Over fifty years ago, on February 22nd of 1959, the first ever Daytona 500 was enjoyed by countless viewers and won by Lee Petty in one of the most intense photo finishes of all time. The race itself took place on the famous Daytona International Speedway, located in the Sunshine State. The track is now synonymous with NASCAR and its name is known all across the globe, but it had only just been built in time for this first ever race. It took just over three hours for the race to be completed, but it would actually take another three days for a winner to be crowned and a monumental moment in auto-racing history to be written.
The finish of the race was particularly unusual. Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp were the two drivers involved in the photo finish and victory was actually awarded to Beauchamp at first since the race was such a close one. William France, co-founder of NASCAR, believed that Beauchamp had won the inaugural event, but Petty launched an appeal after the race. It took three long days for the investigation to take place and photographs taken by journalists had to be used to discover that Petty, driving in an Oldsmobile 88 at the time, was indeed the victor.
The event was so dramatic that some critics wondered whether France may have planned the entire story to spread the word about the event and the track. Whether or not this is true remains to be discovered, but nowadays, the name of the Daytona 500 lives on as one of the most popular events on the auto-racing calendar. This race actually launches the NASCAR season every single year and countless fans come from all over the nation and the world to witness this incredible occasion.
So what happened to the famous Lee Petty after his first ever victory? Well, the North Carolina mechanic proceeded to taste victory in dozens of NASCAR events before unfortunately suffering a major injury in 1961. He continued to race for a short time after his recovery but decided to put an end to his illustrious career in 1964. Nowadays, people will know Petty’s name for the team he founded after his racing retirement. Petty Enterprises, now known as Richard Petty Motorsports after a partnership with Gillett Evernham Motorsports, has gone down in history as one of the top teams ever seen on the auto-racing circuit.
Fans will also be aware of Lee’s son Richard, who followed in his father’s footsteps to become a record-breaking driver with NASCAR and one of the most successful competitors in the history of the sport. Lee passed on in the year 2000 but the incredible legacy he left behind will be remembered for many, many years to come. He was one of the sport’s finest heroes and his first ever victory will always be known as a historical moment for auto-racing.