Jody Ridley

Top 5 NASCAR moments from Dover International Speedway

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Dover International Speedway, AKA “The Monster Mile,” has been on the NASCAR circuit since 1969 and hosted 192 races across all three national series.

As we’ve done with with MiamiTexasBristol, former NASCAR tracks, Richmond and Talladega, we’re taking a look at the top five NASCAR moments from the one-mile track.

Let’s get started.

 1) Dale Jr. wins after 9/11

Twelve days after the world changed with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the NASCAR Cup Series returned to racing.

After the postponement of a race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the series took the green flag at Dover with a field of full of patriotic paint schemes.

After leading 193 of 400 laps, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag for his second emotional win of the year, following his victory at Daytona two months earlier in the first Cup race there since his father’s death after a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500.

Earnhardt celebrated his Dover win by parading around the track with a large American flag.

 2) 1 in 863 (1981)

Team owner Junie Donlavey fielded 863 entries in the Cup Series, from the Oct. 15, 1950 race at Martinsville Speedway to the Oct. 13, 2002 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

In-between, cars owned by the Virginia-native went to Victory Lane just once.

It took 31 years for it to happen and it came on May 17, 1981.

Jody Ridley, a native of Chatsworth, Georgia, piloted Donlavey’s No. 90 Ford.

Ridley’s surprise win came after what NASCAR admitted was “scoring communications difficulty” during the last 50 laps around the 1-mile track, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.”

Neil Bonnett had led 403 laps before his engine expired, giving the lead to Cale Yarborough, who was scored as leading Ridley by five laps. Yarborough’s engine then expired with 20 laps to go, giving the presumed lead to Ridley, who won over Bobby Allison.

Scoring mixups included D.K. Ulrich being scored 14 laps down in fourth with 10 laps to go before finishing nine laps down.

Allison’s team protested the outcome, saying they finished a lap ahead of Ridley. But Ridley’s win was upheld 20 minutes after the race upon a review of scoring cards.

Ridley wouldn’t win again in his Cup career, which ended in 1986.

 3. Back in the saddle (2006)

Jeff Burton was in a significant drought.

He hadn’t visited Victory Lane in the Cup Series in almost five years, last winning in the October 2001 race at Phoenix Raceway deep into his run with Roush Fenway Racing.

But on Sept. 24, 2006, Burton was in his second full-time season with Richard Childress Racing, having moved there late in the 2004 season.

Burton put an end to his drought in decisive fashion, coming out on top following a riveting battle with former teammate Matt Kenseth inside 20 laps to go. Burton took the lead with six laps remaining and raced away as Kenseth ran out of gas four laps later.

4. Kyle Busch rains on Chase Elliott‘s parade (2017)

In 2017, Chase Elliott was three quarters of the way through his second full-time Cup season and had yet to visit Victory Lane.

His closest opportunity came in the October race at Dover.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver had led 138 of 400 laps and was the leader when he crossed the start-finish line with two laps to go.

But Elliott had two problems: lapped traffic and Kyle Busch.

The lapped traffic helped Busch catch Elliott and pass him in Turn 4 coming the white flag – on the outside.

Busch cruised to the win while Elliott would have to wait until the 2018 race at Watkins Glen to get victory No. 1.

 5. Ryan Newman: Lucky Dog (2003)

Many rules that define NASCAR heading into the 2020s had to start somewhere.

The “Lucky Dog,” where the first car a lap down gets its lap back when the caution is issued, was introduced in September 2003 at Dover. It was meant as a deterrent to keep drivers from racing back to the yellow. Now the field would be frozen.

While the new rule drew mostly praise from competitors, a driver who wasn’t exactly a fan of it was Ryan Newman.

“I understand where NASCAR is coming from, but the problem is, it has opened up a whole different can of worms when it comes to the gray area,” Newman said that week, according to The Charlotte Observer.

Newman started fifth and led 33 of the first 44 laps before he was forced to pit under green for a tire going down, putting him a lap down.

Newman returned to the lead lap on Lap 288 of 400 thanks to a debris caution. He then topped off on fuel three times before the race resumed. He regained the lead when he stayed out of the pits during a caution on Lap 328. He went the final 106 laps without pitting and led the last 73 laps, holding off Jeremy Mayfield to score his seventh win of the year.

Even with the victory, Newman voiced his displeasure with NASCAR’s new rule.

“I just don’t want to see guys get their lap back and not earn it,” Newman said according to The Associated Press. “Once we got the lap back it was just sort of a fuel mileage race.”

 

Where Are They Now: Lake Speed still racing and ‘still bad to the bone’

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He may not have been born a Petty or Earnhardt, but there is one former NASCAR driver whose surname practically predestined his career path.

That person with the colorful moniker is Lake Speed.

“God’s got a sense of humor, that’s the first thing,” Speed laughed when asked about his unique surname in a recent call with NBC Sports. “Every time I make a new acquaintance, I have to explain that the name is real and that God gave it to me.

