50 Years of nascar racing ~ My One And Only, Part 1 (Post 70)
By Matt McLaughlin
Editor's note: This article is part of a special reprise of Matt McLaughlin's "50 Years of NASCAR Racing", written and published in 1998 in commemoration of NASCAR's 50th Anniversary celebration that year. Matt has kindly granted me permission to run the entire series. Please, sit back and enjoy as you take a journey back through the pages of history and perhaps relive a memory or two. Many thanks to Matt for his generosity in sharing. God bless you, my friend.
Is it true that it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all? How about for a Winston Cup driver? Is it better to have won just one race, and have to live with remembering that excitement and glory, without being able to visit victory lane again, or would it be better just to dream of what it must be like? Below are the stories of some of NASCAR's one hit wonders. I respect all these drivers for what they have accomplished. After all, they have won one more race than I have.
Lake Speed- Still an active driver with the Harry Melling team, Lake began his Winston Cup career back in 1980. Many newer fans might have forgotten, but Lake not only won a race, he won at one of the toughest tracks on the circuit; Darlington. Not one of the favorites going into the race, Speed qualified a credible 8th in a self-owned Oldsmobile. Early in the event, pole sitter Kenny Schrader triggered a wreck that also involved Alan Kulwicki, Darrell Waltrip, Harry Gant, Terry Labonte, Brett Bodine and Morgan Shepherd. Having been running up front all day, Lake finally took the point on lap 257 and gave it up only during pit stops for the rest of the afternoon. Rusty Wallace and Speed waged an epic battle for the lead, until Wallace lost an engine. Speed coasted on to a comfortable lead over Alan Kulwicki, to add his name to the honor roll of drivers who have won a Winston Cup event.
Brett Bodine- Brett is another active driver that has to this point scored only a single victory. His team seems to be turning the corner again this year, so this article may be obsolete before you read it, but to date, Bodine earned his only Winston Cup trophy at North Wilkesboro in 1990. ( I think Quaker State just stopped showing the ads last week.) Unfortunately, there will always be a cloud of protest over that race, though it was through no fault of Bodine's. Bodine had assumed the lead of the race when the majority of the field had made green flag stops near the end of the race. Kenny Wallace crashed, bringing out the yellow and the pace car went out to pick up the field. NASCAR officials erroneously told the pace car driver, Elmo Langley, that Dale Earnhardt, who was actually in second, was the leader. Bodine protested in his car, and eventually NASCAR figured out he was right. Bodine was allowed to pass the pace car, and go to the back of the lead lap car line. At that point the thinking was that he would start the race as the leader but with all the other lead lap cars ahead of him, on the tail end of the lead lap. Naturally, with nothing to lose as far as track position, Bodine ducked into the pits for four tires and a splash of fuel. The yellow flag stretched on for over 20 laps as NASCAR tried to decide how to handle the mess. Eventually Bodine was told to drive back to the front of the pack, right behind the pace car, to take the green as the leader. Had that decision originally been made, Brett would probably not have stopped for tires and given up all that track position that late in the race. But he ended up with the best of both worlds, fresh tires and a chance to take the green with the pack behind him. Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt kept it interesting, keeping pace with Brett, but in the end Bodine prevailed by about a second over Darrell. There is no way to tell what the outcome would have been if NASCAR had made the right call, because Bodine still would have had the advantage of four fresh tires, so perhaps it's best just to let the record book show, that on April 22, 1990, Brett Bodine joined the ranks of Winston Cup winners.
Bobby Hillin - Bobby Hillin was thought to be one of hottest rising stars in NASCAR back when his career began. For a variety of reasons, all that hope has not been realized to date, but for one shining day, Bobby Hillin stood in the bright lights of victory lane. It was July 27th, 1986 at Talladega. The race that day was one of the most fiercely competitive, with 26 different drivers taking their turn at the front. Hillin emerged late in the race as a contender, taking the lead, but a hard charging Davey Allison, Sterling Marlin, Tim Richmond, Bobby Allison, and Rusty Wallace, in a relief driver role for Ricky Rudd, were determined to make a race out of it. Hillin held off all comers and took the white flag as the leader. Directly behind him, the rest of the lead lap cars got to racing too hard, and Sterling Marlin knocked into Bobby Allison sending him spinning. Several more cars were caught up in the wreck, and several more had to slow dramatically to avoid it. Richmond carried enough momentum through the scene of the wreck to make one last stab at the lead, but Hillin prevailed by 40 feet at the checkers. Ironically, Bobby Allison was Hillin's teammate on the Stavola Brothers team, and Allison had won the Spring race at Talladega that same year to become the oldest Winston Cup driver to win a race to that point. Hillin became the youngest ever to win a Winston Cup race at 22. (Note that is only "Winston Cup Winner" Fireball Roberts and Donald Thomas were both younger than Hillin when they took wins in Grand National races, before the series was renamed in 1972)
Lennie Pond - Some may argue that Lennie Pond's victory at Talladega in the Summer of 1978 was the biggest upset in the sport's history, but few would argue it is right up there at the top of the list. Pond was another of those diehard independents who showed up week after week on his own dime, despite the cards being heavily stacked against him, because he loved the sport. Finally, he was able to get a ride with the Harry Ranier team, but by that point in the season it was already rumored he wouldn't be back in the car in 1979. There were an amazing 67 lead changes that day in Alabama, but with five laps to go, Pond swept around Donnie Allison to take the point. Allison was giving determined pursuit as the two prepared to duke it out to the finish. Rookie Bill Elliott blew a tire on his family owned race car, and the shredded rubber went flying into the air, taking out his own front spoiler and sending Elliott sideways. Benny Parsons hit Elliott and more debris was tossed into the air. Pond was able to maneuver through the mess, but Allison had part of a tire carcass slam his windshield and got out of the gas momentarily thinking it was going to come through the windshield. It did not, but Allison had lost momentum in that one brief moment, and Lennie Pond had opened up enough of a gap to take the win by two car lengths.
