On March 29, 1987, Bill Elliott tried to win at Darlington Raceway by going the final 72 laps on one tank of gas.
That didn’t work out.
Instead, Elliott ran out of gas on the final lap and had to watch the No. 3 of Dale Earnhardt zoom by on his outside in Turn 4 and take the checkered flag.
“When it ran out, I just pulled down out of the way,” Elliott said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.” “I sure wasn’t going to push him into the wall. I don’t drive that way.”
Earnhardt, who led 239 of 367 laps, stopped for fuel with 11 laps to go.
Then, as he chased Elliott, he smacked the wall in Turn 2 with four laps to go.
“I knocked the hell out of the wall, but I still wound up winning. That’s tough to do,” Earnhardt said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing.”
The win was Earnhardt’s third Darlington victory in four races.
Also on this date:
1959: Junior Johnson won a 100-mile race at Wilson (N.C) Speedway. He did it in front an audience who didn’t have a place to sit. According to “NASCAR: The Complete History,” the grandstands caught fire and burned to the ground less than an hour before the race began.
1992: While the above mentioned race from 1987 started a four-race win streak for Earnhardt, the 1992 TranSouth 400 at Darlington represented the opposite for Elliott. The win followed victories at Rockingham, Richmond and Atlanta. Even despite four wins in the first five races of the season, Elliott was second in the points to Davey Allison, who won the Daytona 500 and finished fourth or better in the next four races.
Earlier this year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the pole for the Daytona 500 with a qualifying speed of 194.582 mph.
But that’s how fast today’s Cup Series cars go on superspeedways with tapered spacers restricting engines.
On this day 50 years ago, Buddy Baker got to go really fast.
On Tuesday, March 24, 1970, Baker strapped into a blue Dodge Daytona during a tire test at Talladega Superspeedway, the largest oval track in NASCAR. During the test, Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier on a closed circuit.
His fastest lap around the 2.66-mile oval was recorded at 200.447 mph.
“Gosh, it’s the most wonderful feeling I’ve had in a long, long time,” Baker said after the test. “This is something nobody can ever take from you, being the first guy to run 200 mph on a close course circuit. Gosh, I’m just tickled to death.”
Baker said when you’re going 200 mph, the track’s high-banked turns “feels just like it’s flat. Because it takes every bit of the banking to run this speed. ”
Of course, stock cars would only get faster over the ensuing decades.
By 1987, Bill Elliott would establish the qualifying speed records at Daytona (210.364 mph) and Talladega (212.809 mph).
In 1988, following a violent Bobby Allison wreck at Talladega in 1987, NASCAR instituted restrictor plates for races at Daytona and Talladega. They’d be used through the 2019 Daytona 500 before being replaced by tapered spacers.
Other tracks have seen the 200 mph qualifying barrier broken since then, but we’ll likely never see it again at Daytona and Talladega.
UPDATE: According to allpar.com, Larry Rathgeb, the Chrysler engineer who led the test session to reach the 200 mph barrier, died Sunday as a result of the coronavirus.
Also on this date:
1991: Kenny Wallace, the younger brother to Rusty and Mike Wallace, won his first career Xfinity Series race at Volusia County Speedway in Barberville, Florida. The series would make its fourth and final visit to the half-mile track the next year.
2002:Kurt Busch executed a bump-and-run on Jimmy Spencer with 56 laps to go to take the lead in the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch led the rest of the way, surviving a restart with 15 laps to go, and scored his first Cup Series win. Busch would win three of the next four Cup races at Bristol.
This man was one of my heroes. My dad would tell stories about him seemingly every day when I was apprenticing at his race shop.
As this article explains, He was one of the innovative personalities that drove some of motorsports biggest advancements. https://t.co/vzcys9O1O9
The car lineup was slowly revealed over the last week on social media, culminating in tomorrow’s exhibit opening.
Here are the 18 cars that Earnhardt chose.
Richard Petty’s 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442
The car Petty drove to a win in the historic 1979 Daytona 500, which marked the first live flag-to-flag TV coverage of the “Great American Race.”
Petty claimed the win after last-lap crash between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison as Petty ran in third. Petty would race an Oldsmobile and a Chevrolet in 1979, winning five times on his way to his seventh and final Cup title.
Dale Earnhardt’s 1994 Chevrolet Lumina
Fifteen years after Petty’s seventh title, Dale Earnhardt became the second driver to reach that mark, winning four times in 1994 along with 20 top fives and 25 top 10s in 31 races. It marked the end of Earnhardt’s run of six championships in nine years.
