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NASCAR’s Perfect Storm

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Greetings from The Booth!

Talk about a strange sight. Recently, as I’ve been driving past Shentel Stadium on the way to my basketball public address gigs at The Wilkins Center, I notice the lights on and actual Shenandoah University football players practicing in the dead of Winter. Hopefully, the scheduled short season will happen starting in late February, but as a natural skeptic, I’ll believe it when I see it. Meanwhile, I’m going to invest in a nice parka and some thick socks. The Booth will probably be a little frosty…

With the Super Bowl in the rear view mirror, we move on to another Super Bowl, “the Super Bowl of Stock Car racing,” the Daytona 500. The Great American Race happens this Sunday, and although I’m not a devout NASCAR fan, it’s the one race I do watch, because seeing sunny Florida on my high-def TV in February reminds me that Spring can’t be that far off.

The Daytona 500 is a truly iconic American sporting event, but it wasn’t always that way. Until 1979, NASCAR was basically a regional sport (southern), and races were not shown live. Rather, they were taped and run later, primarily on CBS.

That all changed in 1979, when CBS broadcast flag-to-flag live coverage of the Daytona 500. The eastern half of the country was socked in by a massive blizzard, thus a sports-hungry nation gathered around the television that afternoon for the now iconic race.

And what a race it was! On the final lap, a collision between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough, who were leading the race, allowed Richard Petty to come from a half-lap behind to win the Daytona 500, as Allison and Yarborough spun into the grass infield. The two were then captured on live TV duking it out as The King celebrated in victory lane.

The race also featured new innovations like the in-car camera, and the low-angle shot, which are standard in today’s coverage.

The 1979 Daytona 500 put NASCAR in the national spotlight, where it remains today. If not for a “perfect storm” of events, NASCAR may have remained a regional sport, an acquired taste for those primarily south of the Mason-Dixon. Instead, we have multi-million dollar race teams and ultramodern “super-speedways” from coast-to-coast and border-to-border, with a number of networks jumping on the bandwagon to provide coverage.

And it all began on February 18, 1979.

Until next time in the Booth, enjoy the race, and GO HORNETS!


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