Celebrating “7 Decades of NASCAR” at Darlington Raceway NASCAR vaults into the 80s with fresh faces, new perspectives

Richard Petty and President Reagan following the Firecracker 400. Credit: ISC Images & Archives/Getty Images

Darlington Raceway is celebrating “7 Decades of NASCAR” for its Bojangles’ Southern 500 Throwback Weekend on Sept. 1-2. As part of the celebration, the track Too Tough To Tame is highlighting specific moments in the sport’s history, continuing today with the 1980s.

After enduring the ups and downs of the 1970s, NASCAR entered the 80s decade with strong momentum and fresh new faces driving the sport to new heights.

The days of the large clunky cars produced by the manufacturers in the 70s were long gone. Smaller cars with just as much horsepower were created, and very exciting racing for fans followed shortly after.

Additionally, sponsorship for the race teams and tracks became a regular occurrence in the 80s as the popularity of the sport reached a higher level. Companies and businesses were starting to lineup for a chance to place their name on a car or at the track in front of thousands of hungry fans waiting to consume or purchase their favorite driver’s and track’s merchandise. The exposure gained from a NASCAR sponsorship grew exponentially throughout the 80s.

“The 1980s were truly a coming-of-age period for NASCAR,” Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said. “NASCAR was growing by leaps and bounds and competing for fans with the other professional sports such as the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. With sponsorships strong, fans packing the grandstands, and competitive racing, it was a great era for the sport.”

Upcoming stars such as Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, Tim Richmond and Rusty Wallace were making a name for themselves on the track, battling the likes of seasoned veterans such as Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and Richard Petty. It was a changing of the guard in the 80s as the veterans continued to make way (not by choice) for the new blood.

However, one veteran in particular wasn’t going let the young up-and-coming drivers spoil his quest to score his 200th career NASCAR Cup Series victory during the 1984 campaign. Petty had won at Dover earlier in the season for win No. 199, but the 200th victory was eluding him in the summer.

Petty entered the Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway as the underdog after having sub-par results through the 1984 season. With U.S. President Ronald Reagan in attendance, Petty beat Yarborough to the line by inches to secure his 200th career win, and in turn, was congratulated and honored by President Reagan in the press box afterward.

The win is still considered one of the most historic in NASCAR history and the last of Petty’s historic career. The 200 career NASCAR Cup wins by Petty is a career record that will likely never be broken.

Notable historic drivers and moments in the 1980s include:

· Dale Earnhardt won his first of seven NASCAR Cup Series championship in 1980. He also won series championships in 1986 and 1987 in the 80s.

· Bobby Allison won his first and only NASCAR Cup Championship in 1983 after enduring six runner-up finishes previous to that year. The NASCAR Hall of Famer won six races in 1983 and 84 overall in his illustrious career.

· In 1984, Terry Labonte won his first NASCAR Cup Series Championship. Despite Darrell Waltrip winning seven races that year, Labonte won the title with a commanding points lead after posting a series-high 17 top-five finishes, to go along with two wins.

·Waltrip would return the favor in 1985, winning the series championship with three victories, while Bill Elliott finished second with 11 wins. Elliott won the Winston Million that year (winning at Daytona, Talladega and Darlington), but Waltrip’s 18 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes that year gave him the title. Waltrip also won the series title in 1981 and 1982. Elliott would go on to win his only championship in 1988.

· 1985 also was the year that The Winston (or now called the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race) was introduced. Technically, the All-Star race started in the 1960s (it competed for three years in Daytona from 1961-63), however, it was the involvement of Winston that brought back the event, which was relocated to Charlotte Motor Speedway. Waltrip beat Harry Gant for the 1985 All-Star victory, giving him a $200,000 pay-day for his efforts.

· Tim Richmond was a popular figure in NASCAR after making the jump from the open-wheel racing circuit. The 1986 season proved to be his most successful after winning seven races (including the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington) for owner Rick Hendrick. He finished third in the point standings that year. He would never compete in another full-time season as he missed the start of the 1987 campaign due to an illness, which he ultimately succumbed to in 1989.

· NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace won his one and only series title in 1989. After finishing second to Elliott during the 1988 season (he lost the title by a mere 24 points), Wallace returned the next year and won a series-high six races with 20 top-10 finishes.

Darlington Raceway’s award-winning throwback campaign is The Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR featuring the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500® on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018. The NASCAR XFINITY Series Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 will race on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018.
You can keep up with all of the latest news from Darlington Raceway at DarlingtonRaceway.com, Facebook.com/DarlingtonRaceway and on Twitter at Twitter.com/TooToughToTame. Fans are encouraged to post their Bojangles’ Southern 500 stories and memories at, #BojanglesSo500 and #SportClips200.

Author: Stephan Drew

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