It took a little longer for Jimmie Johnson to join Petty and Earnhardt as a seven-time champion, doing so 22 years after Earnhardt. Johnson won five times and earned 11 top fives and 16 top 10s through 36 races. Three of those wins came in the last seven races of the season.
Jeff Gordon’s 1997 Chevy Monte Carlo
The actual car Gordon won the 1997 Daytona 500 with – his first of three wins in the “Great American Race” – will be on display. The win kicked off Gordon’s second championship campaign. Gordon, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, would go on to win 10 races for the second year in a row.
Bill Elliott’s 1988 Ford Thunderbird
“Awesome Bill from Dawsonville’s” lone Cup title came in 1988. That year he won six times, including the Southern 500 for the second of three times.
He also won the July race at Daytona, at Bristol, Pocono and swept the Dover races.
Tony Stewart’s 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix
The car Stewart drove to his first of three Cup titles and the second Cup title for Joe Gibbs Racing following Bobby Labonte’s in 2000.
Stewart only won three times (Atlanta, Richmond I and Watkins Glen), but had a 13-race streak that included two wins, five top fives and eight top 10s. He took the points lead for the first time after the 30th race of the 36-race season.
Benny Parsons’ 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle
A former Detroit taxi driver, Parson’s lone Cup title came in the 1973 season despite him only claiming one win (Bristol II). But in the 28-race season, he finished outside the top 10 just seven times.
The championship was part of a nine-year stretch where Parsons did not finish outside the top five in the standings.
Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 Ford Thunderbird
One of the most celebrated championship stories in NASCAR history, the independent driver-owner Kulwicki won the 1992 Cup title in the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, besting four other drivers who entered the race with a shot at the championship, including race winner Bill Elliott.
Kulwicki, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, died in a plane crash on April 1, 1993 on his way to Bristol Motor Speedway.
The car that will sit on “Glory Road” is the car Kulwicki drove to his fifth and final Cup win on June 14, 1992 at Pocono Raceway.
Bobby Allison’s 1983 Buick Regal
Allison claimed his lone Cup title in 1983 off of six wins, 18 top fives and 25 tops 10s in 30 races.
Allison’s wins included three in a row late in the season, with the first in the Southern 500. His title came after he had placed runner-up in the standings five times.
Cale Yarborough’s 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442
In 1978, Cale Yarborough became the first driver to claim three consecutive Cup titles, an achievement that’s been repeated only once since with Jimmie Johnson as part of his five straight titles.
Driving for Junior Johnson, Yarborough won 10 races (for the second time in his career) and earned 24 top 10s in 30 races.
Buck Baker’s 1957 Chevrolet 150
Baker won his second consecutive Cup title in a car nicknamed “The Black Widow.”
Baker competed in 40 of the season’s 53 races, winning 10 times and earning 30 top fives plus eight more top 10s.
Rusty Wallace’s 1989 Pontiac Grand Prix
Wallace’s lone Cup title came in 1989 when he drove the No. 27 car for owner Raymond Beadle. Wallace claimed six wins and 13 top fives during the 29-race season, his last before he teamed with Miller Genuine Draft as a sponsor.
Wallace won the championship by just 12 points over Dale Earnhardt.
Darrell Waltrip’s 1981 Buick Regal
Waltrip claimed his first of three Cup titles in five years in 1981 while driving the No. 11 car for Junior Johnson. That year he won 12 races (which he would also do in 1982) and earned 21 top fives in 31 races.
His wins included four in a row late in the season at Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Charlotte and Rockingham.
David Pearson’s 1968 Ford Torino
Pearson claimed his second of three Cup titles in 1968 driving the No. 17 car for Holman-Moody Racing. He claimed 16 of his 105 career Cup wins that season, his most in any year.
Pearson also earned 36 top fives over the course of the 49-race season. He started in 48 races.
Jimmie Johnson’s 2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Johnson started his historic five-year championship streak in 2006. That year he claimed five wins, including his first victories in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.
This is the first car on the new version of “Glory Road” representative of NASCAR’s playoff era.
Dale Earnhardt’s 1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The car Earnhardt drove to his first of seven Cup titles in 1980 while he raced for owner Rod Osterlund.
Earnhardt won five times and led the point standings for all but one of the season’s 31 races, leaving the season opener at Daytona second in points.
Dale Jr. helped complete a restoration of the car so it would be historically accurate.
