This Week in Automotive History: February 18-February 24
Welcome to “This Week in Automotive History,” where we take a look back at significant moments in the auto industry from our past. Why the whole week in one post? Because we’re not a damn “Word a Day” desk calendar. You want a word for today? “Donnybrook” There, look it up. Anyways, on with the history… Monday, February 18 1898-Enzo Ferrari is born in Modena, Italy. After a brief stint in World War I, Enzo became a test driver for Alfa Romeo. Soon after he won one of the first post-war Eureopean races, and Alfa Romeo promoted him to chief factory driver. However, young Enzo was not satisfied with simply driving cars, his true passion was designing and improving them. He left Alfa Romeo shortly before WWII, and in 1947 he rolled out his first car, the 125 S. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Enzo Ferrari built many memorable cars, including the legendary 250. Enzo passed away in 1988, however his son Piero is a vice president within the Ferrari organiztion and holds a 10% stake in the company. Today the carmaker is known for being one of the top supercar makers in the world. Iconic models such as the F40 and the 458 Italia have continued Enzo Ferrari’s legacy, ensuring his place in automotive lore for years to come. Tuesday, February 19 1984-NASCAR driver Cale Yarborough wins his fourth Daytona 500. The only NASCAR driver with more Daytona trophies is the legendary Richard Petty, who has seven. Like many NASCAR drivers, Cale Yarborough was born in South Carolina. After racing cars as a teenager, he got into a NASCAR ride in 1963 and won his first Daytona 500 in 1968. Another Daytona victory followed in 1977. In 1979, he won for the 3rd time. The ’79 contest was notable in that it was the first Daytona 500 to be broadcast on TV for the full duration of the race. It was also known for the controversial brawl involving Yarborough and the Allison brothers, which boosted TV ratings and increased interest in the fledgling sport. Cale Yarborough retired at the end of the 1988 season. His final tally was 83 Winston Cup victories. Wednesday, February 20 1997-On this date one of Seinfield’s most popular episodes, called The Pothole, airs on TV. The main plot revolves around one of the characters, Cosmo Kramer, as he attempts to clean up a section of the fictional Arthur Burghardt expressway. This was done as part of the real-life cleanup program known as the Adopt-A-Highway project. In the Seinfield episode, hilarity ensues when Kramer attempts to change the 4-lane highway to a 2-lane setup. His antics culiminate in setting a mail truck on fire after leaving paint thinner on the highway. The episode was one of Seinfield’s all time greats, garnering an Emmy award for director Andy Ackerman. Thursday, February 21 1948-NASCAR is officially incorporated. Bill France, a well-known racing driver from Florida, is named president. The new organization held its first stock race at the Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina in 1949. Driver Glenn Dunaway won the contest in a Ford, however he was disqualified after it was discovered he was using illegal rear springs. A year later, the first track built for NASCAR opened in Darlington, South Carolina. In 1972, Bill France handed control of NASCAR to his son, Bill France Jr. Under his direction, NASCAR became one of the top sports establishments, raking in millions of dollars a year. NASCAR has three national series, along with four regionals and two international contests. Friday, February 22 1959-The first Daytona 500 is held, with driver Johhny Beauchamp initially declared the winner in an extremely close finish. However, second-place Lee Petty successfully convinced Bill France that he had in fact won. The official verdict was overturned and Petty was crowned the winner. Saturday, February 23 1958-Famed Formula 1 driver Juan Manuel Fangio is kidnapped from his Havana hotel room shortly before the start of the Cuban Grand Prix. The feat was pulled off by a band of Fidel Castro’s rebels, who had intended to draw publicity for their cause. An unharmed Fangio was released several hours after the race ended. Juan Fangio was one of Argentina’s most successful F1 drivers, winning the championship four years in a row from 1954 to 1957. However, Fangio quit racing shortly after the kidnapping, claiming that the cars had become too fast and dangerous. He passed away in 1995 at the age of 84. Sunday, February 24 1955-Alain Prost is born near Saint-Chamond, France. He would go on to become one of F1’s most feared drivers in the 1980s. However, the one defining aspect of his career was the notorious rivalry with fellow driver Ayrton Senna. The two were teammates on the McLaren F1 team in 1988, but Prost quit after the season to join the Ferrari team. Prost and Senna would cross swords on and off the track for years to come, until Senna perished in a crash in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Alain Prost had retired a year before the accident, and eventually purchased the Ligier F1 team in 1997. After four underachieving years, the team was dissolved due to financial issues.