By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor
In the late 1980’s, Bill Elliott and his Harry Melling owned Ford Thunderbird was a dominant force at the restrictor place tracks, with his brother Ernie Elliott serving as engine builder and supplying a powertrain that was unmatched throughout the NASCAR Winston Cup Series garage. Elliott had won the season opening Daytona 500 in 1985 and tacked on additional wins at Atlanta and Darlington in the weeks that followed, but when the series rolled into Talladega in May, Elliott and his team would leave everyone dumbfounded at what had transpired on the 2.66 mile superspeedway.
With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heading to Talladega this weekend, the 1985 Winston 500 will be the focus of this week’s “Throwback Thursday Theater”.
Starting on pole with Cale Yarborough alongside, Elliott was looking to add another speedway win to his resume in the 1985 season and by lap six looked to be the man to beat. However, after leading 22 of the first 27 laps, Elliott had some company for the race lead as Dale Earnhardt, Kyle Petty, and Yarborough all took turns at the front of the field over the next 22 laps. At lap 49, things got worse for Elliott as smoke began billowing from underneath Elliott’s car, forcing him to make the trip to pit road bringing his car to the attention of his crew.
Elliott lost two laps on pit road as his team repaired a broken oil fitting and he was able to return to the race, which was still under green with Yarborough in the lead. Clicking off lap times well in excess of those the leaders were running, Elliott got both of his laps back in short order and by lap 145 was breathing down Yarborough’s neck for the lead.
In the blink of an eye, Elliott flashed past Yarborough to reclaim the lead, as he held onto the point for another 15 laps before the first caution of the day came out at lap 160 for Geoff Bodine crashing in Turn 4.
Under caution, Yarborough was able to get back in the lead, but that was short-lived as Elliott went right back by him eight laps later, making him the man to beat with 20 laps to go. Yarborough and the others would get one final shot at Elliott after the final caution of the day came out at lap 174 to set up an 11 lap dash to the finish, but “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” was unstoppable on that Sunday afternoon as he pulled away once more to claim his fourth win of the season and his first win at Talladega.
From that point on, Elliott went on a tear, as he scored a total of 11 wins that year and came up just short of the championship, finishing the year in second place behind eventual champion Darrell Waltrip.
“I will never forget that day in 1985. I remember coming down pit road and our guys dealing with the oil line issue. We went back out and ran wide open and I was totally shocked the motor lived all day long….totally shocked. We were a bunch of misfits put together, 12 of us total on the team, and that included the motor shop and the chassis shop. Most of the guys who pitted the car came in on weekends. We all had a good understanding of the race cars, though. It seems like it was yesterday,” said Elliott.
“I about kissed everything good bye because I didn’t know what happened when it started missing there (and engine started smoking). But, they raised the hood and got it fixed faster than I thought they would. It felt like I sat there six or 10 laps. I worked my tail off to try and keep up. I just kept on digging. This old car kept on digging. I want to thank the good Lord for making up those laps. The old car just held together and worked.”