Lake Speed at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1997. Credit: Darrell Ingham /Allsport

“My dad was one of seven Speed boys. There’s a lot of Speeds back from where we’re from. Sometimes it’s a blessing, sometimes it’s a curse. Sometimes you get ridiculed if you’re not running good because you’ve got the last name of Speed, but on the other side it’s looked at as unique, and I think it’s kind of helped make me stand out a little bit in a crowd.”

While the last of his 402 career NASCAR Cup starts came in 1998 at the age of 50, the 72-year-old Speed is still chasing checkered flags and living up to his last name.

When asked if he’ll ever retire, Speed chuckled, “I haven’t been able to find that in the Bible anywhere. I enjoy what I do, I like people and helping people, the interaction and all that is perfect for me. I just don’t see stopping.”

Speed began racing go-karts in his native Mississippi at the age of 12 before eventually finding his way into NASCAR Cup.

“Some people know I was a big-time go-karter for years, had a career, business and raced all over the world with karts before I ever came to NASCAR,” Speed told NBC Sports.

Since leaving NASCAR, Speed has come full circle, returning to his karting roots in 2001 and has become one of the more successful and prolific karting racers in the country.

Future NASCAR Cup driver Lake Speed poses with one of his racing karts when he was 15 years old. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

“After I left NASCAR, a former NASCAR safety official, Steve Peterson, was a go-karter for years and years,” Speed said. “He kept calling me and kept saying, ‘Lake, you’ve got to come out here to the kart track. I have a few cars and you can come out and play with us some.’

“I finally went out one day and I forgot how much fun this was. I told myself I’ve got to get me one of these. So I got a kart and started fooling around with one and eventually started racing again. I went big-time, messed around and won the national championship in karting road-racing in 2007. Between the karting, the real estate business and trying to raise a bunch of kids and grandkids, that’s pretty much what I’m doing.”

Speed’s day job is as a commercial real estate broker, a career path he began back in his college days.

But racing has always been his first true love, particularly karting. Speed won the International Karting Federation national championship six times before he came to NASCAR in 1980, and was the first American to win the World Karting Championship at LeMans, France in 1978, defeating a number of other aspiring racers including future three-time Formula One champion Ayrton Senna.

He remained the only American to win the world karting title in any class until 14-year-old Florida native Logan Sargeant did so in 2015.

Speed could have gone in any number of directions as a racer, but former Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler convinced him to try NASCAR, finishing as runner-up to Jody Ridley as Rookie of the Year runner-up in 1980.

Speed would go on to record 16 top-five and 75 top-10 finishes in his Cup career, with a career-best points finish of 10th in 1985.

Lake Speed, winner of the 1988 TranSouth 500. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

March 27 marked the 32nd anniversary of Speed’s only win of his Cup career, the TranSouth 500 at Darlington Raceway. He took the checkered flag by nearly 19 seconds over Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, Bill Elliott, Sterling Marlin and Mark Martin.

“It was more of a relief than anything,” said of winning. “I had really been close to winning a lot of races in my career up to that point and particularly that season, we had led (nearly) every race that season before that race.

“We had the whole field a lap down at one time (in another race) and still didn’t win the darn thing. So when I finally won at Darlington, it was like, ‘Gosh darn, finally, now we can finally get on with it.’

“That was great, but there were other highlight moments. I had cars that were more than capable of winning a race and had a mechanical failure, an accident or whatever that knocked you out.

“There were also the times we passed the heroes and we were always an underfunded and under-budgeted team. When you outran the big dogs, it didn’t matter whether we won the race or not, we took home a moral victory. We had a lot of moral victories. Only one was in the record books, but there was a whole lot more of them where we went home to the shop with our heads held high, knowing we had put the hurtin’ on ‘em.”

Speed still keeps up with NASCAR – and the fans still keep up with him.

“I can’t tell you how shocked I am, this far out, that I still get multiple cards, letters, model cars every week,” he said. “I’m autographing stuff and sending it out every week. It makes me feel good and gives me the opportunity to share my faith with people. I got saved in 1983 and it made a giant change in my life. I feel God gave me this platform to use, so I try to use it to honor him.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Do you miss it?’ Yeah, I miss it. I miss probably the most working in the shop with the guys, trying to build a better race car to outrun everyone else. I really love that challenge.

“I never went to work. It was always a pleasure and joy to work with guys and build strong relationships. People that have never been on a team that was working seven days a week for a goal, it’s just a different scenario than a ho-hum job that you’re going to just to make a check.

“I lived that life most of my life and when I got retired from NASCAR, all of a sudden I was in an office by myself. It was a shock. It took me several years to get over it. It was a tough, tough change. Karting really was a salvation for me, to get me going again to have something to do and the interaction with people.”

Lake Speed darts around a kart track April 5, 2006. Photo by Getty Images for NASCAR.

Speed didn’t mind being an underdog during much of his Cup career. But the real heroes to him were those who helped him throughout that nearly two full decades of NASCAR racing.

“I can’t really emphasize enough how important the crew guys are and were,” he said. “The relationships we built, we worked hours and hours together doing things and trying to accomplish stuff.

“In our case, being underfunded, when we got out ahead a lick, it was amazing to see these guys light up and the pride. When you see guys work real hard and they accomplish something together, it’s amazing. I still bump into one of those guys at least once a month and it’s like seeing a brother or sister that you haven’t seen in a while.”

