NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott Relives 1985 Victory at Talladega Superspeedway [PHOTOS]
On Wednesday, former driver Bill Elliott relived the day when he and his Thunderbird stunned the racing world with the greatest comeback win in NASCAR history.
The Sunday, May 3, GEICO 500 will mark the 30th anniversary of Elliott’s amazing run in the 1985 Winston 500 where he made up over a 5-mile deficit – without the benefit of a caution period – to capture the impossible triumph. Elliott, with smoke billowing from under his No. 9 Ford’s hood, was within a few hundred yards of going two laps down to the leaders on the 2.66-mile track after taking an unscheduled pit stop to make repairs to an oil fitting line. The cool, calm Elliott didn’t sweat it, climbing all the way back to the front and rocketing to Gatorade Victory Lane.
Elliott celebrated his 30-year accomplishment on Wednesday by donning a helmet, firing up the engine and making hot laps around NASCAR’s biggest and baddest track. The car’s engine hadn’t been cranked since the car was put on display at the nearby International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1986.
It felt like a million bucks. I really miss the competitive side of racing week-in and week-out. I ran so many laps around this race track and tested here so many times in my career. It feels like it was yesterday I was racing here.
The car actually drove surprisingly well. I don’t know how fast I went – couldn’t see for some dirt blowing in my eyes. I think that is the way I drove here in ’85 - with my eyes closed most of the race, so I was right at home. I wanted to go faster but the oil temp went up a bit and I said ‘it (engine) isn’t going to live long.
When asked if he wanted to come out of retirement to compete at Talladega again, Elliott joked,
I want to come back next Sunday for the GEICO 500. Don’t tell anyone. I hope the car gets through inspection.
That unexpected 1985 pit stop, which occurred on lap 48 after Elliott had already led 25 laps, lasted one minute and nine seconds, putting the Dawsonville, GA, native within shouting distance of falling two laps down. He began his march up the leaderboard by turning laps nearly a second faster than the leaders, banking that his brother’s (Ernie Elliott) prepared engine would last. Ninety-seven laps later on lap 145, he passed Cale Yarborough down the Alabama Gang Superstretch for the lead.
The NASCAR Hall of Famer remembered,
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.
Elliott shared his thoughts after that day in the Winner’s Circle,
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.
The 1985 Talladega win was one of many accomplishments for Elliott at NASCAR’s Most Competitive track. In addition to his two victories, he had four runner-up efforts. He is the all-time leader in pole positions at TSS with eight, including six straight with sweeps in 1985, ’86 & ’87.
His 1987 pole result of 212.809 mph still stands today as the official fastest ever.