Awesome Bill Elliott
"Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" has already been inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, and he ain't done yet. Besides a Winston Cup championship, 40 series victories (including two at Daytona), and NASCAR's first million-dollar purse (which he won in 1985), Elliott has been voted NASCAR's most popular driver 12 times.
You might say that William Clyde "Bill" Elliott was anything but awesome in his first NASCAR Winston Cup stock car race. The year was 1976 and Elliott was a fresh-faced twenty-one-year-old from Dawsonville, Georgia. Elliott's first race was the Carolina 500 in Rockingham, and the No. 9 Ford his father had provided for young Bill that day finished a very disappointing thirty-third following engine melt-down on lap thirty-two. As current fans of the sport are aware, Elliott persevered and eventually achieved substantially greater success on the circuit than he did that February day at the "Rock."
Elliott's presence at the track that day was the direct result of a decision made some years before by his dad, George, regarding his three sons, Ernie, Bill, and Dan. It seems that all three boys were quite fond of going fast in their younger years. In time, that need for speed was expressed on the back roads of Dawson County in an assortment of Ford muscle cars. It wasn't long before the boys had gotten into some close calls and had, er, come to the attention of the local constabulary. Rather than see the boys injured in some informal street race, the senior Elliott opted to get them all involved in formal racing. As the owner of the local Ford dealership, he was in an ideal situation to sponsor that pastime. As it worked out, young Bill proved to be the best behind the wheel of a racing car, while Ernie and Dan took more enjoyment from the mechanical work that went into making the car go fast. By pooling their efforts, the groundwork for a natural team was laid.
By 1976, the boys were ready to try their hand at stock car racing's premier series, the Winston Cup. Perhaps it would be most charitable to call that first season an experience builder, for indeed, that is what it was. Bill made eight starts that season both in his dad's No. 9 Ford and Bill Champion's No. 10 Ford. Those outings produced valuable experience, but no top-ten finishes. Truth be told, young Bill's car was often among the first to drop out during a race.
It wasn't until 1979, after the team had picked up a few of Bobby Allison's old Cam 2 Mercurys, that Bill finally brought home a top-five finish. The team made thirteen appearances that season, the first of which came at their "home" track, Atlanta. After making a number of promising runs early in the season (among them a seventh-place finish in the Rebel 500 at Darlington), Elliott drove his No. 9 Mercury to an impressive second place in the Southern 500 behind race winner David Pearson. After the event, Elliott, then considered a rising star on the circuit, said in his thick north Georgia drawl, "We're gainin' on our first win. Maybe we'll win next year."
Though that prediction was off by nearly four seasons, win number one for Elliott and the family team finally came in 1983 after auto parts manufacturer Harry Melling signed on as a major sponsor. When NASCAR downsized in 1981, Bill and the team switched back to Fords. Their small, squared-off Thunderbirds were dressed in black, red, and white Melling racing livery that year. Elliott's first winning season began on a promising note when he finished second behind Cale Yarborough in the Daytona 500.
He got another second at Rockingham one month later, and ultimately scored eleven top-five finishes that season. Win number one came for Elliott at the last race of the year, at Riverside. He qualified his "square-bird" tenth that day, then passed Benny Parsons one lap before a rain-mandated yellow flag caused the field to finish under the caution.
In 1984, the team switched to the new rounded-off Thunderbirds that Ford had unveiled the year before. It proved to be an auspicious change. Elliott used that new body style's superior aerodynamics and his brother Ernie's horsepower to score three wins. Win number two was also Elliott's first superspeedway triumph, and came when he finished ahead of Dale Earnhardt's Chevy at Michigan. His next two wins also came on mile-or-more tracks, Charlotte and Rockingham.
Elliott picked up his "Awesome Bill" nickname in 1985 when he won eleven WC events and the Winston Million. His first 1985 win came at the Daytona 500, where he had put his new Coors-sponsored car on the pole with a record-breaking speed of 205.114mph. Elliott won next at Atlanta, another of the tour's high-speed tracks, and backed it up with yet another superspeedway win at Darlington.
Elliott won the pole at Talladega in 1985 at 209.398mph. During the race, a broken oil fitting seemed to put him out of contention, costing him two laps of track time. Incredibly, Elliott charged back onto the track to lap the whole field – twice - under green flag racing conditions, and ultimately win the race. It was a truly awesome performance and one that caused quite a bit of consternation in both the GM camp and NASCAR's front offices. Elliott had humiliated the Chevrolet competition that day, and his stellar performance also exposed NASCAR's beloved and closely regulated myth of door handle-to-door handle competitiveness. Elliott also had wins at Pocono, Michigan, Darlington (his first Southern 500), and Atlanta that season. Though he'd won eleven times to Darrell Waltrip's mere three, the always-puzzling NASCAR points system relegated Elliott to second in the 1985 season championship.
Elliott won just two races in 1986. Though he was once again the fastest man at Daytona, a crash relegated him to a back-marker finish. He upped the qualifying speed at Talladega to 212.229mph, but engine failure caused a DNF at that race. He finally won at Michigan and became the king of the "Irish Hills" in 1986 when he won the second race there, too.
