On April 29, 2001, the Cup Series held its annual race at the 2-mile track formally known as California Speedway.
Just over two months had passed since the death of Dale Earnhardt in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500 and feelings surrounding the tragedy were still fresh on what would have been his 50th birthday.
Rusty Wallace, one of his long-time rivals and friends, made sure Earnhardt got his due after holding off Jeff Gordon to get the win.
There were no celebratory burnouts by Wallace. Instead, a crew member met him on the track and delivered an Earnhardt flag. Wallace drove around the track as it waved outside his window.
It was sadly a familiar sight.
Just over eight years earlier in 1993, Wallace had won the Cup Series race at Bristol following the death of Alan Kulwicki in a plane crash earlier in the week. Afterward, Wallace performed Kulwicki’s trademark “Polish Victory Lap.”
In November, Wallace and Earnhardt would honor not just Kulwicki, but Davey Allison, who died in July from injuries sustained in a helicopter crash. After Wallace won the season finale at Atlanta and Earnhardt clinched his sixth title, the two performed the “Polish Victory Lap” as Wallace held an Allison flag and Earnhardt held a Kulwicki flag.
“It was kind of an emotional feeling,” Wallace told Fox after his 2001 win. “(Earnhardt) was such a great friend of mine and such a great family. … I really would have liked to have had Richard Childress riding with me that lap.”
Also on this date:
1951: Fonty Flock led every lap to win a Grand National race at North Wilkesboro. Lou Figaro, driving in relief of Dale Williams, finished ninth in a car that had its hood stuck in the upright position, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning.”
1962: Bobby Johns led 430 of 500 laps to win at Bristol by six laps over Fireball Roberts. According to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom,” Roberts finished second after he lost 12 laps in the pits making repairs, only to make up six of them under green flag conditions.
1984: Geoffrey Bodine beat Ron Bouchard by six seconds at Martinsville to score his first Cup Series win and also the first win for Hendrick Motorsports. It came in the team’s eighth Cup race.
1990: A week after his brother Brett earned his first career Cup win at North Wilkesboro, Geoffrey Bodine won at Martinsville to earn his first win for owner Junior Johnson. It was the first time brothers won consecutive races since Donnie and Bobby Allison did it in 1978.