Back Seat Driver: Larry Mac knows the Daytona 500

Larry McReynolds and Dale Earnhardt Sr.
David Taylor/Getty Images.
“On Sunday when that flagman puts up ten fingers, which indicates ten laps to go in the Daytona 500, you're going to do whatever you have to do, you don't care who you can or can't talk to, you don't care how hot your engine's running, you don't care how your car's driving, if you can do something to put yourself in the position to win the biggest race of the year, you're going to do whatever that takes.”  

Larry McReynolds knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the Daytona 500. 

He’s called the Great American Race 23 times. When the green flag flies today, he’ll be in broadcast booth for the ninth time since 2001 (If you recall, FOX and NBC took turns broadcasting the 500 between 2001 and 2006). As crew chief, he sat atop the pit box for 15 years. I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say that his two wins are among most fans’ favorite Daytona 500 memories.  Davey Allison’s 1992 victory marked the second time a father and son each won the Harley J. Earl Trophy, and when Dale Earnhardt captured that elusive trophy on his 20th attempt, all of NASCAR Nation celebrated. 

As a broadcaster, McReynolds – or Larry Mac as we’ve come to know him – has seen both the highest and lowest of Daytona has to offer. In 2001, after NASCAR on FOX’s first broadcast and McReynolds’ debut in the booth, veteran driver Michael Waltrip’s celebration of his first career Cup victory gave way to heartbreak. The death of friend and legend Dale Earnhardt cast a pall not only over the race but the entire sport. Last year, Trevor Bayne’s fresh-faced jubilance over his first career Cup victory in just his first attempt at the Daytona 500 helped dispel the last of that pall.  Between those two extremes, his own wins in the Great American Race as crew chief to two of the sport’s biggest names. 

McReynolds brushes off any credit for his successes. He said, “I was always fortunate enough to work with great race car drivers with great race teams that had good people surrounding me. I’d like to sit here and tell you I had a magic wand in my pocket, but I was able to surround myself with great drivers and good people who had good programs along the way.”

I asked Larry Mac about his wins in the Great American Race. If he could compare the two, which would be more special? Or could he compare them?

McReynolds said, “They’re both very, very special. You know, those two Daytona 500 trophies are in my office, and there’s probably not a day that I don’t walk by them and look at both of them sitting side-by-side and smile. I don’t know how a coach feels that wins a Super Bowl, I don’t know how a coach feels that wins a World Series, but I can’t believe that the feeling would be any greater than being a crew chief that won two Daytona 500s.”  

He went on to say, “But I think now, today, when I look back at who I was fortunate enough to with them with, Davey Allison and Dale Earnhardt, and to know that neither one of them are with us today, and that it was the only time that either one of them won the Daytona 500, I think that makes it that much more special.”

“The Earnhardt win was huge. It was a huge mark in the history of NASCAR. He had done everything in this sport that a man could do. He’d won at Indy, he’d won seven championships, and he’d won at about every type of track on the circuit. And this is a 200-lap race and someone had pointed out to me prior to that race that he’d lead every lap of that race but two. One was like lap 70-something, and then one of them obviously was Lap 200.” 

Davey Allison and Larry Mac
Credit: Getty Images
McReyolds said that his ’92 win was special because it was his first Daytona 500 victory. It was Davey Allison’s first Daytona 500 victory. He and Davey Allison were best friends, their wives were best friends, and they’d had their sons baptized together. 

“It was special for the entire Robert Yates team,” he said. “But when I spin ahead six years, to ’98, I know what meant the most to me. It’s a snapshot in my career that I will never, ever forget, even though it’s been 13, 14 years, it seems like it was just a couple-three years ago.  After a lot of the hoopla in victory lane had settled down a little bit, I can remember just kinda taking a step back and watching Dale and Teresa Earnhardt, and watching Richard and Judy Childress.”  

He paused for a moment, and then said, “Just think of the years, look at all the years that Richard Childress had been coming to the Daytona, for a number of years as a driver, then obviously for a number of years as an owner. How close those two men had come to winning this race: a flat tire on the last set of corners of the last lap in 1990, hitting a seagull, running out of fuel, blown engine. I mean, [they] had a dominant car so many, many times…I took a step back in victory lane and watched these people, and watched so many members of the [No.] 3 team that had been with Dale so many of those times they’d come so close, and it was almost like watching your kids open their presents on Christmas morning. And that’s a snapshot of my career that I’ll never forget.”

Dale and Theresa Earnhardt celebrate in victory lane. 
February 14, 1998 - Photo by Getty Images North America
“They were both very special [the wins], but I think because it was my second one, and because of the significance of Dale Earnhardt winning it on the 50th anniversary of NASCAR, that would tip the scales a bit in that direction. Especially since both those guys are no longer with us, and it was the only time they would experience winning the Daytona 500.” 

I’m sure all crew chiefs have wonderful memories of their wins in the race known as the Super Bowl of NASCAR. But I defy you to find one who has more poignant ones: Davey Allison, who would have turned 51 this weekend. Dale Earnhardt who had tried like a stock car version of Captain Ahab for nearly two decades to capture the white whale of the Daytona 500,  When he finally did it, Larry Mac was the man on the pit box, calling the shots. (At least as much as anyone ever called the shots with Earnhardt.)

Larry McReynolds knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the Daytona 500.  
Back Seat Driver: Larry Mac knows the Daytona 500 Back Seat Driver: Larry Mac knows the Daytona 500 Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Sunday, February 26, 2012 Rating: 5