Though no one knew it at the time, 1987 was to be the fastest racing season in NASCAR history. And, due to the restrictor plates the sanctioning body introduced in 1988 to slow Elliott and other Ford drivers down, it's likely that the 1987 season will remain the fastest for all time. Elliott began the year by blistering Daytona in qualifying with a hot lap of 210.364mph to win the pole, and he dominated the race for his second Daytona 500 win. He turned up the wick even farther at Talladega and qualified first with a 212.809mph lap - the fastest in NASCAR history. Engine problems sidelined his car during the race and another young Ford pilot, Davey Allison, snared the win. Elliott was even fast when it was hot, and he upped Talladega's summer race pole mark to 203.827mph before winning the race handily. He rounded out the season with wins at Michigan, Charlotte, Rockingham, and Atlanta to finish second in the championship again-this time behind Dale Earnhardt.
NASCAR reintroduced the much-hated restrictor plate in 1988 and speeds dropped more than 10mph at both Daytona and Talladega. Elliott won six times that year, including the Southern 500, even though he was no longer the fastest man on the superspeedways. Interestingly, though the NASCAR rules book had slowed him down enough for the rest of the field to catch up at Daytona and Talladega, Elliott logged enough top five finishes to win his first Winston Cup championship in 1988.
Since that season Elliott has not regained his 1985-1988 level of success. He continued on with his Dawsonville-based team until 1992, but only won five times in those three seasons. In 1992, he left Ernie, Dan, and the family team for junior Johnson's No. 11 Ford and posted six more wins during the three years he worked in Ronda, North Carolina (site of Johnson's shop). Today his total number of wins is forty, which ties him with another north Georgia driver named Tim Flock for twelfth on the all-time win list. For the 1995 season, Elliott returned to Dawsonville to re-team with the family effort in a McDonald's-backed Thunderbird.
In 2000, he celebrated his 25th anniversary in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. He made another high-profile move in 2001 when he joined Ray Evernham and Dodge as the lead driver of their organization. The team would herald in a new era for Dodge as the manufacturer made its return to the track after more than 20 years.
Elliott proved he still had the moves of a champion when he captured the pole at one of the circuit's most famous races: the Daytona 500. He made history once again in his No. 9 Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T when he won the pole and the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 11, 2001. It was the first victory for Elliott since September 4, 1994.
Elliott continued to make his fans proud throughout his exhilirating career. His 2001 standings were his best overall since 1994 with one win, two poles, five top-fives, nine top-10s and a 15th place finish in the points. In the 2002 season, he won four poles, finished four times in the top-five, 11 times in the top-10 and captured the checkered flag twice in a row: once at the Pennsylvania 500 and again at the Brickyard 400. By November 9, 2003 he had achieved his fourth win for Evernham Motorsports at Rockingham, moving up from a start in the rear of the field and leading 140 of 393 laps. During that season, he also finished in the top-five nine times and had 12 top-10 finishes. Moreover, Elliott has achieved amazing popularity, winning the NMPA's "Most Popular Driver" Award a record 16 times, eventually retiring his name from the contest in 2003.
In 2004, Elliott drove the #91 Dodge Intrepid for Evernham in three events (along with the Budweiser Shootout) and also drove the #98 Dodge Intrepid in three other events because of sponsorship issues between Coca-Cola (Elliott's sponsor) and Pepsi (Evernham's sponsor). Elliott was listed as the owner of the #98 car, but Evernham leased the car to him. Although he only made six starts during his first part-time season, he still managed to have some success which included a ninth-place finish at Indianapolis and second and third-place qualifying efforts at Texas and California respectively
During the 2005 and 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup seasons, Bill Elliott raced a reduced driving schedule as he prepared to retire. During this new stage in his career, Elliott's first thoughts are for his fans, answering their disappointment by reflecting, "The way I look at it, there's got to be a time when you've got to step back.. We don't live forever. We don't drive forever. We don't do a lot of things forever. It would be nice to do it, but I feel like this is an opportunity for the fans where I can still run some events." During his less rigorous racing schedule, he has devoted more time to showing appreciation for his devoted supporters, scheduling various fan events.
During his less rigorous racing schedule Elliott is able to devote more time to showing appreciation for his devoted supporters as well as spending time with his family. In 2006, Elliott's book, "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" was published by Harper Entertainment, and he currently spends a great deal of time focusing on the up-and-coming racing careers of his son Chase and his nephew Trey Poole.
Since 1976, Elliott has participated in close to 750 races, achieved 44 wins, collected 55 career poles and amassed winnings of some $73 million. With all of his incredible success, he still remains humble, stating, "We are all motivated by certain things. Of course, winning is one of them, but for me, the fans have always been the biggest motivational factor. I've said this over and over-our fans are the backbone of this sport and they are the reason we are able to do what we do." Bill Elliott's devotion to both his sport and his supporters equals his talent, making him a legend with both his team and his fans
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