytona Beach Road Course and opened with the first Daytona 500 in 1959. The speedway has been renovated three times, with the infield renovated in 2004, and the track repaved in 1978 and 2010.
The Daytona 500 is regarded as the most important and prestigious race on the NASCAR calendar. It is also the series' first race of the year; this phenomenon is virtually unique in sports, which tend to have championships or other major events at the end of the season rather than the start. Since 1995, U.S. television ratings for the Daytona 500 have been the highest for any auto race of the year, surpassing the traditional leader, the Indianapolis 500 which in turn greatly surpasses the Daytona 500 in in-track attendance and international viewing. The 2006 Daytona 500 attracted the sixth largest average live global TV audience of any sporting event that year with 20 million viewers.
The manufacturers that were involved on the twelfth running of the Daytona 500 included Chevrolet, Mercury, Ford, Plymouth, and Dodge. All the vehicles were manufactured with engine blocks and body sheet metal directly from the same Detroit factories that made normal passenger automobiles. Out of the 500 miles it takes to make a complete race, the average speed achieved at the 1971 Daytona 500 was 144.462 miles per hour (232.489 km/h). Today's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series vehicles can only go up to 200 miles per hour (320 km/h) at today's Daytona 500.
Overall, the maximum qualifying speed for the 1971 Daytona 500 time trials was more than 190 miles per hour (310 km/h). Forty cars were lined with legends like A. J. Foyt and David Pearson eventually acquiring top five finishes at the end of this prestigious race.
Note: All participants were born in the United States except for Pedro Rodríguez.
† Driver is known to be deceasedStart: A.J. Foyt was leading the race as the checkered flag was being waved, Ron Keselowski quit the race
Lap 7: Tiny Lund's vehicle had some ignition problems
Lap 9: Maynard Troyer had a terminal crash, forcing him to exit the race prematurely
Lap 24: Neil Castles' vehicle had some ignition problems
Lap 38: Friday Hassler managed to ruin his vehicle's engine
Lap 39: Benny Parsons' vehicle had some ignition problems
Lap 45: An oil line problem forced LeeRoy Yarborough out of the race
Lap 61: Cale Yarborough managed to ruin his vehicle's engine
Lap 91: Red Farmer managed to ruin his vehicle's engine
Lap 93: Henley Gray just couldn't steer his vehicle properly
Lap 111: Bill Seifert just couldn't steer his vehicle properly
Lap 126: John Sears managed to ruin his vehicle's engine
Lap 157: Pete Hamilton managed to ruin his vehicle's engine
Lap 162: Bill Dennis' vehicle developed a problematic clutch
Lap 170: Donnie Allison had a terminal crash, forcing him to leave the event early
Lap 173: Dave Marcis managed to ruin his vehicle's engine
Finish: Richard Petty was officially declared the winner of the race
* Driver failed to finish race
The winner's purse for the 1971 Daytona 500 was considered to be $45,450 in American dollars ($268,778.68 when inflation is taken into effect). Even the last place finisher received $1,000 ($5,913.72 with inflation) in take-home pay. Richard Petty would go on to win four more Daytona 500 races after this one (1973, 1974, 1979, and 1981). There were seven cautions involving forty-four laps of yellow flag racing and zero laps of red flag racing.
Attendance for the 1971 Daytona 500 reached 80,000 spectators; outnumbering the maximum attendance possible at Soldier Field by 18,500 people. Expansion in the next eighteen years would bring attendance up to 180,000 people (even when considering the increased television and Internet coverage that today's NASCAR Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races experience). ABC's Wide World of Sports televised the race during an era where televised NASCAR programming was restricted due to its mostly regional appeal with citizens of the Southern United States. Commentary was done by the legendary Chris Economaki who did the Daytona 500 races in the 1970s. NASCAR would not see a significant growth in their "northern audience" until at least the 1990s. Today, NASCAR can be found nearly seven days a week through digital satellite television channels like ESPN, Speed, and TNT from Hawaii to Maine (while their Canadian counterpart TSN makes the events accessible for cable and satellite customers from British Columbia to Newfoundland).
Darrell Waltrip often complained in his early racing career that NASCAR should have been televised more. It could be said that Darrell Waltrip would have accomplished racing as a young man in the 1990s as opposed to the more company-oriented days of the 1970s. He would race in the next year's Permatex 300 Sportsman race for his first Daytona start in a car once driven by Mario Andretti. Often, it was only the Daytona 500 and a few major Grand National/Winston Cup events that were televised during the 1970s and 1980s when NASCAR was predominantly a "Southern sport."
All of the vehicles utilized during that running of the Daytona 500 were based on street version sheet metal and engine blocks of cars manufactured between 1969 and 1971. Deviation of up to two or three model years was expected because parity wasn't enforced by NASCAR during that era and different teams had different budgets from each other.
As the years went by Detroit's role in the sport would later be reduced each year sheet metal "resembling" the street versions and engine parts and decals as seen by the looks of today's "stock car" automobiles. Famous drivers that raced in this running of the Daytona 500 included Coo Coo Marlin (father of Sterling Marlin and grandfather of Steadman Marlin), Donnie Allison, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, and Benny Parsons. Out of the forty racers competing in the 1971 Daytona 500, thirty-nine were American and only one was Mexican. The only Mexican competitor (who would finish in thirteenth place) would have an asphalt racing course named after him after he died six months later in Germany during an open wheel race (along with his older brother Ricardo Rodríguez).
On a side note, Dick Brooks would be the final driver to make a competitive run with a winged vehicle. Following the 1970 season, special, limited production 'aero' cars such as the Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird, as well as the Ford Torino Talladega and Mercury Spoiler II, were restricted to a 305 ci engine. Brooks' Mario Rossi team was the only team to run a winged car in the race, and although they had a 7th-place run in the race, elected to run a conventional big-block powered car the rest of the season, thus ending the 'aero warrior' era in NASCAR. Rear wings would not appear again in NASCAR until 2008 with the 'Car of Tomorrow', but due to unpopularity with fans and teams alike, the wings eventually were replaced with rear spoilers again in the middle of the 2010 NASCAR season.