1979 Gabriel 400 (partially found 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 serious motor racing accident.


Aftermath of Steve Pfeiffer's crash.

Status: Partially Found

The 1979 Gabriel 400 was the 16th race of the 1979 NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Occurring on 17th June at the Michigan International Speedway, the race would ultimately be won by Buddy Baker, beating out fellow Chevrolet driver Donnie Allison. The race is also infamous for a crash involving Steve Pfeiffer, whose Chevrolet injured some spectators on the pit wall.


The 1979 Gabriel 400 was the 11th running of the event, with the annual race typically lasting around 400 miles in length.[1] It was one of two 1979 Winston Cup Series races conducted at Michigan International Speedway, the other being the Champion Spark Plug 400,[2] which in 1979 occurred on 19th August and was won by Richard Petty in a Chevrolet.[3] The race also has ties to the modern FireKeepers Casino 400, with both races having been merged into one since 2021.[4]

Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with Neil Bonnett winning the pole position in a Mercury with a speed of 162.371 mph.[1] Directly behind him was Donnie Allison, with Buddy Baker lining up third.[1] Roger Hamby also entered the event with a Chevrolet,[5] qualifying 18th out of 36 runners.[1] He selected Steve Pfeiffer to be his relief driver.[5]

The Race

With the starting order decided, the 1979 Gabriel 400 commenced on 17th June.[1] Bonnett was able to hold the lead until lap 3, when Baker briefly took over, only for Bonnett to recapture it on lap 4.[1] However, the race would quickly turn into an open competition for the lead, with Allison, Oldsmobile's Cale Yarborough, and Petty all contributing towards 46 lead changes throughout the event.[1] The Hour summarised the race as "a furious battle among 10 top contenders all day."[5]

Near the race's end stages, Baker would lead for 22 consecutive laps.[1] His main competition would be Allison, with him overtaking Baker for the first position on lap 158.[1][5] This triggered a further seven lead changes between the pair, with Baker achieving the final overtake for first on lap 182.[1] Nevertheless, he still faced intense competition from not only Allison, but also a late challenge from Yarborough.[5] However, the latter would drop out of contention, because his performance dipped as his tyres heated up according to Baker.[5] Baker would maintain the lead for the remaining laps, with the final few being run under a caution following incidents involving the Dodge of Frank Warren and Chevrolet's Darrell Waltrip.[1] This enabled Baker to win the race and claim $16,350 in prize money.[5][1] Allison finished second, with Yarborough ending up third.[1][5] Allison accepted Baker's victory post-race, stating "I felt the cars that won deserved to win and I thought the car that was second deserved to be second."[5]

Steve Pfeiffer's Crash

During the race, owner-driver Roger Hamby elected to be replaced by relief driver Steve Pfeiffer.[5] After completing 122 laps,[1] Pfeiffer decided to make a pit stop, heading onto pit road.[6][5] Suddenly, he lost control of the Chevrolet, slamming into a dirt embankment close to the pit entrance.[6][5] The impact was severe enough to cause the vehicle to climb the embankment, resulting in it mowing down a few spectators, including photographer Ray Cook.[6][5] Cook was hospitalised after suffering leg and ankle injuries, while some spectators suffered cuts and bruises.[6][5] Meanwhile, Pfeiffer resided in Foote West Hospital, ultimately recovering from cuts to his right knee and chest.[5] Ultimately, despite the severity of the crash, there were no fatalities.[6]


According to NASCAR on TV, 45 minutes of highlights were televised by ABC on 23rd June 1979 as part of its Wide World of Sports, alongside the AAU Track and Field Championships.[7] However, the broadcast has yet to fully resurface, although clips of Pfeiffer's accident have been uploaded to YouTube. Additionally, Racing-Reference claims that at least three other YouTube videos contained footage of the race, but have all since been made inaccessible.[8] Nevertheless, photos and newspaper clippings of the event are publicly viewable.



Footage of Pfeiffer's crash.


See Also