It's well known that the Fourth of July is a special weekend for NASCAR. The American theme goes well beyond what normal celebrations include. The cars carry special colors to honor the country, Goodyear brings special "Support Our Troops" tires, and military personnel is seen all around the speedway.
But before the special paint scheme took off, or before Goodyear decided to showcase it's support on the tires, there was one race that defined July 4th in NASCAR.
July 4, 1984, the Firecracker 400...a classic battle between Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough. It was already a special day as then-President Ronald Reagan gave the command aboard Air Force One to fire engines, and made the decision that of all the places the leader of the country could be, he wanted to be at that race.
We all know what happened, three laps to go, caution comes out, and Yarborough makes his slingshot move to the lead, but can't hold it, and in the photo finish, Petty beats him out by a bumper, winning his 200th career race, a record that will likely stand the test of time.
Yet, the question sometimes comes up, how would NASCAR be different if it was Yarborough that won, had that caution not waved? Would that moment be different?
Look at this in the thought of had that caution not waved, Yarborough would likely still have three laps to prepare for that slingshot move. He has admitted that when the caution waved, he was out of position to make the move, and had to make a quick decision to make the pass, knowing there was a chance he could get passed back. Yarborough was hoping to make the move on the final lap, just like he did six years earlier on Donnie Allison in the Daytona 500.
At the same time, he wanted to make the move exiting turn 2, rather than midway on the backstretch. Had the wreck not happened, Yarborough would have made the move and possibly held on to win the race, meaning Petty would still be standing at 199 wins.
But, Petty could still make a race of it as well, and it could have been just as spectacular a finish, or could have led to a wreck that he saw in 1976 that cost him the win in the Daytona 500.
NASCAR could've been a lot different on that day had it been Yarborough celebrating in victory lane alongside President Reagan instead of Petty. The entire outlook on NASCAR could have been very different. Sure, his nickname of "The King" was set in stone at that point, but standing at 199 wins just doesn't have the same ring as having 200.
The race may not have been nicknamed "The Perfect Weekend" had Yarborough been the one celebrating a victory.
It still will go down as one of the greatest finishes and greatest moments in NASCAR. Win #200 for Petty, happened at the Great American Speedway, on July 4, with the President in attendance. You couldn't write a better script.