40th Anniversary of Racing at Talladega

                                          2008    Dale Wilkerson

When you ask racing fans to name their favorite racetrack, many will tell you, without hesitation, Talladega.

            I have always enjoyed the racing at Talladega. The only thing I don’t like about Talladega is the fact that this track should have been located here in Spartanburg County. Because of some narrow minded people then, I have indigestion today.

            This high-banked, 2.66-mile tri-oval, factory of speed has been a fan favorite since it first opened 40 years ago.

            So, like I did for the 50th anniversary of the Daytona 500, I have assembled the line up for the 40th anniversary of the Talladega Super-Speedway.

            Several drivers made this line up that you would not find at any other track, as several drivers scored the one and only career win at the Alabama high-banks.

            36 drivers make up the field, which includes 12 Chevrolets, six Fords, four Oldsmobiles, three Buicks, three Mercurys, two Pontiacs, one Dodge, and one Toyota. Listing each driver by their winning average speed for their qualifying speed was how I set the lineup. For drivers with multiply wins, I used their fastest race win. There will be a few surprises in the starting order, remember Talladega has seen the big wrecks for many years, so some race winner’s average speeds were slowed due to caution laps.

            Now for your starting line-up: Rolling off from 36th, driving the Purolator Mercury, a three-time winner from Spartanburg, SC, David Pearson. In the first of two Joe Gibbs Racing entries, Bobby Labonte, the 1998 winner lines up 35th, in the Interstate Pontiac.

             The 2006 winner and the first of four Rick Hendrick Chevrolets in the field starts 34th, in the Lowe’s Chevrolet, Jimmy Johnson. The 1973 winner, in a Plymouth prepared by Clements Racing, Dick Brooks.

            The third driver with Spartanburg County ties rolls off 32nd, the 1972 winner in the Pop-Kola Mercury, from Inman, SC, James Hylton. In 31st, driving the first of two Stavola Brothers Miller-American Buicks, the 1986 July winner, Bobby Hillin Jr.

            Starting 30th, winner of the first Talladega 500, driving a Dodge Daytona, Richard Brickhouse. Beside Brickhouse we find the 1983 winner, in the STP Pontiac, Richard Petty.

            Starting 28th, in the Folgers Chevrolet, Ken Schrader. The first of two-DEI Chevrolets rolls off 27th with Michael Waltrip at the wheel of the Napa car. In 26th place, an Oldsmobile and the first of the two Jackson Brothers cars, Phil Parsons. The 1981 winner rolls off from 25th, in Race Hill Farms Buick, Ron Bouchard. 

            Row 12 has the first of three Junior Johnson Cars, 1989 winner, in a Ford Thunderbird, Terry Labonte. The most recent Talladega winner lines up in 23rd spot, in the Joe Gibbs Racing M&M’s Toyota, Kyle Busch. Row 11 has the K&K Dodge of Dave Marcis rolling off beside Brain Vickers, in a Chevrolet.

            Row ten has a four-time Talladega winner, in his winning Buick from the spring of 1986, the leader of the Alabama Gang, Bobby Allison. On the inside, driving the Petty Enterprises Plymouth Superbird, Pete Hamilton.

            In row nine, the 1998 winner Dale Jarrett lines up beside the DuPont Chevrolet of Jeff Gordon. Row eight finds the Chevrolet of Donnie Allison alongside Jimmy Spencer, in the Junior Johnson Ford.

            Row seven, the 1991 spring winner, Harry Gant in an Oldsmobile beside the Purolator Mercury of Neil Bonnett. Row six, a three time Talladega winner, in a Robert Yates Ford, Davey Allison. Beside Allison, in Junior Johnson prepared Buick Regal, Darrell Waltrip. And now for the top ten starters, with their speeds:

            At 170.841mph, driving an Oldsmobile and the first of two Ranier-Lundy cars, a four-time winner in his winning 1980 car, Buddy Baker. And along side Baker, also driving for Ranier-Lundy, in his 1984 winning Chevrolet at a speed of 172.988, Cale Yarborough.

            Rolling off from 8th, in Morgan-McClure Chevrolet, at 173.188, Sterling Marlin. In 7th, a driver who won his first of ten Talladega races, in a Bud Moore Ford but he will be in a RCR-Chevrolet, at 174.430mph, Dale Earnhardt.

            In 6th place, the 1978 Talladega 500 winner, in an Oldsmobile 442, at 174.700mph, Lennie Pond. Rolling off from 5th on the grid, also in a Morgan-McClure Chevrolet, at 176.309mph, 1992 July winner, Ernie Irvan. Rolling off 4th, in the #8 DEI Chevrolet at a speed of 183.665, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Starting third, at 184.003mph, the 2001 winner, in an Andy Petree Chevrolet, Bobby Hamilton.

            And on the front row; in his 1985 Winston 500 winning Ford Thunderbird, at a speed of 186.288, Bill Elliott. On the pole, the driver that won the only Talladega race that had no caution flags, from Batesville Arkansas, at 188.354, Mark Martin.

            If these cars lined up as they raced, it will be very tough for anybody to run with Elliott. He made up nearly two laps in 1985, without caution flags.

            If they all had to run the restrictor plates, it is very hard not to pick Dale Earnhardt Sr. His ten wins at Talladega helped too secure his legend of being known as the intimidator, not to mention his ability for seeing the air. So lets run this one without the plates.

            Elliott gets the jump on the start with Lennie Pond stacking them four wide to come to second place. By lap 100, 20 of the 35 starters have led at least one lap. 12 cars are eliminated at lap 125, when Jeff Gordon clips Ken Schrader coming off turn two. If you remember the July 1995 wreck that Gordon started, that’s what happens here.

            On the re-start, The Alabama gang, Bobby, Davey, and Donnie Allison with Neil Bonnett line up to freight train past the field.  As the field completes their last green-flag pit stops at lap 155, Dale Earnhardt puts his #3 out front.  But one final caution jumbles the order. Several cars dive down pit road, but several stay on track.

            As the green flags waves, with 12 laps to go, James Hylton has the lead. Hylton has been pacing himself all day, saving his tires for the run to the checkered. The pack behind him battles three and four wide as the #48 Mercury pulls out to a two second lead. The pack settles down, and they close in on Hylton.

            The white flag waves; one lap to go to decide it all. James Hylton is leading Earnhardt, Baker, Yarborough, The Alabama Gang, Petty, Gordon and a fast closing duo of Pearson and Elliott. Earnhardt nudges Hylton coming off turn two, and he grabs the lead. Baker has a run at him, Earnhardt covers the spot but Yarborough jumps to his outside.

            The Alabama Gang, with Bobby Allison at the point, runs right beside the wall as the pack heads into turn three stacked four wide. Petty jumps to the bottom, with Hylton on his bumper to make it five wide off turn four.

            Gordon looks below Hylton, and slides up the track with several cars getting loose. As this happens, The Silver Fox, David Pearson, comes from the high line to the bottom of the track in the tri-oval, while Elliott finds room on the high side of the Alabama Gang. At the line, it is a photo finish between, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, Bill Elliott and David Pearson.

            And the winner is, well the nose on that 71-Mercury that Pearson had was a little longer than the rest of the field. But to the delight of the Alabama crowd, Bobby Allison edges Pearson by .00012 of an inch.

            If only this race could have been a HOME-FIELD race for Pearson, Hylton and Brooks. That’s right, it could have been. I think I need to go take something for this indigestion again.