1979 Atlanta 500 (lost footage of NASCAR Winston Cup Series race; 1979)

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This article has been tagged as NSFL due to its discussion of a fatal motor racing accident.


Program for the race.

Status: Lost

The 1979 Atlanta 500 was the 5th race of the 1979 NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Occurring on 18th March at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, the race would ultimately be won by pole sitter Buddy Baker in an Oldsmobile. However, the event is overshadowed by the death of Dennis Wade, a crewman that was fatally struck by Dave Watson's Chevrolet as it went out of control on the pit road.

Background[edit | edit source]

The 1979 Atlanta 500 was the 20th running of the event, with the race traditionally being around 500 miles in length.[1] It was one of two 1979 Winston Cup Series races conducted at Atlanta Motor Speedway,[2] the other being the Dixie 500,[1] which in 1979 occurred on 7th November and was won by Neil Bonnett in a Mercury.[3] The Atlanta 500 also has ties to the modern Quaker State 400, which resumed the event at a 400 mile length in 2021 after not being held from 2011-2020.[4][5]

Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with Buddy Baker winning the pole position with a speed of 165.951 mph.[6] Directly behind him was Bobby Allison in a Ford, with Chevrolet driver Benny Parsons occupying the third position.[6] Dave Watson qualified 18th out of the 40 race competitors.[6]

The Race[edit | edit source]

With the starting order decided, the 1979 Atlanta 500 occurred on 18th March.[6] Baker led the first two laps,[6] though it became clear Allison would be his biggest rival, as they led the majority of the first 114 laps,[6] with them especially being competitive in the first 47 laps.[7] This was disrupted as Oldsmobile driver Richard Petty spun out, forcing a caution.[7] The first pitstops began, and Watson elected to stay out, thus giving him the lead for six laps.[7][6] Following the fatal accident of Dennis Wade, Cale Yarborough in an Oldsmobile took over as leader,[6] although ultimately the race would be between Baker and Allison for the final stretch.[7] Mercury driver David Pearson also remained in contention until lap 299 where he retired due to an engine failure.[6]

On lap 305, Baker passed Allison to move into the first position, and remained there for the final 23 laps.[6] He built a sizeable gap over his opponents, finishing 28 seconds ahead of Allison to claim his first victory since May 1976, and $30,525 in prize money.[7] Allison nevertheless received a consolation $10,000 in addition to the $30,525, after having led the most laps at 166.[7] In third was Darrell Waltrip in a Chevrolet.[6][7] Post-race, Allison stated that his Ford Thunderbird lost a cylinder following the final pit stop, which he claims was why he could not keep up with Baker.[7]

Death of Dennis Wade[edit | edit source]

On lap 124,[6] Watson, who had managed to lead six laps after staying out, elected to pit as the car ran out of fuel.[8][7] As the car was approaching, crewman Dennis Wade jumped over the pit wall carrying a heavy hydraulic jack, so that he and others could prepare to service the car.[7][8] Watson began to approach his pit stall when suddenly the rear wheels locked.[7][8] Because it had no power, the car had virtually no control, resulting in the car locking up and spinning as Watson attempted to gear down.[7] As the car spun towards him, Wade froze, and according to NASCAR official Ray Hill, "had nowhere to go".[7] The out of control Chevrolet Monte Carlo then proceeded to plough into Wade at around 50 mph, knocking him 100 feet through the air.[8][7]

Wade was immediately taken to the local hospital, with a distraught Watson immediately retiring from the race and electing to travel with his crew to the hospital.[8][7] Ultimately, Wade passed away from his injuries aged 18, becoming the first racing-related death at the raceway.[7][8] Following the death of his crewman, Watson made the decision to never race in the Cup Series again, although he would later compete in other categories.[8]

Availability[edit | edit source]

According to NASCAR on TV, ABC televised 30 minutes of highlights on 24th March 1979 as part of its Wide World of Sports alongside the World Target Diving Championships and World Championship Motorcycles.[9] It is unknown whether any of the televised contained the fatal accident, though it would become the first Atlanta 500 since 1969 to be broadcast on tape-delay.[9] As of the present day, the ABC coverage has yet to resurface, and no footage of the race is currently publicly accessible. Nevertheless, a few photographs, including of the fatal accident, have resurfaced.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Images[edit | edit source]

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]