Waltrip, Earnhardt, Wallace Among Stars Who Dominated BMS In The 80s
Below is the third installment in a series of five documenting the first 99 Sprint Cup races at Bristol Motor Speedway. The fourth installment, the 90s, will be available Thursday, Aug. 12.
MARCH 30, 1980 – Earning four poles and his first career win – which came at Bristol – helped Dale Earnhardt earn the 1979 Cup Rookie-of-the-Year; but missing four races with an injury kept him from challenging for the series title.
He looked to change that in 1980. By the time he got to town for the Valleydale Southeastern 500, he had another win under his belt and looked to add to that at Bristol.
Starting on the outside of the front row, Earnhardt didn’t find the front until lap 134 as the usual suspects spent time swapping the lead. At one point, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip swapped the lead four times in five laps.
By the time Earnhardt moved back in front at the 366 mark, he was there to stay, leading 208 laps for his second consecutive win at Bristol.
Waltrip, second, and Bobby Allison, third, were the only other drivers on the lead lap. Benny Parsons and Yarborough, in that order, rounded out the top five.
Earnhardt stated in victory lane he didn’t see any reason his Rod Osterlund-owned team couldn’t go on to win the championship. It did.
AUGUST 23, 1980 – Cale Yarborough had gone three races at Bristol without winning, his longest dry stretch in seven years. That ended in the Busch Volunteer 500.
Not quite like Ted Williams hitting a home run in his last at bat, there still was drama as Yarborough earned his ninth, and last, win at Bristol in the final Cup race in which he would run on the high banks.
Starting on the pole, Yarborough led 379 laps. But unlike many previous races where Yarborough had taken control by the halfway point, the lead was swapped 19 times. The last one came at the 478 mark when Yarborough went around Darrell Waltrip and held on for the win. Dale Earnhardt, going for his third straight win at Bristol, finished second, two car lengths behind.
Late drama was added to the situation with 14 laps left when the caution flew after James Hylton’s car lost its engine, but the running order didn’t change.
Darrell Waltrip, Richard Petty and Benny Parsons completed the top five.
Race trivia: In 29 career races at Bristol, Yarborough won nine times and posted 16 top-10 finishes. Of 10,878 laps completed, he led 4,305 of them.
1980 Trivia – Mt. St. Helens erupted in Washington state. … The U.S. Olympic hockey team won the gold medal at the Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. … Steve McQueen (50) died and John Lennon (40) was killed.
MARCH 29, 1981 – Junior Johnson entered Bristol and the Valleydale 500 with a different driver behind the wheel; but he got the same result to which he had become accustomed.
The lead swapped 21 times, but Darrell Waltrip grabbed it with 80 to go and held on to earn his third Bristol win.
Waltrip led 323 laps and finished less than three seconds ahead of Rick Rudd. Bobby Allison was third followed by Morgan Shepherd and Benny Parsons.
Waltrip started on the pole, inside Dale Earnhardt, who led 65 of the first 118 laps. But the two got together, knocking Earnhardt out of the race.
Race trivia: Benny Parsons’ fifth-place run was his 13th consecutive top-five at Bristol and his 18th in 20 races. It also was his last. … Kyle Petty ran his first Cup race at Bristol, starting 23rd and finishing 11th in the STP Buick. … After being knocked out of the race, Earnhardt filled in as relief driver for Terry Labonte and helped him to a seventh-place finish. Many years later, those two would not be helping out each other (see 1995 and 1999)
AUGUST 22, 1981 – It was almost exactly six months later, but the result was pretty much the same.
Darrell Waltrip started first and finished there in his Junior Johnson-owned Buick to make it a clean sweep at Bristol for the year. For the second race in a row, Ricky Rudd finished second in the ride Waltrip had the previous year – the DiGard machine – one lap behind Waltrip and a lap ahead of Terry Labonte. Bobby Allison was fourth, followed by Ron Bouchard.
Waltrip led 251 laps, including all but two of the last 198 and held the lead when a late caution flag flew to seal his win. Morgan Shepherd driving for independent driver Cecil Gordon, led 104 laps before a failed rear-end gear relegated him to a 19th-place finish.
