The Lady in Black Memories

Dale Wilkerson                                                 May 2010

Darlington Raceway has been the site of some of the most historic races in NASCAR history. From the first race, when crews scavenged the parking lots looking for tires to last year’s race with Mark Martin holding off a field of hard chargers, this track has seen it all.

For those of us who have attended races at Darlington, we have a few favorite memories as well. My first trip to a race at Darlington was in 1987. Hey I had to get out of school and get a job before I could go racing.

That first race in 1987 was a classic. Dale Earnhardt had the fastest car, but Bill Elliott was hanging close. Earnhardt pitted late, and was charging back to the lead when he pounded the wall in turn two. Elliott had a huge lead but his gas tank was almost on fumes. On the last lap, his Ford sputtered coming off turn two, and then ran out of fuel in turns three and four. Earnhardt made up the distance to snag the victory. Earlier in that race, the grandstand fell silent as smoke and flames erupted from Davey Allison’s car. Allison was tagged by Buddy Baker and sent into the outside wall. Several other cars were swept into the accident including Davey’s dad, Bobby Allison. From our seats, when the cars stopped sliding all we could see was smoke, flames, and Bobby Allison running toward the smoke. When Davey Allison spoke on the track p-a system and said, “Tell Momma that daddy and me are okay,” some of the loudest cheers I have ever heard at a race went up from the crowd.

The 1987 Southern 500 was another great one. Buddy Baker and Davey Allison looked to have the field covered to only have The Lady in Black reach out and remind them she was in charge. The race was slowed by rain several times and a late restart found Dale Earnhardt leading Rusty Wallace and Richard Petty.

Petty drove past Wallace and began to work on Earnhardt. The low groove was till damp, but Petty made his move coming off turn two. Back before Hurricane Hugo damaged the track, the back-stretch (which is now the front-stretch) had a row of upper and lower box seats that towered above the track. As Petty went for the top spot, the fans on the backstretch looked as if they were doing the wave as the cars sped down toward turn three. Petty drove in deep, slid up the track, dropped the hammer and pulled to a five-car length lead. The cheers from the crowd were louder than Death Valley after the Tigers just took the lead of South Carolina. Rain drops started falling and the folks sitting around us began to chant ‘Throw the flag’ hoping to see The King add to his legend. Earnhardt made a bold move and re-took the lead just before the bottom fell out.

In 1995, Larry Pearson picked up his only Nationwide Series win at Darlington. Pearson had Mark Martin and Jeff Burton in Rosch Fords to contend with along with Randy LaJoie in his Chevy. Pearson was smooth all day and he and his Mack Martin – Stanley Tools Chevrolet held off the best teams in the series to score the win.

In 1988, on his way to the championship, Bill Elliott had to fend off Rusty Wallace while hoping the skies did not open up before the end of the race. A massive storm was brewing off turns one and two. This was before the lights were installed at the track, and due to the cloud cover, the drivers and the fans could have used them. Wallace looked high and low but could not get by Elliott.

During a Camping World truck race a few years ago, drivers Robert Pressley and Ted Musgrave went high and low while working lapped traffic and battling for the lead. Both drivers wanted the win and neither driver was going to let lapped traffic stand in their way. As the duo hit turn three a lapped truck was right in the middle of the racing grove. Musgrave went to the wall while Pressley dove low. None thought they would make it off the corner, but when the move worked, the crowd went nuts.

These are just a few of my favorites. Darlington provides the best racing all year. Drivers can’t just race the competition but they must race the track. NASCAR has three races at Darlington this year, and we should all plan to attend at least one of them, because we will get your monies worth any trip to the Track to tough to Tame.