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As the Verizon IndyCar Series takes the weekend off, drivers and teams will have a chance to relax, catch up on rest, spend time with family and friends, and celebrate the 241st birthday of the United States on July 4.
On the track, attention will shift to other forms of racing, including NASCAR’s annual Fourth of July weekend event at Daytona International Speedway – the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday night.
The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s biggest, most prestigious race, but the massive oval has also hosted a second race for stock car racing’s premier series. Throughout its history, several top Indy car drivers have competed in the 400-mile July race.
Originally known as the Firecracker 250 in 1959 and later the Firecracker 400 in 1963, one Indianapolis 500 legend is a two-time winner of this holiday contest. And he went back-to-back for both of his Firecracker wins.
Long before A.J. Foyt drove the Wood Brothers Mercury to victory in the 1972 Daytona 500, he was a repeat winner of the 1964 and ‘65 Firecracker 400. (Foyt is shown in the photo above being interviews by longtime motorsports journalist Chris Economaki at the 1965 Firecracker 400).
The 1964 victory was Foyt’s first NASCAR win and came little more than a month after he won the Indianapolis 500 for the second time in his career. He became the first driver to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway in the same year when he drove the Texas Dodge Dealers car owned by Ray Nichels to victory on July 4, 1964.
Foyt started that race in 19th place and led 14 of the 160 laps to add a NASCAR win to his fame as the top Indy car driver of his day. It almost didn’t happen, however. Foyt was nearly taken out on the first lap when Reb Wickersham spun in front of him just after the race had started.
Foyt quickly made his way up through the field. For the final 56 laps of the race, it was a battle between the brash Texan and stock car ace Bobby Isaac of Hickory, North Carolina. n a race that started at 10 a.m. ET because of the hot summer temperatures in Daytona Beach, Florida, and lasted just over 2.5 hours, Foyt defeated Isaac’s Dodge by a single car length in front of 34,681 fans. A young driver who would later achieve fame in Indy car racing finished seventh in that race: Johnny Rutherford.
Foyt returned to the Firecracker 400 in 1965 and won again, this time driving for the Wood Brothers. He led 30 laps and defeated a young, strapping mountain of a man named Buddy Baker. Of course, Foyt went on to win more races (67) than anyone in Indy car history. Since retiring in 1993, he has focused on ownership of AJ Foyt Racing that fields cars for drivers Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season.
Foyt, the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, would go on to win seven NASCAR Cup Series races in his career. He was as respected by the NASCAR drivers as he was by those he raced with on a regular basis on the old USAC Championship trail – the sanctioning organization for Indy car in those days.
Mario Andretti drove in his fourth career NASCAR race in the 1966 Firecracker 400. He would go on to win the 1967 Daytona 500 the following February.
Gordon Johncock won the 1973 and 1982 Indianapolis 500. He finished fourth in the 1973 Firecracker 400 driving for car owner Hoss Ellington.
Andretti’s win in the 1967 Daytona 500 and Foyt’s Daytona 500 win in 1972 are well-known by the Indy car crowd, but few realize the big names from Indy car’s past who also competed in the July race at Daytona. And for Foyt, it was twice the fun.