Before the race moved to the NASCAR Cup Series playoff finale, the July 4th race at Daytona International Speedway was as much of a tradition as its other race, the Daytona 500.
The fact that the race was always held on the 4th of July weekend made the race unique and there would be nothing better than seeing cars in special patriotic paint schemes flying at 200 mph just feet apart in the draft.
The race has also produced some fantastic moments in NASCAR history. David Ragan took his first career victory in 2011, 10 years after Dale Earnhardt Jr. worked the field on the final restart to win the series’ first race at Daytona following the death of his father in the final lap of the Daytona 500. It was also the race where Richard Petty earned his 200th and final career win , in front of then-President Ronald Reagan, in 1984.
But just a year after that iconic Petty victory, the race produced one of the most unlikely and controversial victories in the modern era that resulted in a driver walking away from his championship team, taking his sponsor with him and ending the team.
Digard Racing, still relatively fresh from winning the 1983 championship with driver Bobby Allison, was looking for ways to improve and return to championship contention with Allison still behind the wheel. So tthat team decided to field an extra car in the 1985 Firecracker 400 for little-known driver Greg Sacks.
The car was designed and entered with the intention of being a Research and Development (R&D) car: The team brought several rigs to the race and planned to test as much as they could to gather data and information that the team could then used in Allison. car in the coming years. The unsponsored number 10 was not designed to compete in the race, just to try out.
Crew chief Gary Nelson was tasked with exploring various structures, primarily as a means of finding a way to take down superspeedway ace Bill Elliott. All the way to the green flag, the plan was still in place.
But then, something happened. Whatever setup Nelson originally put on the car made Sacks’ car fast. Like, fast winner in the race. So the team essentially scrapped the R&D plan and let the Sacks compete.
And wouldn’t you know it? Sacks took home his first — and only — career win, shocking the entire field.
Suddenly, the 32-year-old from Mattituck, New York, who no one had heard of before the race, was now a winner in NASCAR’s highest echelon. Digard Racing was just as shocked as Sacks was in victory lane. Everyone on the team was happy for Sacks, except for one man: his teammate.
Just days after Sacks’ miracle shock at Daytona, Allison suddenly left the team. Allison was not a fan of multi-car teams and was reportedly so angry that the team was distracted by an R&D car that he quit the team and ended up driving his own cars for the rest of the 1985 season. In 1986, he joined Stavola Brothers Racing and took the Miller sponsorship he had at Digard with him.
Allison’s sudden departure, combined with the loss of Miller as a sponsor, put Digard Racing in a situation it had been in before. After an ugly end to their relationship with Darrell Waltrip and Gatorade, the team had some financial problems before signing Allison and Miller starting in 1982.
Now the team is back to where it was just a few years ago, in an ending perhaps uglier than before – Allison had won a championship with the team and had 16 of his 81 career wins at the time of his departure, including his second Daytona. 500 in 1982.
The final nail in the team’s coffin came when Robert Yates, the team’s engine builder since 1976, also left in 1986. The team tried to hang on, but ended up folding in 1987.
Allison won three more races with Stavola Brothers Racing, the last being his third Daytona 500 in 1988 — you know, the iconic father-son 1-2 finish with Davey Allison? Unfortunately, two horrific crashes marred the end of Allison’s career—his infamous 1987 impact with the fence at Talladega Superspeedway that led to the invention and implementation of restrictor plates, and his career-ending crash at Pocono Raceway in 1988 that nearly took his life. Despite this, his legacy is cemented in NASCAR history as he is a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and is tied with Waltrip for fourth on the all-time wins list at age 84.
As for Sacks, the Daytona upset was the only win of his Cup Series career. He did manage a NASCAR Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) win at Talladega in 1996, another upset, but those two wins would be the only times Sacks would visit victory lane in NASCAR’s top series.
His last NASCAR start came in 2010, where he drove one time for JR Motorsports sponsored by his beverage company, Grand Touring Vodka. The start came 25 years after his Daytona victory, and he finished 21st after starting seventh (for reference, this was the same race Earnhardt Jr. won driving a Wrangler-sponsored No. 3 that looked identical to the scheme that his father had driven in the same race that Sacks won in 1985).
Despite never really achieving success in NASCAR, Sacks’ status as a one-win wonder will forever be one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history. Unfortunately, the win will also be remembered as a catalyst for the eventual shutdown of the team he won with.
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