Thursday, October 3, 2013

Checkered Past: 1985 – The Year Bill Elliott Became “Awesome Bill” and “Million Dollar Bill”

Bill Elliott and his Winston Million check at Darlington
Credit: Racing One/Getty Images
The year 1985 was a special one in the Winston Cup Series for Bill Elliott, then a shy 29-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia native who wanted to drive a race car. In 1985, magic happened on the speedways for Elliott, who started the season with a win in the Daytona 500 – and added 10 more victories to his resume.

Elliott added wins at his home track in Atlanta twice, Darlington twice, Pocono twice, Michigan twice plus single victories at Dover and Talladega. The wins in the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 at Talladega and the Southern 500 at Darlington added to Elliott’s amazing season – he put together three wins in four chosen “premiere” races and took home the first Winston Million. The Winston Million win, complete with “Million Dollar Bills” floating around the track in celebration, put Elliott on the cover of Sports Illustrated – just the second NASCAR driver to grace the magazine’s cover. (Cale Yarborough was first following his 1977 Daytona 500 win).

It wasn’t just a car running well in race trim that made Elliott’s season special – he also won 11 poles that year. He swept all four superspeedway poles, two at Daytona and two at Talladega, plus two poles each at Darlington and Michigan, and single poles at Charlotte, Pocono and Dover.

Unfortunately, there was one thing missing – a short track game. In his career, spanning more than 35 years as a full-time or part-time driver, Elliott has only two short track victories: Bristol in 1988 and Richmond in 1992. That lack of a short track game cost Elliott the 1985 Winston Cup championship in the long run, losing the title by 101 points to Darrell Waltrip.

While 1985 was the season he became “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” and “Million Dollar Bill,” his star continued to rise over the next two decades. He won the 1988 Winston Cup title, finishing second to the late Alan Kulwicki in 1992, and earning 44 wins and 55 poles over his career – which still hasn’t officially ended, by the way.
 
Elliott fans now have someone else to cheer for in the NASCAR ranks – his son Chase, who won his first Camping World Truck Series race on the road course at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in September 2013. Incidentally, the elder Elliott also won his first Cup Series race on a road course in Riverside, California in 1983 – a couple months shy of 30 years before his 17-year-old son’s victory. 

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