Baker Ruled Inaugural 1979 Busch Clash

While excitement will be high when the 34th-annual Bud Shootout rolls off this Saturday evening at Daytona International Speedway, it’s hard to imagine the race having a bigger buzz than the inaugural event – the 1979 Busch Clash.

The first of the big money ‘non-points’ events in NASCAR, the 1979 Busch Clash rolled off on Sunday, February 11. The race – brainchild of the Anheuser-Busch Company – grew out of the beer makers desire to take advantage of the emerging sport of NASCAR and the new sponsorship/marketing possibilities if brought to the table.

The hook was the race paid a whopping $50,000 to win, an immense sum at that time. The race was also televised live on CBS – a full week before the now legendary telecast of the 1979 Daytona 500.

Unlike this year’s Bud Shootout that pretty much allows everybody a spot in the starting field, the inaugural Busch Clash was an exclusive affair open only to pole position winners from the previous season. That meant that just nine cars would compete in the 20-lap (50 miles) race in 1979.

Cale Yarborough was considered the favorite coming into the event. Yarborough had won three-straight Winston Cup titles and had captured eight poles during the 1978 season – including the final three poles of the year at North Carolina Motor Speedway (Rockingham), Atlanta and Ontario (CA).

Yarborough had edged David Pearson (seven) for the lead in NASCAR Cup poles in 1978 while Lennie Pond – coming off his best season ever – had scored five pole positions the previous season.

Neil Bonnett (three), Benny Parsons (two), Darrell Waltrip (two), Bobby Allison (one), J.D. McDuffie (one) and Buddy Baker (one) completed the list of 1978 pole winners eligible for the 1979 Busch Clash.

The race was sure to be a quick one as the giant 2.5-mile Daytona oval had been repaved after 1978 season. It wouldn’t take long to see just how fast the new Daytona surface would be as qualifying for the Daytona 500 would be held earlier in the day prior to the ‘Clash.’

Baker immediately served notice that he – and not Yarborough – would be the favorite to win the Busch Clash as he drove his Harry Rainer-owned Spectra Oil Oldsmobile to the Daytona 500 pole with an average speed of 196.049 miles per hour. Baker’s speed was significantly faster than the 194.889 mph lap turned in by runner-up Donnie Allison and marked the first time since 1970 that the Daytona 500 pole winner had averaged more than 190 mph.

Parsons, meanwhile, was awarded the pole for the Busch Clash through a blind drawing with Baker taking the outside row position. Of the nine cars in the race, seven of them were Oldsmobiles – the top aero model in the General Motors fleet that year. Allison in a Bud Moore Ford and Pearson in the Wood Brothers Mercury were the only holdouts.

At the drop of the green, it was all Baker as his W-I-N Racing Team of master wrenches Jake Elder and Herb Nab along with top engine builder Waddell Wilson had their Oldsmobile on stun. Baker led all but two of the 20 laps contested beating Waltrip to the checkered flag by one car length. Rounding out the finish were Yarborough, Parsons, Allison, Pearson, Pond and Bonnett – each running at the finish. McDuffie was the only one to not go the distance falling out early with an engine failure.

The race took just over 15 minutes to complete and Baker averaged a rocket-like 194.384 mph in the caution-free event.

The 1979 Busch Clash victory was Baker’s first since Talladega in 1976 and paid a cool $50,000. While that doesn’t seem like much in an era when Kurt Busch banked $203,000 for his win in last year’s Bud Shootout, the sum was a huge amount for any race distance much less 20 laps at DIS. To put it into perspective, Richard Petty earned $73,900 for winning the 200-lap Daytona 500 a week later

In some respects, this year’s Bud Shootout can hardly be called an ‘all-star’ or ‘specialty’ race. Gaining entrance into the event no longer has anything to do with winning a pole or some other exclusivity.

Now, all Top-25 drivers from the final 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings (Tony Stewart,?Carl Edwards,?Kevin Harvick,?Matt Kenseth,?Brad Keselowski,?Jimmie Johnson,?Dale Earnhardt Jr.,?Jeff Gordon,?Denny Hamlin,?Ryan Newman,?Kurt Busch,?Kyle Busch,?Clint Bowyer,?Kasey Kahne,?A.J. Allmendinger,?Greg Biffle,?Paul Menard,?Martin Truex Jr.,?Marcos Ambrose,?Jeff Burton,?Juan Pablo Montoya,?Mark Martin,?David Ragan,?Joey Logano and Brian Vickers) are eligible for the race.

Also eligible are any drivers who have ever won an event (except Gatorade Duel/Twin 125 events) at Daytona, so Bill Elliott (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400, Budweiser Shootout),?Geoff Bodine (Daytona 500, Budweiser Shootout),?Derrike Cope (Daytona 500),?Michael Waltrip (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400),?Jamie McMurray (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400),?Trevor Bayne (Daytona 500),?Terry Labonte (Budweiser Shootout),?Ken Schrader (Budweiser Shootout) have a guaranteed spot if they choose to race.

That means as many as 33 drivers could take the green for the 2012 Bud Shootout at Daytona – which by the way is no longer a 20-lap sprint, but a 75-lap, 187.5-mile race.

To be sure, Saturday’s Bud Shootout will be exciting, but we’re betting it won’t replicate the buzz surrounding the inaugural 1979 Busch Clash. Back then, the ‘Clash’ was something very special. Now, with the dilution of the concept by allowing just about everyone a spot in the race, it’s in a way just another event on the Daytona ‘Speedweeks’ calendar.

That said, we’ll be totally engaged and won’t miss a lap of Saturday’s race because, after all, it is Daytona and the start of a new season. But you’ll have to forgive us if our mind wanders for a lap or two reminiscing about the day when ‘Leadfoot’ Buddy Baker roared into history as the winner of the first-ever Busch Clash at Daytona International Speedway.

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