Richard Petty’s 1964 Plymouth Belvedere
The car “The King” raced to his first of seven Cup titles, totaling nine wins and 37 top fives over 61 starts, including his first of seven victories in the Daytona 500.
In the 500, Petty lapped the entire field of 46 cars while leading 184 of 200 laps.
Herb Thomas’ 1951 Hudson Hornet
Thomas won 48 races in his Hall of Fame career, including seven times in his first of two championship campaigns in 1951. Thomas raced a Plymouth for much of the first half of the season before switching to the Hornet. His seven wins included a victory in the Southern 500.
Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson, who won 50 NASCAR Cup Series races as a driver and 132 as an owner and was part of the inaugural class inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010, has died at 88.
Johnson had reportedly been in declining health and had entered hospice care earlier this week, according to NASCAR.com.
Johnson is survived by his wife, Lisa, his daughter Meredith and son Robert Glenn Johnson III.
A native of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, Johnson – whose origins were in bootlegging moonshine – was named one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers in 1998 after a 14-year career that ended in 1966 and included a win in the 1960 Daytona 500.
He was immortalized as the “Last American Hero” in an Esquire magazine feature written by Tom Wolfe in 1965 and later in a 1973 movie adaptation starring Jeff Bridges.
As a car owner for drivers that included Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte, Johnson claimed six Cup championships. His last race win as an owner was the 1994 Southern 500 with Elliott.
It was Johnson who helped connect the RJ Reynolds tobacco company with NASCAR, which led to Winston sponsoring its premier series from 1971-2003.
In 1986, Johnson received a full presidential pardon from President Ronald Reagan for his 1956 federal conviction for moonshining.
“It is with great sadness that we share the passing of Junior Johnson on behalf of the Johnson family. First and foremost, everyone at the NASCAR Hall of Fame offers our most sincere condolences to Lisa, Robert, Meredith and the entirefamily,” NASCAR Hall of Fame Executive Director Winston Kelley said in a statement. “We have lost one of NASCAR’s true pioneers, innovators, competitors and an incredible mechanical and business mind. And personally, I have lost one of my dearest friends. While we will miss Junior mightily, his legacy and memory will forever be remembered, preserved, celebrated and cherished at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and in the hearts and minds of race fans around the world. Please join us in remembering and celebrating Robert Glenn Johnson Jr. ”
NASCAR issued the following statement from its CEO and Chairman, Jim France:
“Junior Johnson truly was the ‘Last American Hero.’ From his early days running moonshine through the end of his life, Junior wholly embodied the NASCAR spirit. He was an inaugural NASCAR Hall of Famer, a nod to an extraordinary career as both a driver and team owner. Between his on-track accomplishments and his introduction of Winston to the sport, few have contributed to the success of NASCAR as Junior has. The entire NASCAR family is saddened by the loss of a true giant of our sport, and we offer our deepest condolences to Junior’s family and friends during this difficult time.”
Johnson was considered one of the greatest innovators in NASCAR history. Perhaps the most famous innovation he was credited with was “discovering” drafting and the the benefits associated with it, leading to his sole Daytona 500 win as a driver in 1960 (he also won the Great American Race as a team owner two other times, in 1969 and 1977). In several interviews over the years, Johnson said he discovered drafting by reportedly being able to “see” air moving between his car and the one in front of him, and how the air flow would help “pull” his car closer, being able to “push” the car ahead of him — and bringing along his own car as well — faster and quicker, and also leading to allow Johnson’s car to slingshot around and ahead, oftentimes leading to a win.
Like many drivers of his era, including fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson, Johnson primarily ran partial schedules during his 14 seasons of racing in what was then known as the NASCAR Grand National Series. But even running part-time did not hinder him, including 13 wins in 36 starts in 1965. That was also his final regular season as a driver, with his last win coming later that same year at what was considered his home racetrack, North Wilkesboro Speedway.
It was also because of his primarily part-time status that Johnson never competed in enough races in any single season to come close to win a Grand National championship as a driver — with his highest finish in any season being sixth (in both 1955 and 1961).
Johnson was just 35 years old when he hung up his steering wheel for the final time, going on to even greater success as a team owner. Even though he received numerous offers to get back behind the wheel, he passed on all of them, preferring to call his own shots as leader of his own team. Or, as he put it numerous times, “in a supervisory capacity.”
Johnson was most known for his No. 11 race car as both a driver and owner. As a driver, he also drove for several owners in cars sporting numbers including 26, 27, 3 and 55. As an owner, his teams sported 26, 27 and 98, but it was No. 11 that became so associated with him as an owner, primarily from 1974 through his final season leading his team in 1994.