1981 Trivia – NASA was successful in launching the first Space Shuttle. … Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female Supreme Court Justice. … “Raiders of the Lost Ark” earned more than $115 million. … “Dallas” was the top show on television.
MARCH 14, 1982 – The tide was beginning to turn. After years of names like Yarborough, Allison, Petty, Pearson and Parsons dominating the leaderboard at Bristol, new names were emerging.
But they all were chasing Darrell Waltrip.
Starting on the pole for the third straight race, Waltrip finished there for the third consecutive time. But it didn’t come as easily this time.
In fact, Earnhardt led 255 of the first 398 laps. But his shot at the win ended there when, with a half-lap lead, he tangled with the side effects of a spin by Gary Balough (driving the No. 75 RahMoc entry). Despite a quick pit stop to assess the damage, Waltrip gained the upper hand and led the last 103 laps to earn the win.
Morgan Shepherd, Terry Labonte and Bobby Allison, respectively, rounded out the top five.
The race was slowed by caution just three times for 25 laps.
Race trivia – Starting 17th and finishing 14th, Mark Martin of Batesville, Ark., competed in his first Cup race at Bristol, driving for Bud Reeder. … Four of the top-10 finishers, Labonte (fourth), Ron Bouchard (eighth), Parsons (ninth) and Dave Marcis (10th), and Joe Ruttman (18th), and Jody Ridley (20th) all were sponsored by Kentucky businessman J.D. Stacy.
AUGUST 28, 1982 – He did not start on the pole, but for the fourth straight time, Darrell Waltrip was first when the checkered flag fell.
His starting position wasn’t the only thing that was different about Waltrip’s win in the Busch 500. After leading more than 220 laps in each of his three consecutive wins, including more than 320 in one, Waltrip held the point for just 38 this night. But that included the last 20 as he edged rival Bobby Allison by less than a second.
And it wasn’t -- imagine this -- without controversy.
Both the caution and the controversy were a bit bizarre . Terry Labonte was leading the race and ducked into the pits for a late splash-and-go pit stop. Returning to the track, Labonte and Dave Marcis got together bringing out the third yellow flag of the day.
Some cars ducked into the pits for quick service while others continued to circle the track, yet to be gathered by the pace car. Once the pace car did pick up the field, Waltrip passed the pace car – some versions say he was waved around, and then picked up as the leader. A debate ensued with some saying Waltrip was a lap down, others saying he was the leader and even some scorers now saying, as the result of passing the pace car and moving around, he actually had an extra lap on the field.
The race remained under caution as NASCAR officials worked to sort out the issues (remember, this was long before electronic scoring). In the end, Waltrip was declared the leader – and in a matter of just a few laps, the winner.
A happy Waltrip said NASCAR made the right call.
1982 Trivia – Barney Clark of Des Moines, Iowa received an artificial heart after an operation lasting nearly eight hours. … “St. Elsewhere” and “Cheers” made their television debut. … “Gandhi” won the Oscar for “Best Picture”, but “E.T., The Extra Terrestrial,” made more than $228 million.
MAY 21, 1983 – It was his worst starting position since he ran his first race at Bristol a decade earlier, but when the race was over, Darrell Waltrip found himself in the same place as he had been the previous four races, in victory lane as he captured the Valleydale 500.
Unlike the previous summer, Waltrip was back in dominating form, leading 286 of the final 288 laps to fan the flames of his rivalry with Bobby Allison. Allison was runner-up for the second straight race, less than three seconds behind the winner. Morgan Shepherd, Neil Bonnett, who was the fastest qualifier for the second time at Bristol and Richard Petty, rounded out the top five.
After winning two of his first three races at Bristol, Dale Earnhardt continued to be turned away in frustration. He led 116 laps, but finished ninth. In three races, Earnhardt had led a total of 445 laps with no win to show for it.
AUGUST 27, 1983 – During his successful run at Bristol, Darrell Waltrip had a combination of domination, teamwork, skill and, of course, a little luck along the way.
The Busch 500 was an example of the latter.
