For a multitude of reasons, the 1987 Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway has been one of those race weekends that has lived in NASCAR lore for the past 30 years and will continue to be one for the history books far into the future.
First, Bill Elliott crushed the NASCAR qualifying record by going out and laying down and monster lap of 212.809 mph, besting the previous best of 210.364 mph that he had set at Daytona International Speedway a few months prior.
The other reason that the race weekend has been remembered all of these years is because the race saw Bobby Allison cut a tire and fly into the catchfence, ushering in the restrictor plate era shortly thereafter and slowing the cars down from the ever-increasing speeds that the series had seen in the months and years prior.
With the cars in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series now featuring restrictor plates at Talladega and Daytona, the speed record that Elliott set back in 1987 has stood the test of time, with the cars of today running on reduced horsepower to keep them from reaching their true potential on the high-banked superspeedways in the years since.
With this weekend’s GEICO 500 at Talladega being the 30th anniversary of his speed record, Elliott took the time to look back on that day and how it all transpired.
“You still had to do everything you could to make the car really uncomfortable to run fast,” said Elliott. “There were guys over there before qualifying taking the rear spoilers off, but you couldn’t drive them. You had to have a little bit of downforce or you couldn’t drive them, so you just had to get to that point where you took as much off as you could and still be able to make it around the race track.”
“The fans went nuts. They loved it. They loved that stuff back then. The faster the better. We had worked so hard to get to that point that it was very satisfying from our end. We put a lot of effort into our speedway programs and already had really good power, so we were able to kind of marry it all together.”
The qualifying record for Elliott came in an era when his Harry Melling owned team dominated the superspeedways, as the team scored six straight poles at Talladega from 1985 to 1987 along with two wins in the spring of 1985 and the summer of 1987.
“I think the qualifying record at Talladega just kind of puts an exclamation point on our legacy. I’m talking about for our whole family – me, Dan, Ernie and my dad,” said Elliott. “We came out of nothing. We came out of a little town in Dawsonville, Georgia that wasn’t even on the map. We were kind of like David and Goliath with what we did and what we accomplished.”
Even though Elliott still holds the speed record 30 years later, he noted that if the cars in the Cup Series ever got to a point where the restrictor plates were taken off and the cars were able to run unrestricted, the record would likely fall in short order.
“It would be broken easily if you had the latitude to do the things that we did as far as taking more drag out of the car, but with the current configuration and the spoilers they run on the cars today, it won’t be broken,” said Elliott. “But it’s dictated by the evolution of the sport and the safety of the drivers. That being said, if you unrestricted the cars, and with the way technology is today, I don’t know why they wouldn’t go over there and run 225-230. I mean, we had 625 horsepower back then and now they’ve got 850 to the rear wheels. If you put all of that together today, the sky is the limit.”