Thursday, February 17, 2011

Classic Sports Thursday

A perfect storm had occurred for CBS in February 1979. A massive snowstorm hit the East Coast, and CBS had outbid ABC for the rights to the Daytona 500. In prior years, ABC had entered the Daytona 500 broadcast around the 100-lap point, and aired the last hour and half of the race. CBS would gamble and try to air the entire 200-lap, 500-mile race, something that Indianapolis only had for local broadcasts in post-war Indianapolis, and something not even ABC had tried with the Indianapolis 500, which was taped and aired that evening in summary broadcasts at the time (the first national live Indianapolis 500 would not occur until 1986).

The gamble worked. Despite a small shower in the morning and CBS plans to pair it with the most popular NBA games after the race, the first live flag-to-flag national broadcast of a 500-mile automobile race ended with an incident so famous that because of the snow, the ratings soared, and the appeal was known.

The famous last-lap crash of Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough (both of whom in the past ten years as of that time had run Indy) established a passion that in a nation that needed tough men heroes, created two. But the race to the finish, not caught by the CBS directors, was as amusing. Prior to September 2003, a safety car situation meant the safety car began when the leader crossed the start-finish line, and the Foyt, Petty, and Waltrip battle some believe was determined by Foyt forgetting unlike USAC, where the safety car situation was immediate slowdown and no racing, the safety car situation would be crossing the line only meant Petty, who won five Daytona 500s and what are now known as Sprint Cup titles at the time, and Waltrip, a driver in his early 30's with an Ali-style brashness he used on Nashville television and radio to successfully sell tickets to the weekly races but no titles, battled for the win, with The King beating Jaws.

The quote of Ken Squier after the race may have set a standard upon the squabble.

"And there's a fight between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough. Tempers overlowing, they are angry because they know they have lost, and what a bitter defeat."

Donnie's brother Bobby joined the fight, and the result was a fight that sold saloons to an American public. The newspapers the next day, and Middle America saw the passion of men who went for it, and in a nation longing for warriors, saw men who gave their heart, and refused to give up. Little did we know how from Cale vs the Allison Brothers what it meant. And imagine how it was for a racer from Rockford, IL, John Knaus, who raced in the Midwest, what his young son Chad Anthony was still a young schoolboy, years from turning his dad's wrenches (which he did at 14), and the boy's willingness to bench an entire starting five for poor performance.

We celebrate on Classic Sports Thursday the motor racing event that created a monster, and a classic for all ages.
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