As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Bristol for this weekend’s Food City 500, it’s that time of the week again when we take a step back in history to look at a significant race from Bristol’s past. On the docket for this week’s “Throwback Thursday Theater” is the 1990 Valleydale Meats 500, which came down to a photo finish to determine the winner.
Ahead of the spring race weekend at Bristol that year, the track had put down a sealer on the then asphalt surface of the track, making the track slick as ice for both the Winston Cup Series main event, but also the lower-tier Grand National race that took place the day prior, setting up some incredible moments in both races.
The big moment from the Grand National race came not from the finish of the race, but a crash that took place during the race, leaving everyone astonished that the driver had come out of the vicious wreck unscathed.
That wreck is of course the infamous wreck that involved Michael Waltrip plowing head-on into the track’s crossover gate after contact with Robert Pressley on lap 170. As Waltrip struck the Armco barrier protecting the crossover gate, the steel gate gave way, sending Waltrip directly into the unprotected end of a concrete wall, shredding his car to pieces. All of those in attendance just knew Waltrip had to be injured or worse, but Waltrip miraculously was able to walk away from the crash without a scratch.
“I knew I had wrecked, so I wanted to get out,” Waltrip said. “I was sore and dazed, but I knew I wasn’t hurt. Then I looked around and wondered what happened to the car. There was nothing left.”
“To see TV replays of that wreckage coming down the track and knowing I was in there is a miracle of God. I’d be a fool if I didn’t say it was a miracle. God spared me to let me race another day. I’ve always loved the Lord and said my prayers, and I think He was telling me something by showing me a miracle.”
Fast forward to Sunday’s Valleydale Meats 500 and the race was action packed from start to finish on the slick asphalt surface, which turned Bristol into a one groove track and any driver that dared venture outside of the main groove was sure to spin out.
A total of 13 cautions ruled the day, but pit strategy employed by the No. 28 team of Davey Allison on the final caution of the day at lap 392 would setup one of the greatest finishes ever at Bristol.
As the laps wound down, Allison held steady in the lead, but had three others (Mark Martin, Sterling Marlin, and Ricky Rudd) in tow just looking for a way around to get to the lead. The four drivers ran nose to tail lap after lap until the final lap, when things began to break loose.
Heading onto the backstretch on the final lap, Rudd and Marlin made contact, sending Marlin spinning and leaving the race win up to Allison and Martin over the final half-lap around the half-mile bullring.
Martin made his move on Allison as the two stormed off of Turn 4, pulling his No. 6 car alongside Allison’s, but he would not have enough to make the pass before reaching the finish line, coming just six inches short of victory.
“We elected on that last caution to gamble. I kind of felt like it’d go the rest of the way under green. And we also knew that out car would run better on those tires that had some laps. We needed to stay out, so we gambled as a team. And it paid off,” said Allison
“I knew I was ahead of him when we crossed the stripe, but it didn’t really sink in until we came back around. I was coming down the back straightaway and said, ‘Man, we just won this thing! I cannot believe it!’ I started screaming on the radio.”
For Martin, it was another runner up finish after finishing second the week before at Darlington.
“Boy, we got close. It was a great run, a points run for us. We did all we could do, but there just wasn’t enough race track to get by Davey. We had a great car, but we just didn’t quite make it to the front. I gave it a shot there at the end. We were just six inches short, I guess,” said Martin.