Dale Earnhardt again appeared to be on his way to the next elusive win at Bristol, comfortably holding the point for 83 laps when an accident brought out the caution flag. The leaders ducked into the pits with Waltrip and the Junior Johnson-led crew beating Earnhardt back on the track when his Bud Moore-team had a problem during the stop.
Six laps later, the rains came and after a wait of more than a half-hour, the race was called at 419 laps with Waltrip in front for his sixth straight win at Bristol.
He led 215 laps to Earnhardt’s 197. Bobby Allison, holding a slim lead over Waltrip in the season standings, finished third – the only other driver to complete all 419. Geoff Bodine and Terry Labonte, respectively, rounded out the top five
1983 Trivia – In April, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 1,200 for the first time. … Sally Ride became the first woman in space. … The Washington Redskins with coach and future NASCAR Cup car owner Joe Gibbs, won Super Bowl XVII. … “Thriller” by Michael Jackson was the top-selling album of the year. … A first-class stamp was 20 cents.
APRIL 1, 1984 – One hundred laps were on the board before Darrell Waltrip grabbed the lead of the Valleydale 500. But he held it five separate times, including for the final 44 laps to claim an unprecedented seventh straight win at Bristol.
But again, it was good fortune for Waltrip and misfortune for others that played a role in the outcome.
Bobby Allison, the defending series champ, was near the front all day and at lap 303, moved to the point and stayed there, lapping several in the field, including Waltrip at one point. But Allison’s Buick developed rear end problems and he finished 19th, 25 laps down
Waltrip edged Terry Labonte by two seconds. Ron Bouchard was third, followed by Dave Marcis and Tim Richmond. Pole sitter Ricky Rudd finished sixth.
AUGUST 25, 1984 – For the first time in almost four years, someone other than Darrell Waltrip won a Cup race at Bristol and it was Terry Labonte who survived a rough night to be that driver.
Getting to the front did not pay off for a lot of drivers as attrition took its toll.
Geoff Bodine started on the pole and led three different times before mechanical issues put him on the sideline with a little more than 100 to go. He finished 22nd.
Waltrip looked poised to win his eighth straight at Bristol, leading 144 laps – the same as Labonte. But problems for him ended his run and he finished 21st.
Dale Earnhardt continued to show his affection for Bristol, with little in return. Earnhardt led 64 laps but finished 10th.
Labonte himself rolled into victory lane with a damaged car after being involved in an accident with three other cars early in the race. But he led 143 of the last 149 laps to earn his first Bristol win.
Bobby Allison led 56 laps and finished second. Dick Brooks was third, Dave Marcis fourth and Harry Gant fifth.
1984 Trivia – The Apple Mac was introduced. … Average price of gas in the summer was $1.19 a gallon. … A commercial had everyone asking “Where’s the beef?” … Trivial Pursuit and “The Cosby Show” made their debut.
APRIL 6, 1985 – Dale Earnhardt had posted six top-10 finishes at Bristol since his last win but could not find his way back to victory lane.
That changed in the Valleydale 500, but it didn’t come without quite an effort.
After starting 12th, Earnhardt took the lead at six different points in the race, but still found himself riding second behind a strong Ricky Rudd with less than 20 laps to go. It was tough enough to get to that point. Earnhardt had reported his car lost its power steering around the 100-lap mark so the rest of the day, he had to “old-school” it.
Four laps after the final restart following the 15th caution of the day, Earnhardt moved around Rudd and held on for the final 18 laps to win for the third time at Bristol. The win was the first for owner Richard Childress at the half-mile oval. Earnhardt finished barely a second ahead of Rudd.
Terry Labonte was third and held a slim six-point lead over Geoff Bodine in the standings. Buddy Baker was fourth and Rusty Wallace fifth.
Harry Gant was the fastest qualifier and led the first 22 laps, but fell out of contention and finished 20th.
AUGUST 24, 1985 – For the 11th time in Bristol history, a driver swept both Cup races in one year, as Dale Earnhardt started on the pole, led 343 laps and earned his fourth career win on the high banks.
But the numbers did not tell the entire story. Despite leading 256 laps more than the next highest total – posted by Darrell Waltrip – for the second race in a row, Earnhardt was not in the lead with less than 20 to go.