He would sell all the equipment and assets of his organization upon the completion of the 1995 season to Brett Bodine, but for nearly another quarter-century, Johnson would remain a popular ambassador for NASCAR and the sport of stock car racing, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, as well as remained a fan favorite until Friday’s passing.
He called his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in its first year of operation the greatest day of his life.
News of Johnson’s death drew quick response on social media:
When I was a kid growing up in Owensboro, Ky I dreamed of meeting Jr Johnson, my dream came true, meet him, he became my boss and made me a champion, I loved that man, God Bless Jr and his family, You were the greatest! RIP
No one outside the France family has been more instrumental to the growth of Nascar than #JuniorJohnson, who has passed at age 88. A superstar driver, then multi-championship team owner, he brought RJR/Winston to Nascar, vaulting the sport to national prominence.
RIP to the last American hero, Junior Johnson. Junior was one of the first superstars in NASCAR and was one the first innovators within the sport. He was also a car owner, and owned cars driven by greats such as Darrell Waltrip, and my all time hero, Bill Elliott. Thanks Junior. pic.twitter.com/3NfGAFm93i
All of us at Richmond Raceway are heartbroken to hear the legendary Junior Johnson has passed away. ‘The Last American Hero’ won here as a driver twice, in 1961 & ‘65, and won 7 more times here as an owner.
No-one can ever be compared to Junior Johnson…nobody! Among the most identifiable names in Motorsports, most fascinating characters in all forms of entertainment, among the most abundant lives ever lived… There will never be a Life or Story quite like that of Junior Johnson🏁
North Carolina has lost a giant with the death of NASCAR legend Junior Johnson. I just got off the phone with his wife, Lisa, and our prayers are with her, his children, Robert and Meredith, and the entire family. – RC
It’s never easy when an icon of a sport passes. This evening, we remember the moonshiner turned legendary racer and owner, Junior Johnson. His love of our sport helped grow it into what it is today. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. #NASCAR#GodspeedJuniorpic.twitter.com/i9BFfhXzKw
The first Cup race on the Alabama track was held under controversial circumstances on Sept. 14, 1969.
NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. was forced to fill the field with drivers from the Grand American Series after many of NASCAR’s stars, including Richard Petty, boycotted the race over safety concerns.
The field was made up of 36 drivers – including future NASCAR team owner Richard Childress in his first career Cup start as a driver. Fifteen drivers made it to the finish as Richard Brickhouse took home the victory. It would be his only win in 39 Cup starts.
Here are some highlights and notes from the first 50 years of NASCAR racing at Talladega.
– Dale Earnhardt Sr. is the winningest driver in Talladega history with 10 wins. NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon are tied for second with six. Brad Keselowski leads active drivers with five wins.
– Six drivers have swept both races at Talladega in a season: Pete Hamilton (1970), Buddy Baker (1975), Darrell Waltrip (1982), Dale Earnhardt (1990 & 1999), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2002) and Jeff Gordon (2007).
– Eleven drivers have earned their first career Cup win at Talladega: Brickhouse, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2017), Keselowski (2009), Brian Vickers (2006), Ken Schrader (1988), Phil Parsons (1988)*, Davey Allison (1987), Bobby Hillin (1986)*, Ron Bouchard (1981)*, Lennie Pond (1978)* and Dick Brooks (1973)*. *Denotes their only Cup win
– Of the Cup champions who have competed at Talladega, only seven have failed to win there: Hall of Famer Alan Kulwicki, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, Hall of Famer Benny Parsons, Hall of Famer Bobby Isaac and Hall of Famer Buck Baker.
– Of the 48 drivers who have won at Talladega, 11 will be in the field for Sunday’s race.
– The lowest a driver has started a race at Talladega and won was Jeff Gordon, who won the spring 2000 race after starting 36th.
– Sixty-nine drivers have dared to make their first career Cup start at Talladega.
– The record for most cars in a race was 60 on May 6, 1973.
– The record for most lead changes in a race is 88, which has occurred twice (most recent on April 17, 2011).
– While the record for cautions at Talladega is 11, the track has seen three caution-free races, in 1997, 2001 and 2002.
– The October 2018 race had only one DNF, the fewest in track history.
– Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has the best average finish among active drivers (11.8).
– Bill Elliott owns the track’s qualifying record, 212.809 mph, set on May 3, 1987. He also has the record for Talladega poles with eight.