Speed faced a number of tough competitors in his career but also became close friends with several, including Bobby Hillin Jr. and Darrell Waltrip.

Speed still lives and works out of the same compound he bought in 1985 in Kannapolis, North Carolina. His real estate office occupies part of his original race shop, while his karts have replaced the Cup cars that used to be worked on there as well.

Karting has helped keep Speed young. He enjoys mixing it up with drivers half or even two-thirds his age.

“Look at it this way: I started all this when I was about 12 years old and raced until I retired from NASCAR,” Speed said. “I sat around for two or three years until I got into karting and went right back to racing regularly again.

“It’s just something that’s been in my blood all along. I love working on ‘em, love the people, the camaraderie and the challenge. I always said that if I knew last year what I knew this year, I would have won all the races last year.”

Speed is also a big part of what has become somewhat of a seniors tour: vintage karting, which is composed mainly of drivers in their 50s and on up into their 80s.

“It’s like going to a high school reunion, but where everybody shows up with a go-kart, races, has a good time, tells a lot of stories and relives their childhood,” he said with a laugh. “It really is cool, it’s the greatest thing in the world. You go to a high school reunion and it’s kind of boring. This is not.”

When asked how successful he is in karts today, Speed laughed: “With the modern stuff, not so much. You’re racing against a bunch of guys whose average age is 22, there I’m kinda mid-pack.

“But with the vintage stuff, I’m still bad to the bone.”

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Cinderella isn’t just for basketball; A look at memorable upset wins in NASCAR

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images for NASCAR
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Cinderella can be found in any sport, but the notion becomes more prevalent this time of year with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. With that in mind, who are among the biggest Cinderella winners in NASCAR’s history?

When I posted the question Friday on social media, the responses varied, ranging from Chris Buescher‘s win last year at Pocono to races that dated back to the 1960s.

Well, you’re not going to get everyone to agree but here are five that stand out to me.

 

The 1981 spring Dover race saw a driver, once seven laps behind the leaders, go on to win. Truly a Cinderella moment, but there’s more. It would be Jody Ridley’s only Cup win in 140 career starts. Also, it was car owner Junie Donlavey’s only victory in a NASCAR career that featured 863 starts over 45 years.

So how did it happen? Neil Bonnett dominated in the Wood Brothers’ car until his engine blew while he had a two-lap lead on the field with less than 50 laps left. Cale Yarborough inherited the lead and had a five-lap lead on Ridley but had an engine failure with less than 25 laps left. Ridley assumed the lead and went on to score the victory.

It was about to finally happen. After years of trying, Dale Earnhardt was set to win his first Daytona 500 in 1990. He took the lead after a restart with five laps to go and led going into Turn 3 on the final lap. That’s when everything changed. Earnhardt ran over debris and cut a tire. Derrike Cope, running second, took the lead and went on to win. Not only was it shocking how Cope won but that he was in that position to win. He had never scored a top-five finish in 71 previous Cup starts.

Cope went on to win at Dover later that season. That and the Daytona 500 are the only Cup wins he’s scored in 411 career series starts.

 

Tiny Lund arrived at Daytona in 1963 without a ride. Not a surprise for a driver who had not scored a top-five finish in the 28 Cup races he ran from 1960-62. That changed when Marvin Panch crashed his Maserati on the Daytona road course. The car flipped and burst into flames. Tiny Lund was among those who went to the crash scene and helped pull Panch out of the car. With Panch unable to run in the Daytona 500, the Wood Brothers selected Lund to drive the car. With one less pit stop than others – and running on the same set of tires for 500 miles – Lund scored his first career win in that Daytona 500, shocking the field.

 

Yes, Trevor Bayne led on the final restart of the 2011 Daytona 500 but he had Tony Stewart beside him, Bobby Labonte behind him in the second row and Mark Martin on the outside of the second row. With all that Cup experience surrounding Bayne, who really thought a kid who had turned 20 years old the day before could hold off those drivers and win the Daytona 500? Also, Bayne was making just his second career Cup start and was with the Wood Brothers, who were a part-time team and had last won a Cup race in 2001. All that didn’t matter. He won.

 

Furniture Row Racing was a single-car team. Unlike the majority of Cup teams, it wasn’t based around Charlotte, North Carolina, but in Colorado. Regan Smith was winless in 104 Cup starts before that night, yet he found himself out front after not pitting on Lap 360 of the 367-lap race. Smith held off Carl Edwards to win. It would be four more years until Furniture Row scored its next win.

So, those are five I picked. There were many others to choose from. Some suggested Pete Hamilton’s 1970 win in the Daytona 500. Others noted Lake Speed’s 1988 win at Darlington. There were votes for Brad Keselowki’s win at Talladega in 2009, his first career series win, and for Ron Bouchard (1981), Bobby Hillin Jr. (1986), Phil Parsons (1988) at Talladega. A few people also suggested Casey Mears‘ Coca-Cola win in 2007.

Go ahead and make your case for the biggest Cinderella win in NASCAR’s history.

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