Ron Bouchard

April 29 in NASCAR: Rusty Wallace honors Dale Sr. after win on 50th birthday

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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.

April 1 in NASCAR history: Dale Earnhardt tames Bristol for 1st Cup win

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Dale Earnhardt wasn’t joking around on April Fool’s Day in 1979.

At the age of 27, the future seven-time Cup champion bested the likes of Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty to score his first career Cup Series win, in the Southeastern 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt, driving the No. 2 car for Rod Osterlund, led 164 laps and the final 25 to get the win.

It was the first of two Cup wins for Osterlund’s team and it came in Earnhardt’s 16th career start.

“I’ll probably believe it in the morning,” Earnhardt said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era,” which says 26,000 were in attendance for the race. “This is a bigger thrill than my first ever racing victory. … It was against top caliber drivers. It wasn’t some dirt track back home.”

Earnhardt, who would be named Rookie of the Year in 1979, would go on to win the race again the next year and claim nine total Cup victories at Bristol. He’d win in consecutive Bristol starts three times in his career.

Also on this date:

1973: After a spirited mid-race battle between David Pearson and Cale Yarborough at Atlanta, Yarborough lost seven laps to the leaders due to heating problems. Pearson went on to win over Bobby Isaac by two laps for his second consecutive win. He’d win his next three starts.

1984: Darrell Waltrip scored his seventh straight win at Bristol Motor Speedway with a victory over Terry Labonte and Ron Bouchard. It was the eighth straight Bristol win for team owner Junior Johnson.

1990: Dale Earnhardt edges Mark Martin by a couple of car lengths to win at Darlington. On Lap 212, a multi-car wreck occurred that involved Neil Bonnett. Bonnett suffered injuries, including a concussion, that would keep him out of a Cup car until a 1993 race at Talladega.

1993: Just days after competing in a Cup race at Darlington, defending champion Alan Kulwicki was killed along with three others in a plane crash as they traveled to Bristol, Tennessee for that weekend’s race. Kulwicki was 38.

2007: Jimmie Johnson edged teammate Jeff Gordon by half a car length to win at Martinsville. It was Johnson’s third win in the first six races of the year.

New England racing legend Ron Bouchard dies

(Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

New England legend Ron Bouchard died Thursday after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 67 years old.

Bouchard was not the first New England driver to come to NASCAR, but he was one of the most successful. Racing for New England based Race Hill Farms and Jack Beebe, he debuted in NASCAR in the 1981 Valleydale 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway and qualified third. Barely 10 races later, he won the 1981 Talladega 500 and went on to compete in a total of 160 NASCAR Cup races during his career. Bouchard won the 1981 Rookie of the Year honors.

“It was a tough battle,” Ed Flemke Jr., Bouchard’s brother-in-law told “But he fought the good fight, as he always did.”

Like many drivers before and since, Bouchard also ran in NASCAR’s support division and he scored two wins on one of NASCAR’s toughest tracks in what has become the Xfinity series. In 1984 he won both races held at Darlington Raceway from the pole.

Bouchard helped pave the way for many other New England racers and he did so because he first built a solid fan base on the New England short tracks. “I think because he was such a large figure in the Modified family, when he did finally go Cup racing he had such a strong following that I think he had a bigger impact than the guys before him,” Flemke said.