By LARRY EDENS for the Daily Telegraph
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BRISTOL, Tenn. —
On a television monitor in the Media Center at Bristol Motor Speedway, the replay ran over and over again.
But during each and every showing of the 1988 Valleydale 500, there was one keenly interested observer: race winner Bill Elliott.
Attending a January press conference to honor the 25th anniversary of his only win at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile, Elliott expressed disbelief that a quarter century had passed since he found Bristol’s Victory Lane in his No. 9 Melling Racing Ford.
“I was talking to somebody earlier about it being 25 years and I said ‘It just doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, seems like it was 25 days.’ Time goes by so fast,” said Elliott. “Where has the time gone?
“My son (Chase) is now 17 and he’s racing at a lot of these places, so I’m just trying to keep up and follow him around.”
That 1988 race was a contentious one, especially between Elliott and Geoff Bodine. In fact, with only eight laps remaining, Bodine spun Elliott out. During the ensuing caution flag, both Bodine and Elliott pitted. Elliott took on four tires; Bodine only two. The two-tire difference made a difference.
“When I was watching (the) video, I saw how we got together in Turn Three and he kept coming up the hill, up the hill, up the hill. I said ‘Man he really must have wanted to spin me out,’” Elliott said. “(After the pit stop), I was thinking that I had four fresh tires and he didn’t.
“All I was thinking was ‘beat him, just beat Geoff.’ That’s all I had in my head. I was going to do whatever it took but mainly, I wanted to beat him fair and square.”
Elliott’s then-accepted bump-and-run move on Bodine on lap 498 allowed him to take over the lead. He fought off a charging Mark Martin the final two laps for his first-ever short-track victory. He likened the skirmishes with Bodine to a familial event.
“I’ve always said as much as you loved or hated the guys you raced against, it was kind of being with your family,” Elliott said. “Most of them would get on top of the building and jump off the building with you if that’s what you chose to do but then again they’d scrap with you if they thought you were roughing them up, like Bodine did to me.
“Sometimes things happen, you crowd somebody or they crowd you… everybody sees it a different way. You look back at that race and a lot of guys had trouble, there was only a handful on the lead lap.
“That wouldn’t happen in today’s world. These races today… there are lots of cars left on the lead lap, so decisions you’d make during the race were different then than they would be today.”
Elliott has watched the evolution of his sport and seen how technology and money have changed it.
“I think back to how hard (my) era really was … you didn’t go anywhere to buy cars, you hand-made stuff, and that was so time-consuming. We only had five or six cars, a couple of superspeedway cars, maybe an intermediate car and a short track and road course car,” he said.
“You know, one of each, and we kind of scrapped something together for a backup and then hoped we didn’t have to pull it out of truck. Early on, we didn’t even have a backup car.
“We had 12 guys total in the shop, that was the engine shop and the chassis shop. We worked ourselves to death and I don’t think people realize how hard we worked to do what we did. I tell you, you just didn’t have the people, the manpower to do all they do today.
“We never had a car sitting in the truck that was 100 percent ready to go. It’s so different these days; all the technology and all they have now is just so different.
“I look at how my dad did things and how I learned and it’s so different today. We had to scrap for everything we got. Now, it’s a little different for my son because of my experiences and I’ve been able to help him.
“These days though, you have to come in with money and sponsors or you don’t stand a chance.”
Elliott’s racing legacy is shaped by the 1988 Winston Cup Championship, 44 career wins, and 16 Most Popular Driver awards. He last raced at Bristol in 2011 and accumulated 14 career Top-Ten finishes at BMS.
He ran only two races in 2012 and has no plans to compete this year.
His focus is on his son’s career and their Late Model program. As to what he told Chase before his first race at Bristol?
“I told him it’s the neatest place you’ll ever go race,” he said. “It’s just a lot of fun and it’s so unique.”
For Bill Elliott, as much as some things have changed a great deal over the last 25 years, some things haven’t changed at all.