Earnhardt gained on and caught race leader Tim Richmond, nudged him, and made the pass with 18 to go, holding on for the win and the sweep.
“He used one of his normal tactics, but I’m not mad,” Richmond was quoted as saying. “It was good hard racing and I knew what to expect from him.”
Richmond held on to second, just ahead of Neil Bonnett. Waltrip was fourth, followed by Bill Elliott.
1985 Trivia – The first Live Aid concert raised more than $70 million for African famine relief. … An American and French exploration team discovered the wreckage of the Titanic. … Michael J. Fox went “Back to the Future.”
APRIL 6, 1986 – It took 72 races, five at Bristol, but Rusty Wallace became another driver to earn his first career Cup win on the high banks
Wallace led 174 laps, including the last 101, to take the win by nearly 11 seconds ahead of Ricky Rudd, who finished second at Bristol for the fourth time.
Darrell Waltrip, Bill Elliott and Harry Gant completed the top five finishers.
It would not be the last time fans at Bristol would hear Wallace’s name.
AUGUST 23, 1986 – Darrell Waltrip earned his 10th career win at Bristol and shaved 20 points off his deficit to Dale Earnhardt in the season’s championship race.
Geoff Bodine started on the pole, but it was Tim Richmond, starting second, who jumped out to the quick lead. Bodine didn’t take the point until lap 41. The lead then was swapped 11 more times before Waltrip and the Junior Johnson team flexed their muscles.
On the first lap of the fifth caution period of the day, lap 357, Waltrip moved around Terry Labonte and never relinquished the top position, leading the final 144 laps.
Labonte was second, followed by Bodine, who led 124 laps. Earnhardt, fighting to protect his point lead, was fourth. Harry Gant was fifth.
1986 Trivia – The 100th birthday of the Statue of Liberty was celebrated. … Ferris Bueller took a day off. … Thirty songs hit number one, the most in 11 years and ranged from the Bangles and Bon Jovi to Madonna and Heart.
APRIL 12, 1987 – Dale Earnhardt was on a roll with four wins in just six races when he entered Bristol for the Valleydale Meats 500.
And things didn’t change here.
Earnhardt led four different times and drew the ire of some fellow competitors along the way to earn his third win in five races at Bristol.
One driver who was less than pleased was Sterling Marlin, who had led 54 laps until an altercation with Earnhardt dropped Marlin not only from the lead, but from the race.
“He hit me from behind and spun me,” Marlin was quoted as saying. “I’m the leader of the race. He’s supposed to pass me, not spin me out.”
Kyle Petty found himself in the lead during a rain delay past the halfway point, causing some to think he may pick up a win if the race was called. Asked if it crossed his mind, Petty said “nah man, they got lights at this place.” He wound up seventh.
Richard Petty was second and Ricky Rudd third, followed by Bill Elliott and Alan Kulwicki.
AUGUST, 22, 1987 – For the second time in three years Dale Earnhardt swept both races at Bristol, this time in one of the most dominating performances on the high banks in quiet some time.
Earnhardt led 415 laps, including the final 152, to beat Rusty Wallace by more than five seconds to earn his fourth win in six races at Bristol and his ninth of 1987.
Ricky Rudd finished third for the second consecutive time at Bristol. Terry Labonte was fourth and Richard Petty was fifth.
Earnhardt started sixth but quickly moved up behind pole sitter Labonte, who led the first 56 laps. After that, it was just an occasional change of view for the lead. Kulwicki for five laps and Ken Schrader for 20. Richard Petty for one. Darrell Waltrip for one, Wallace for one and Petty for one more.
Before, in between and after, it was all Earnhardt, who left town not only with his second win of the year at Bristol, but a 545-point lead over Elliott with nine races left.
1987 Trivia -- “Graceland” by Paul Simon and “The Joshua Tree” by U2 were among the top albums of the year. … In October, Wall Street saw is largest single-day drop in history, losing 22.6 percent of its value. … Ironically, one of the biggest movies of the year was “Wall Street” with Michael Douglas.
