As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Richmond International Raceway this weekend for the Toyota Owners 400, we’ll take a step back in time in this week’s edition of “Throwback Thursday Theater” to look back at one of the most memorable races to ever take place at Richmond, the 1986 Miller High Life 400.
Throughout the 1980’s, the feud between Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip continued to grow and by the time the series made their visit to Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway for the second race of the 1986 season, the feud had reached a crescendo and the racing that took place that day showed it.
The race was practically the Dale and Darrell show from start to finish with Earnhardt leading the lion’s share of the race with 299 laps led by the time all was said and done.
With Earnhardt leading as the race was winding down, Waltrip was all over him trying to get by him for the lead, as they were beating and banging around the .542 mile circuit. With about three laps remaining, Waltrip had edged ahead of Earnhardt, but had not yet cleared him as the two rivals headed into Turn 3. As Waltrip took the low line and Earnhardt the high line, Earnhardt got into Waltrip’s right rear quarter panel and sent Waltrip’s No. 11 car head on into the outside guardrail, which also sent Earnhardt spinning and collected Joe Ruttman and others in the crash.
With the first and second place cars wrecked, Kyle Petty, who was driving the No. 7 car for the legendary Wood Brothers team, was running behind Waltrip and Earnhardt and was able to snake his way through the crash site to lead the field back to the yellow and win his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series race.
Petty was followed to the line by Ruttman, Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, and Waltrip.
When asked in victory lane if he was surprised with the win, Petty responded by saying, “Surprised ain’t the word for it.”
“We worked hard all day and the car pushed all day long and we couldn’t ever get it. The motor ran good…real good. We never got the driving right until the very end and they just drove off and left me and I got caught in traffic. Evidently they all got to running each other and we got lucky.”
While Petty celebrated in victory lane, Earnhardt and Waltrip were left to wonder what might have been had they not crashed.
“Just got hung up with ol’ Darrell and got in the wall. I was hoping we could race on, but we just got hung up. Congrats to ol’ Kyle, he was in the right place at the right time,” Earnhardt said with his trademarked grin in the garage after the race.
While Waltrip didn’t speak with the media following the incident that day, he did recall how it all happened in the documentary DALE that came out in 2007.
“Dale and I were having one of those, you know, Dale and Darrell duels and it was getting late; there were only 10 or 15 laps to go. He’d keep chopping me off, blocking me, and I can’t get by him, so I gave him a shot and he got all loose and I got a little run on him and thought ‘I got him…no, dadgumitt he cut me off again.’ I get him sideways, you know, and I think I’ve got him this time, but nope, couldn’t get him. So I go down into Turn 1 and I drop my left sides off in the dirt; I go in there as hard as I can and bodyslam into Earnhardt and shoot him up the race track and I’ve got him this time. Well, we got off of Turn 2 and he gave me a shot and when he did it took us both out. Car torn all to pieces, disintegrated. He’s spun too; cars wrecking everywhere,” Waltrip said.
The incident in Richmond portrayed how brutal the feud between the two had gotten, but eventually the two Hall of Famers were able to repair their relationship as Waltrip would end up driving for Earnhardt later in his career.
Photot: RacingOne/Getty Images