‘Firecracker’ Tradition Returns To Daytona

CHARLOTTE, NC (July 1, 2013) – The roar of engines – and NASCAR’s past – will echo around Daytona International Speedway when the Subway Firecracker 250 takes the green flag this Friday, July 5.

The race will mark the first time the iconic ‘Firecracker’ moniker has appeared in a NASCAR Daytona event title since the 1988 Pepsi Firecracker 400 Winston Cup battle.

From its introduction in 1959 through its final bow 25 years ago, the Firecracker signature became synonymous with the Independence Day Grand National/Cup race at Daytona. The Firecracker 250 – and later 400 – mile event was to the Fourth of July like the Southern 500 was to Labor Day Weekend.

The genesis of the event is as old as Daytona itself dating back to 1959. Looking to book additional dates to his new super speedway, Bill France, Sr. added a summer race at DIS to the NASCAR calendar. The ‘Firecracker 250’ would join the Daytona 500 as crown jewel races at the lightning-fast 2.5-mile Daytona oval.

Billed as a ‘Sweepstakes Event’ for entries from both the NASCAR Grand National (now Sprint Cup) and Convertible Divisions, the race featured a total purse of $25,525.

Like the inaugural Daytona 500 earlier in the year, the July 4, 1959 Firecracker 250 was contested caution free. Glenn ‘Fireball’ Roberts and his hard top Pontiac won the pole with a speed of 144.997 miles per hour and then backed it up leading all but 16 of the 100 laps to get the win. Joe Weatherly – in the only Convertible in the top-five – was second followed by Johnny Allen, Jack Smith and Eduardo Dibos.

Roberts earned $7,050 for the victory.

The race – which drew an on-site crowd announced as 12,017 – became an instant classic with the first widespread drafting in any NASCAR race.

Roberts would go on to win three of the first four Firecracker 250’s with David Pearson’s victory in the 1961 event the only speed bump. A.J. Foyt, Jr. captured the 1964 and 1965 races.

Later years saw NASCAR greats Cale Yarborough, Bobbie and Donnie Allison, Bobby Isaac, LeRoy Yarbrough, Richard Petty, Buddy Baker and Neil Bonnett all win the ‘Firecracker.’

Tim Richmond won the last sole Firecracker 250 in 1986 before the soft drink invasion hit NASCAR and the race was named the Pepsi Firecracker 400 in 1987. One year later on Saturday, July 2, 1988, the Firecracker name made it’s last appearance in the title of the summer race at Daytona when Bill Elliott bested Sterling Marlin, Bobby Hillin, Jr., Darrell Waltrip, and Kyle Petty in the Pepsi Firecracker 400.

Elliott won $63,500 in an event that featured three caution periods – one for a Daytona ‘Big One’ – on the first lap.

The race has continued the past 25 years as either the Pepsi 400 (through 2008) or Coke Zero (2009-Present). Saturday’s event will also mark the first-ever appearance of the classic Firecracker signature to a title of a NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona.

To ‘old school’ NASCAR fans, having the Firecracker reference in the title of a race at Daytona represents tradition, a time when racing was a lot less complicated – when some old fashioned ingenuity both on and off the track could make a big difference in a race.

Times change, memories linger. That said, whoever is responsible for returning the Firecracker race title back into the Daytona and NASCAR lexicon, thanks much.

Now, if they would just move the Southern 500 back to Labor Day at Darlington. . .

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