Iconic drivers race at Talladega in the 1980s

submitted photo

Bill Elliott set NASCAR’s official qualifying speed record of 212.809 mph in the spring of 1987 in what was the fasted field in NASCAR history.

Springtime NASCAR premier series races in the 1980s at Talladega Superspeedway, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, were known for what it was built for – trademark finishes and “official” speed records, along with the greatest comeback in NASCAR history, the Alabama Gang’s protection of their home turf and Hall of Famers ruling the way.

The world’s largest superspeedway was the creation of Big Bill France in 1969. It is the site where Benny Parsons made history in spring of 1982, becoming the first driver to break the 200-mph mark in “official” qualifying for a premier series race at a speed of 200.176 mph. Twelve years earlier, Buddy Baker, in a winged, aerodynamic Dodge Daytona that was banned after the 1970 season, eclipsed 200 mph during a testing session on the 2.66-mile, 33-degree banked venue, but it wasn’t during qualifying for an official race.

And, just four years later in ’86, the mammoth track hosted the first “all-200 mph” qualifying field in stock car history, led by Bill Elliott at better than 212 mph. Twelve months later, Elliott, in his famous No. 9 Ford, would rewrite the history books yet again, this time turning a hot lap of 212.809 mph, a NASCAR record that still stands today. Elliott would show his dominance of speed, capturing six straight pole positions, sweeping both Talladega races from 1985-87.

While the speeds increased during the decade, fantastic finishes became the norm. All but one race was won by a nail-biting car length or less while Elliott’s 1.72-second triumph in 1985 will go down in history as the greatest comeback in NASCAR lore.

There were eight different winners of the 10 spring races at Talladega Superspeedway in the ‘80s and two – Bobby Allison and his son Davey Allison from the famed Alabama Gang – reeled off two each.

The following are quick recaps of each springtime race at Talladega in the ‘80s, which captured memorable moments:

1980: With just a little more than 30 laps to go, Baker, who had pitted for four fresh tires, was 18 seconds behind leader Dale Earnhardt, who had taken on only two tires during his final stop. Handling better in the turns, Baker cut more than a half-second off the lead and eventually passed Earnhardt with three to go. Earnhardt made a last-ditch effort for the win coming to the checkered flag, but fell three feet short.

1981: Bobby Allison holds off the trio of Baker, Darrell Waltrip, and Ricky Rudd in a show that featured six lead changes over the final seven laps between Baker and Allison.

1982: Waltrip betters Terry Labonte, Parsons, and Kyle Petty as the quartet was only inches apart at the finish line. Waltrip would come back later in the year for a ‘Dega sweep.

1983: Richard Petty claims his second and final Talladega win by holding off Parsons, Lake Speed, and Harry Gant.

1984: Talladega sets the all-time NASCAR record for lead changes with 75 that stands until 2011 when the track breaks its own record in the spring event. Cale Yarborough makes a last-lap pass and wins over Gant by a car length, with Baker third and Allison fourth.

1985: In the most dramatic comeback in history, Elliott comes from nearly two laps down – more than five miles – under green flag conditions to win. Giving up the lead on lap 37 after a lengthy pit stop to repair a loose oil line, Elliott retakes the lead with the assistance of a caution period on lap 145. He wins at an average speed of 186.288 mph while blowing past the likes of Kyle Petty, Yarborough, and Allison.

1986: In a 42-car field that saw all drivers qualify at better than 200 mph, Allison negates Earnhardt’s turn 4 effort to pass for the lead. Baker was a close third. It would be Allison’s fourth and final triumph at Talladega.

1987: In what was the fastest field in NASCAR history – average speed of starters was 207.049 mph, Davey Allison celebrates his first Cup victory in front of his hometown fans over Terry Labonte and Kyle Petty. Davey’s father, Bobby, was involved in a crash that later resulted (1988) in NASCAR’s implementation of restrictor plates at Talladega and Daytona.

1988: Phil Parsons, younger brother of Benny, captures his first and only victory in NASCAR’s premier series by edging Bobby Allison.

1989: Davey Allison records his second spring victory with a stellar effort over Terry Labonte, who secured his third runner-up finish in eight spring events. Mark Martin was just a few feet behind in third.

The competitors who visited Talladega’s Victory Lane in the spring races of the ‘80s would win a total of 23 times at the track before their retirement: Baker – 4, Bobby Allison – 4, Waltrip – 4, Richard Petty – 2, Yarborough – 3, Elliott – 2, Davey Allison – 3, and Phil Parson – 1. All but Phil Parsons are members of International Motorsports Hall of Fame, while six are in NASCAR Hall of Fame, with the exception is Phil Parsons and Buddy Baker, who is a 2020 nominee.