(first published 8/19/12) I couldn’t believe it! Rummaging through my stuff in Salt Lake last week I uncovered a treasure trove of slides that I had forgotten about, including a roll taken at my first NASCAR race, the Goody’s 500 at Martinsville, VA. Shown above are pole sitter #5 Geoff Bodine (finished 28th); #12 Neil Bonnett (f 5th); #44 Terry Labonte (f 2nd); and the nose of the race winner, the #11 of Darrell Waltrip, all driving Chevy Monte Carlos. All photos were shot from the stands in Turn Two on Kodachrome.
In 1984 Winston Cup cars still pretty much ran stock sheetmetal. If not totally stock, at least they were easily identifiable with their counterparts in the parking lot. Behind Waltrip is the #15 Thunderbird of Ricky Rudd (f 27th); the #47 Buick of Ron Bouchard (f 19th); the #33 Chevy of Harry Gant (f 4th); the #88 Pontiac of Rusty Wallace (f 13th); and the #7 Thunderbird of Kyle Petty (f 10th).
The fall in Virginia can be damn near paradise–sunny, mild temperatures, and lower humidity (it’s never low). Frollicking through Turn One are the #70 Pontiac of JD McDuffie (f 25th); the famous #43 Pontiac of Richard Petty (f 8th); and the #64 Thunderbird of Jimmy Hensley (f 22nd). At the time, NASCAR short tracks started a maximum of 36 cars (as opposed to 43 on the longer tracks), but only 31 cars started this race. Attrition was high and only 16 cars were running at the end.
All of the drivers of the cars in this shot were winners: Ron Bouchard in the #47 Buick won once at Talladega in 1981; #11 Darrell Waltrip was a three-time Winston Cup champion and won 84 Cup races; #15 Ricky Rudd won 23 Cup races; Rusty Wallace in the #88 Gatorade Pontiac won the 1989 Winston Cup and had 55 Cup wins; Harry Gant in the #33 Hal Needham Skoal Chevy had a total of 18 Winston Cup wins; and Bobby Allison in the #22 Miller Buick won the Winston Cup in 1983 and had a total of 41 Cup wins.
The announced attendance for the day was 36,500. I can attest that there was a butt in every seat. Moving their way up through the pack after poor qualifying runs are the #9 of Bill Elliott (f 3rd) and the #43 of Richard Petty (f 8th).
Martinsville has been described as “two drag strips connected by U-turns”. This very shaky shot of the leaders in Turn One shows leader #5 Geoff Bodine in a Hendrick Chevy (Hendrick campained a single car in ’84) who would drop out after leading 37 laps with a bum oil pump; #12 Neil Bonnett in a Junior Johnson Chevy (who led 50 laps); #11 Darrell Waltrip, also in a Junior Johnson Chevy (led 313 laps); and the #44 Chevy of Terry Labonte (led 50 laps). As can be seen in this photo, the inner two lanes in the turns at Martinsville are concrete.
Just about out of the frame in the lower right is the #27 Old Milwaukee Pontiac of Tim Richmond, possibly one of the most gifted NASCAR drivers ever, followed by the #22 Miller Buick of Bobby Allison and the #9 Coors Thunderbird of Bill Elliott. Also in the frame are the Thunderbirds of Dick Brooks and Buddy Baker. About to be passed by Richard Petty is the #48 Chevy driven by journeyman Calgary, Alberta racer Trevor Boys (102 Winston Cups races, two top-ten finishes) in the #48 Chevy. Boys dropped out of the race after 103 laps with a blown engine, finishing 26th.
I was really pleased to see that I had captured Buddy Arrington, the last NASCAR owner/driver to campaign a Dodge, in his 1983 Dodge Mirada. Lee Iaccoca had attempted to interest Richard Petty and Junior Johnson in running the Mirada. Both teams built cars and tested them at Daytona. Although the cars looked aerodynamic, they hit a brick wall at 185 mph (298 kph), about 8 mph (13 kph) slower than the GM offerings of the day. Only two small teams ran the Mirada-Arrington and Negre, mainly on short tracks where poor aero was less a detriment than on the superspeedways. Of all the Broughams, I probably like the Mirada best, as long as it doesn’t have a venereal (vinyl) roof.
Running Martinsville successfully takes a tremendous amount of patience. The race is long, the straights are short, and forward bite (rear wheel traction) is hard to come by. Although Richard Petty hasn’t fully straightened his car out exiting Turn Two, he is full on the throttle. Petty got the majority of his 200 wins on short tracks, but won’t catch up to Bill Elliott, a superspeedway ace, on this day. Elliott finished 3rd and Petty 8th.
It was easy to hate Darrell Waltrip, aka “Jaws”, due to his propensity for incessant jaw jacking, bitching, and self-promotion. But Waltrip put on a clinic this day on how to win short track races.
Waltrip led over 300 laps and won by over a lap over the 1984 Winston Cup champ, Terry Labonte. I remember watching Waltrip setting up a backmarker for a pass. It took him about six laps to get around this guy. At the end of the race there wasn’t a mark on his car-no bent sheetmetal, no door donuts. Pristine. Waltrip would have described his car as being “ate up with motor” (a tip of the hat to Aaron Severson) that day.
The #71 Olds of Lennie Pond is what a number of cars looked like during the race. In spite of his lack of sheetmetal, Pond finished 9th, nine laps down.
Earnhardt was never easy to pass, especially at Martinsville. Here he moves up the groove to make it hard for Bill Elliott to get around. The low groove is the preferred way to go.
I’m not sure how many laps it took Elliott to get around Earnhardt, but get around he did. Elliott went on to finish 3rd, a lap down. Earnhardt finished 12th, eleven laps down. As with the #11 of Waltrip, there wasn’t a mark on Elliotts car, which is understandable–Awesome Bill was not only the driver and chassis man, but also car owner. Waltrip’s impetus to bring the car back in one piece was Junior Johnson. Johnson didn’t cotton to drivers that bent up his race car. For that he would kick your ass or fire you.
The only memento that I bought at the track that day was a seat cushion that says “Martinsville Speedway”, a necessity due to the unforgiving nature of the concrete grandstands. I still have it. A quaint custom at Martinsville is for the race goers to throw their empty beer cans and used chicken bones down to the walkway between the chain link fence and the first row of seats. It was almost like rain, a constant fusillade of detritus the entire race. I marveled at the guy sitting next to me, and the incredible amount of beer he ingested during the race. I thought, “how will he be able to walk when the race is over?” Well, he couldn’t. Good thing he had friends that drug him away.