A Look Back At The First Night Race
On Aug. 26, 1978, Cale Yarborough won the first Night Race held at Bristol Motor Speedway. Sparks flew under the lights, from the cars and from some drivers, and the event quickly became a classic.
This year's edition of the IRWIN Tools Night Race Aug. 24 marks the 35th running of the event at night. And you can pretty much bet the action will be just as heated as it was a year ago when Tony Stewart flung his helmet at Matt Kenseth's car after the two tangled on the .533-mile oval.
The Night Race has yielded some of the most exciting events in NASCAR history, including the fans' all-time favorite - the 1999 barn burner that saw Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte battle for the lead for most of the last 200 laps, exchanging the top spot eight times. With 10 laps to go, Earnhardt appeared to have control but on lap 499, Labonte managed to get around him.
Labonte's lead proved to be short-lived, however, as Earnhardt came right back on the last lap, driving deep into Turn 1 to move around him, tagging him in the process, which sent Labonte spinning. Earnhardt, amid a deafening mixture of boos and cheers, went on to take the checkers while Labonte ended up eighth.
Darrell Waltrip is the most successful driver in August Night Race action as seven of Waltrip's all-time leading 12 Cup wins at BMS came under the lights. Next is Earnhardt with four, followed by Rusty Wallace with three, and Yarborough, Mark Martin, Labonte, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch with two each. Others with Night Race wins are Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Jarrett, Alan Kulwicki and Ernie Irvan.
Just a few more notes from that very first race under the lights at Bristol:
- Only 30 cars started the 1978 Volunteer 500 and only two were on the lead lap at the end, Yarborough and runner-up Benny Parsons
- There was a crowd of 30,000 on hand that evening
- Yarborough won by a whopping 15 seconds over Parsons
- Yarborough pocketed $13,760 for the win. The total purse for the race was $82,530
- The race featured 10 caution flags for a total of 59 laps
- Lennie Pond set a new track qualifying record of 110.958 mph to start on the pole
- It was the fifth time in six Bristol events that Yarborough won
- Both of the top two finishers drove Oldsmobiles
- Richard Childress finished seventh in the race, also in an Olds
- There were 16 lead changes among seven drivers
- The Volunteer 500 was the 21st race of the 30-race season.
- Yarborough left Bristol with a 208 point lead over Dave Marcis (3,347-3,139)