1979 Sportsman 300 (partially found footage of NASCAR Late Model Sportsman 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 1979 Daytona 500, also promoting the 1979 Sportsman 300.

Status: Partially Found

The 1979 Sportsman 300 (also known as the 1979 Permatex 300) was the inaugural race of the 1979 NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Series. Occurring on 17th February 1979, the rain-shortened race would ultimately be won by Darrell Waltrip in a Chevrolet. However, the event is overshadowed by a fiery multicar crash that left Don Williams in a semi-comatose state until his death a decade later.

Background[edit | edit source]

The 1979 Sportsman 300 was the 21st running of the event, with the annual event typically lasting 300 miles.[1] The only 1983 NASCAR Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series race to take place at Daytona International Speedway,[2] the race has ties to the modern Xfinity race Beef. It's What's for Dinner. 300, having dropped the Goody's title from 1997 onwards.[3]

Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with Donnie Allison winning the pole position in a Chevrolet with a speed of 47.104 seconds.[1] Directly behind him was Ford's Jack Ingram, with Darrell Waltrip lining up third.[1] Don Williams qualified 38th out of 40 competitors in a Chevrolet.[1]

The Race[edit | edit source]

With the starting order decided, the 1979 Sportsman 300 commenced on 17th February.[1] While some drivers, including Chevrolet's J.D. McDuffie, and the Pontiacs of Harry Gant and Brad Teague briefly led at times, the race would primarily be between Waltrip and the Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt.[4] Earnhardt led from laps 39 to 57, with Waltrip briefly passing him, only for Earnhardt to regain it on lap 60.[4] After 64 laps, it looked as if Earnhardt was going to win, until a tyre on his Chevrolet blew on lap 67, forcing him to pit and causing him to finish seventh.[4][1] Waltrip regained the first position and held on to in a race that was shortened because of rain to only 69 laps or about 172.5 miles.[4][1] Fellow Chevrolet drivers Sterling Marlin and Ray Hendrick finished second and third respectively.[1][4]

Post-race, Waltrip was satisfied that he could have won even without Earnhardt's tyre blowing, stating "We're not complaining about the way we won the race. You can fight anything but the elements. I would have to tell you we would have won the race anyway."[4] Waltrip also won the second Twin 125s race, and only just missed out on a triple crown by losing the Daytona 500 to Richard Petty by a car length.[5]

Death of Don Williams[edit | edit source]

On lap 4, Ingram was exiting Turn 2 when his Ford's engine failed.[6][7][1] As it did, it leaked oil onto the track, causing Chevrolet's Freddie Smith to spin, where he was hit by Mercury's Joe Frasson, causing it to burst in flames.[6][7][5][1] Delma Cowart then smashed into Frasson at top speed, the impact from the Chevrolet causing the Mercury's fuel tank to rupture and explode.[6][5][7][1] Pontiac's Dennis Bennett, Chevrolet's Red Farmer, and Buddy Byles' Mercury were also involved in the accident.[7][6][1] The resulting crash caused Frasson to suffer a contusion to his right knee, as well as a minor facial burn, although he ultimately escaped his burning car.[5][6][4][7] "The fire melted my helmet and singed my fire suit," said Frasson. "Twenty-two gallons of fuel burning in a car can get pretty hot. That's about as near to panic as I've ever gotten."[4][5] Meanwhile, Farmer suffered an ankle abrasion and a minor leg burn, while two other drivers suffered minor injuries.[4][5][7] Smith meanwhile claimed his windshield failed but was unable to remember anything following that.[4][5]

Meanwhile, conflicting reports arose regarding what happened to Don Williams.[7][6][1] As he approached the carnage, The Sarasota Herald-Tribune claimed he stopped in the middle of the track only to be hit by another car that failed to slow.[7] Other accounts, including from The Miami News believe Williams was forced to swing high into the wall to avoid the wrecks.[7][6] However, the sudden impact at high speed into the wall, combined with flying debris, caused him to suffer severe head and chest injuries, including a hairline skull fracture, in addition to a fractured right arm and a right eye aneurysm.[7][6][4][5] While he was not killed immediately following the accident, he never fully recovered from it, remaining in a semi-comatose state for the rest of his life.[6][7] On 21st May 1989, Williams passed away from his injuries aged 42.[7][6] A hardware salesman for a ball-bearing company, Williams had been racing for seven years, with ambitions to compete in the Sportsman Series.[7] The 1979 Sportsman 300 was to be his first instance of racing on a 2.5 mile superspeedway.[7]

Availability[edit | edit source]

According to nascarman History's Top 10 LOST NASCAR TV Broadcasts, the race received coverage from CBS, albeit in August 1979. The full broadcast has yet to resurface, although clips and photos of the accident are viewable.[6] Additionally, the intro of the race that was shown as part of the 1979 NHRA Springnationals has also resurfaced.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Videos[edit | edit source]

Intro of the race
Top 10 LOST NASCAR TV Broadcasts detailing the CBS broadcast of the race (1:43-2:15).
IanPerez48 documenting Don Williams and his fatal accident.

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]