NASCAR's Greatest Finishes and Wildest Wrecks at Talladega
10. Ford vs. Dodge, Petty vs. Baker – 1975 Talladega 500
If you have a few minutes, just watch the whole thing. If not, pick it up from the 20:00 mark. Hall of Fame broadcaster Ken Squier touches on why fans cheer for the cars and not just their favorite drivers. Dig the mid-'70s music score, sucka – and the last lap battle between two legends of superspeedway competition: Buddy Baker and Richard Petty. Plenty of bowl cuts and "Brady Bunch" music for all.
9. The Worst Crash in NASCAR History — 1973 Talladega 500
Twenty one cars wrecked. Four drivers badly injured, including Wendell Scott, the only African American competitor to win a race in NASCAR until Darrell Wallace Jr.’s win at Martinsville last fall. As Buddy Baker recalls, he and Cale Yarborough hugged each other when they realized they made it out alive … but then ran for cover when more cars started piling in, flying over as high as a telephone poles. Why such carnage? Sixty cars started the race with many drivers seeing the track for the first time. It had not rained in some time, so the backstretch, which is now paved, was all dried dirt and sand. Bud Lindemann provides the narration and harrowing music score.
8. Putting the “super speed” in “Superspeedway” – 1984 Talladega 500
Check out these mid-'80s Members Only missiles. 200-mph laps in cars that actually look stock – Monte Carlos, Ford Thunderbirds, and Buick Regals. If there's a reason TV doesn’t use these camera angles anymore, it would be nice to know. The in-car shots are awesome, with cars buffeting about, half a turn into the steering wheel going down the backstretch without any appreciable change in direction of the cars. Perhaps the most important win in the history of Richard Childress Racing — it’s first with Dale Earnhardt at the wheel; the team had no idea he had taken the lead until he had passed by the pits en route to the checkered flag. The golden era of super speedway racing; no plates or aero trickery to keep the cars on the ground. Three-inch spoilers laid flat, and announcers providing legendary commentary — not trying to be bigger than the show. Love Ken Squier’s last lap Talladega quip: “Dale Earnhardt, winds it up, fires it in there.”
7. Earnhardt over Irvan — 1993 DieHard 500
While he can now be found providing his familiar snarky British humor to Formula 1 broadcasts at 4:00 am, David Hobbs calling a NASCAR race is just cool. Kyle Petty is leading late in the going in his Mello Yello Pontiac, with Dale Earnhardt, Ernie Irvan, Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin in tow. Pontiac vs. Chevy vs. Ford – how's that for parity? Check out Earnahardt's Lay-Z-Boy seating position and truck door rearview mirror laid sideways. Another great Ken Squire line — “five seconds to pay-dirt” — and his nonchalant call for a .005-second margin of victory. Ned and Neil kind of cut his lunch though and confirm Earnhart’s win.
6. "Million Dollar" Bill – 1985 Winston
In 1985, Bill Elliott cemented his “Awesome Bill from Dawnsonville” nickname with this come from behind (twice) performance at Talladega. In an era before Lucky Dogs, waive-arounds, and debris cautions, Elliott made up two laps under green to take the lead and win the race. Think about that — he had to pass the field twice to make up his laps, then pass them again to take the lead. He almost passed them all a fourth time, as only Cale Yarborough and Kyle Petty were left on the lead lap.
5. Welcome back, Neil! – 1993 Die Hard 500
Making his return from head injuries suffered at Darlington three years prior, Neil Bonnett’s welcome home event for the Alabama Gang member turned sideways on lap 134. As Maverick would tell his instructor at Top Gun, “...I was inverted.” An hour delay allowed track crews time to repair the catchfence, Neil to change his shorts, and hustle up back to the TV booth to call the rest of the race. That friends, is dedication.
4. IROC, ICRASH and IFLY – 1984 International Race of Champions
During the days of IROC, there were four races held each year: Daytona, Talladega, Michigan and Watkins Glen (with Charlotte and Indy making an appearance in later years). Check out the in-car camera and wheel work by Neil Bonnett. Derrek Bell wasn’t too happy about it, or the fact that they had not yet developed SAFER Barriers. Check out the lick he takes and his post-crash disgust in concussed British eloquence.
3. Greatest Plate Race of the 1990s – 1993 Winston 500
If there is ever a book written about NASCAR's golden era of racing (okay, fine, I'll write it), the 1993 Winston 500 will go down as the definitive superspeedway race. NASCAR rolled the field off early under the threat of thunderstorms, while Mark Martin's crew had to hot wire his car on pit road. The first few laps of the race got so wild and chaotic that Benny Parsons and crew gave up trying to call it, and just asked fans to sit back, watch and listen for themselves for about five minutes. With one lap to go all hell breaks lose with Martin sandblasting the frontstrech wall, guys running out of gas and Rusty Wallace gets his cage – roll and ribs – rattled after contact from The Intimidator. Dale Earnhardt was visibly shaken afterwards, relieved he hadn't killed Wallace, taking his gloves with him.
2. DW’s jinx – 2002 BGN Subway 200
Just as Darrell Waltrip was saying how great a day the No. 2 car of Johnny Sauter was having … well, you can guess what happens next. Absolute debacle on the backstretch, and an illustration as to why there are SAFER Barriers and paving all now down the backstretch – as Scott Riggs NesQuick car graphically illustrates. Only three cars remained on the lead lap at the end, with Jason Keller taking the win. Jeff Fuller’s interview right around the 10:00 minute mahhhhk is a good listen.
1. Earnhardt’s Charge — 2000 Winston 500
It’s hard not to count this as the most memorable Talladega moment. The final win of Dale Earnhardt's illustrious career would predictably happen at Talladega, the track where he won his first race with RCR in 1984. Charging from 17th to the lead in just four laps, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that would have predicted this outcome, even with him at the wheel. I think this is how all of us will remember him. And rightly so.