Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series chronicling the creation and history of Talladega Superspeedway, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary during the Oct. 11-13 NASCAR Playoffs doubleheader weekend, featuring the 1000Bulbs.com 500 and Sugarlands Shine 250. Read about the track’s creation and highlights from the 1970s. We will feature highlights from key events throughout the decades at the world’s greatest racing venue, which will also debut the culmination of the Transformation Infield Project presented by Graybar, featuring the Talladega Garage Experience, where fans will be immersed into the sport like never before.
Five first-time winners in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, along with Bill Elliott officially becoming the fastest man on the planet and making one of the most miraculous comebacks in NASCAR history, set the tone for a memorable decade at Talladega Superspeedway in the 1980s.
After the track — which celebrates its 50th anniversary Oct. 11-13 with a NASCAR Playoffs doubleheader weekend — saw incredible records and racing in the 1970s, the following decade didn’t disappoint. Ron Bouchard, Bobby Hillin Jr., Davey Allison, Phil Parsons and Ken Schrader all placed their names in NASCAR’s record book as premier series winners after victories at the track that was then known as Alabama International Motor Speedway. Both Allison and Schrader would go on to win more races in the top series of NASCAR, but for Bouchard, Hillin and Parsons, it was the only career triumph.
Elliott, meanwhile, made his own history at Talladega. On May 5, 1985, the Dawsonville, Georgia, native came from nearly two laps down (more than five miles), after a lengthy pit stop to repair a loose oil line, to spectacularly make up the lost time and distance under green flag conditions to win. Two years later, he set NASCAR’s all-time official qualifying mark of 212.809 mph that still stands.
These accomplishments were just a few of those during the 10-year stretch at the mammoth 2.66-mile, 33-degree banked track, which also included:
May 4, 1980: After claiming three race wins at Talladega in the 1970s, Buddy Baker starts off the new decade with a victory driving the black and silver No. 28 known as the Gray Ghost.
- Aug. 3, 1980: Alabama native Neil Bonnett, driving the No. 21 Wood Brothers Mercury, captures his first and only Talladega Cup Series checkered flag in the summer Talladega 500.
- Aug. 2, 1981: In one of the closest finishes in NASCAR’s premier series history, Bouchard, third as the leaders come through the tri-oval on the last lap, uses a slingshot move to pass Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte to win by only a foot in a three-wide finish.
- April 29, 1982: Fan favorite Benny Parsons becomes the first driver to break the 200-mph mark in qualifying at a speed of 200.176 mph.
- Aug. 1, 1982: Waltrip, driving for Junior Johnson, becomes the first repeat winner of the Talladega 500 (now a fall event). There had been 13 different race winners since the inception of the event in September 1969, when Richard Brickhouse took the checkers.
- July 31, 1983: Dale Earnhardt scores his first of 10 Monster Cup Series victories at Talladega, driving the blue and yellow No. 15 Ford for car owner Bud Moore.
- May 6, 1984: The race establishes the venue as NASCAR’s most competitive track, setting the NASCAR record for lead changes with 75 that stands until 2011, when the track breaks its own record with 88 lead changes.
- May 5, 1985: Elliott makes history with his triumph after the five-mile-plus deficit, passing and then pulling away from runner-up Kyle Petty and third-place Cale Yarborough.
- May 4, 1986: All but one of the 42 starters qualify at more than 200 mph. Positions 41 and 42 make the field on provisionals; thus the event technically becomes the first “all 200-mph” field in stock car history.
- May 4, 1986: During pre-race ceremonies, a fan jumps behind the wheel of the official NASCAR Pace Car and takes it for a joyride, but is apprehended by law enforcement before completing two laps.
- July 27, 1986: Hillin edges his Stavola Brothers teammate Bobby Allison to claim his first and only win in NASCAR’s top series.
- April 30, 1987: Elliott wins the pole with his record run of more than 212 mph while the average qualifying speed of the field is 207.049 mph, the fastest in stock car history.
- May 3, 1987: After making his Cup debut at Talladega in 1985, Alabama native Davey Allison celebrates his initial triumph in the Cup series. Two years later, he would get Talladega victory No. 2 in 1989.
- May 3, 1987: Bobby Allison is involved in a crash that later results in NASCAR’s implementation of restrictor plates at Talladega and Daytona.
- May 1, 1988: Phil Parsons, younger brother of Benny, holds off Bobby Allison to win in his No. 55 Jackson Brothers Oldsmobile and claim his lone win in NASCAR’s top series.
- July 31, 1988: Schrader makes it a “first-time winners” sweep at Talladega, edging his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Geoff Bodine.
- Oct. 11, 1988: Lynn St. James breaks her women’s closed-course speed record at 212.577 mph in a Ford prepared by the Elliott brothers (Bill, Dan and Ernie).
- Early 1989: Alabama International Motor Speedway officially becomes Talladega Superspeedway.
- King and Prince of Speed: Yarborough sets the pole speed at the 2.66-mile venue in four consecutive races (1983-84) while driving the familiar orange and white No. 28, but Elliott comes back with six straight (1985-87) of his own.
- Victory Bound: Other winners in the decade include Bobby Allison (1981, ’86), Richard Petty (1983), Yarborough (1984, ’85) and Labonte (1989). In addition to his 1983 win, Earnhardt comes back in 1984 driving the famed No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Elliott has another triumph – 1987 – to go along with his 1985 victory.
The tradition continues at the Palace of Speed with the Sugarlands Shine 250 for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series on Saturday, Oct. 12, and the 1000Bulbs.com 500 for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday, Oct. 13 – both crucial NASCAR Playoff events.
In addition, the track will debut the new Talladega Garage Experience, the major part of the Transformation Infield Project presented by Graybar, where fans will be immersed into the sport and the venue like never before. It will feature a fan walkway in the garage bays under the same roof as all of the race teams, free Wi-Fi, value-priced concessions, access to witness the race winner celebrate in Gatorade Victory Lane, and much more.
For ticket information and to learn more about the Talladega Garage Experience and all ticket questions for the upcoming weekend, log onto www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 855-518-RACE (7223).