Wendell Scott - Few drivers have ever struggled so long with so little, with such determination as Wendell Scott. Complicating his dream of being a Grand National Driver was the fact Scott was an African-American in the pre-civil rights era of this country, and a lot of fans, and even some drivers, didn't think much of his being out there at all. At some tracks he wasn't allowed to use the restroom or even to buy a hot dog. In fact, if he got hurt, the track ambulance would not even take him to the hospital. Scott would have to wait for a "colored" ambulance to take him to a black medical facility. But Scott persevered. He kept on racing despite the fact he was sometimes so low on cash he would have to pull into the pits, hop out of the car, and change the tires and refuel it himself. Many have collected more wins, but few have shown more courage and determination than Wendell Scott. Scott's sole NASCAR victory took place early in the 1964 season, back when the Grand National schedule featured many races prior to Daytona. The event was run December 1st, 1963 in Jacksonville Florida, on a rutted old half mile dirt track. Even Scott's moment of glory was marred by an ugly controversy. That dusty day, Scott passed no less a driver than Richard Petty with 24 laps to go and took the lead. But as he crossed the line at the scheduled distance of 200 laps, the checkered flag was not displayed. Scott kept right on driving, and had actually completed 202 laps, when the flag man waved the checkered flag for Buck Baker. Scott got out of his car and demanded the scorecards be checked. NASCAR slowly and methodically went about the checking process and several hours later they told Wendell he was correct, and he had in fact won the race, while Baker finished second two laps to the arrears. Was it a case of confusion or conspiracy? Truth be told, it was not the only race that had its finishing order scrambled after a scoring recheck in that era. But more than a few people whispered the promoter had purposely botched the scoring, unsure how the crowd would react to a black man taking the win, and especially frightened of what would happen if Scott asked for the traditional kiss from the beauty queen in victory lane. Until his dying day, Scott maintained the slight was intentional. He said he had enough sense that he would only have shaken the beauty queen's hand, and that part really didn't matter to him. He was more interested in the check that went with the win, and the trophy that would acknowledge his grand achievement. In a bit of bitter irony, while the results were being reviewed, someone stole the trophy and never returned it.
Ron Bouchard- Like Bobby Hillin (to date, anyway) Ron Bouchard was another promising rookie who burst onto the scene with a great deal of fanfare and promise, but things never quite worked out. Also like Hillin, Ron did manage to attain the elusive goal of winning a Winston Cup race at NASCAR's fastest track, Talladega. The finish of that race was one of the most exciting in NASCAR history, and a film of it would serve as adequate evidence on why restrictor plates should be banned from the face of this earth. As was typical of races at Talladega in those days, the action was exciting, with plenty of different leaders taking their turn at the front. Bouchard had quietly kept himself towards the front of the pack, but had led only briefly as pit stops scrambled the field. At the end of the race, Darrell Waltrip had the point but a feisty Terry Labonte was giving DW all he could handle on the final lap of the race. Coming out of turn four, Labonte went high to try to clear Darrell and win the drag race to the checkers. Darrell drifted high to block the move. Had either driver bothered to glance in the rearview mirror, they might have seen Bouchard laying in wait to pounce. When DW went high to block Labonte, that left the lower groove open and Bouchard grabbed that lane. The three cars raced to the finish line side by side, and less than a foot separated first from third. After a review of the photo finish camera's shot, it was determined that Bouchard had edged out Waltrip by a few inches, and Waltrip had beaten Labonte by about as much distance. Both the other drivers seemed stunned to have a third car appear out of nowhere, and DW recalls looking over at Ron and mouthing, "Where did you come from?" Fitchburg, Massachusetts as it turns out, DW.
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