APRIL 10, 1988 – It seems Bill Elliott had done most everything in his career, winning races, millions of dollars, setting records, and appearing on the cover of “Sports Illustrated.” But he had not won a Cup race on a short track or, in turn, a Cup championship.
The first changed with the Valleydale Meats 500 and many think that is what led to him accomplishing the second as well.
Elliott had found decent success at Bristol, posting six top-10 finishes in the previous eight races. But winning? That was another story.
Starting 13th, he didn’t take the lead until lap 379. Even then, he couldn’t get away from Geoff Bodine. With 10 to go, Bodine tapped Elliott sending the latter spinning and his hopes, it appeared, up in the same smoke that rolled off the high-banked asphalt.
But things change quickly sometimes. With only three cars on the lead lap, Elliott and Mark Martin pitted for tires. Bodine stayed out. With a restart on lap 497, Bodine held to a shaky lead, but for one lap and one lap only. With three to go, Elliott, then Martin, whipped around Bodine to give “Awesome Bill” the elusive short-track win. Bodine was third, behind Martin and ahead of Rusty Wallace in fourth and Bobby Allison in fifth.
Race trivia – After several years of trying, local (Abingdon, Va.) Cup team Morgan-McClure Motorsports earned its first career pole. It came with driver Rick Wilson of Bartow, Fla., who led the first 21 laps before mechanical problems relegated them to a 25th-place finish.
AUGUST 27, 1988 – Thirteen drivers swapped the lead 23 times in the first 391 laps. Then it was over.
Dale Earnhardt was the final leader of the day, leading the last 110 circuits to edge Bill Elliott in the Busch 500 and earn another trip to victory lane.
Elliott, the only other driver on the lead lap, was followed by Geoff Bodine, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki.
Elliott left Bristol with a 16-point lead over Rusty Wallace.
Wallace finished ninth with relief help from Larry Pearson after enduring a severe crash in an early practice session the day before.
1988 Trivia – Federal approval was granted to the first drug designed to grow hair. … After decades of day games, on 8/8/88, the Cubs turned on the lights for the first night game at Wrigley Field. The game was stopped after four innings because of rain. … “Rain Man” won the Best Picture Oscar. … “Roseanne” and “Murphy Brown” made their debut and “Miami Vice” was cancelled. … The Grammy for song of the year went to Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
APRIL 9, 1989 – It was a bizarre day and Rusty Wallace didn’t so much “win” the Valleydale Meats 500 as he did “survive” it.
For the first time since Bristol hosted its first Cup race in 1961, a driver failed to lead at least 100 laps. Greg Sacks, driving for Buddy Baker and Danny Schiff, was the closest with 99.
As a result, there were 34 lead changes among 16 drivers, interspersed with 20 cautions for 98 laps and no one was immune. Dale Earnhardt wound up wrecked while leading the race, bringing out the caution on lap 285. He lost 18 laps in the pits while his crew worked to repair what they could and clear the rest. He returned to the track but his car was so strong, even with the damage, he didn’t fall another lap down the rest of the afternoon.
Sacks and Wallace swapped the lead four times in the last 78 laps, but Wallace grabbed it for good with 63 to go to win for the second time at Bristol.
AUGUST 26, 1989 – It had been five races since Darrell Waltrip had pulled into victory lane at Bristol. Not that long to many; a lifetime to Waltrip.
Geoff Bodine, pole sitter Alan Kulwicki and Rusty Wallace all led laps and had strong cars. But the battle boiled down to Waltrip and Earnhardt.
However after giving up the lead to Waltrip at lap 295, Earnhardt spun, hit the wall and knocked the front end alignment out of whack. He didn’t challenge again and Waltrip put daylight between himself and the rest of the field, leading the last 206 circuits for his 11th career win at Bristol.
Kulwicki, Ricky Rudd, Harry Gant and Terry Labonte completed the top five.
Earnhardt’s misfortune dropped him 10 laps down to Waltrip and a 14th-place finish.
He still managed to get out of Bristol with a 53-point lead in the standings over Wallace, who finished sixth.
1989 trivia – Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti banned Pete Rose from baseball for life. … Record stores began alerting buyers to albums with explicit lyrics. … Hurricane Hugo devastated the Southeastern United States.