And there have been others that, uh, haven’t been so exciting. They’ve been dull, messy and in some cases, controversial.
Reckon we could say that about every race at every track.
But as the longest race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit, and arguably the most demanding, the Coca-Cola 600 is considered one of stock car racing’s premier events.
Also, races at CMS are so well-hyped by the speedway’s creative, indefatigable public relations and marketing staffs that many fans, and let’s face it, members of the media, are chomping at the bit to see what’s going to happen.
So it will be, again, this year.
Let’s hope the Coca-Cola 600 lives up to its billing. I think all of us would like that.
What we wouldn’t like is a repeat of the 1988 Coca-Cola 600, then known as the World 600.
It’s not likely we will because there was a set of circumstances surrounding the 600 of that year, which, thankfully, do not exist now.
The cause of the vast majority of the wrecks was tire failure. And there was a good reason for that.
In 1988, Hoosier Tire Co. came into what was then known as the Winston Cup circuit. The small company was going to challenge Goodyear, the long-standing sole supplier of NASCAR tires – which, incidentally, had already held off a couple of challenges from other companies.
But Hoosier meant business.
Always looking for an edge, some teams quickly adopted Hoosier tires. And it looked like that would be a good move.
In February, Morgan Shepherd won the pole at Richmond, on Hoosiers for the lightly regarded Winkle team.
Then came a shocker. Neil Bonnett, driving for the Rahmoc Enterprises team, and racing on Hoosiers, won back-to-back races at Richmond and Rockingham.
What became known as “The Tire Wars” was on.
Hoosier and Goodyear prepared new tires for virtually every race. Some had more grip for speed but suffered in longevity. Others were a bit slower but could be counted on to last much longer.
Goodyear and Hoosier feverishly attempted to create tires that had grip and endurance.
Teams had to decide which tire would serve them better as they prepared for each race.
It appeared the selection for the 600-mile race at Charlotte would be simple.
Although Goodyear was intent on surpassing Hoosier, preliminary events at Charlotte indicated the compound Goodyear had developed would not stand the strain of a hot day and very high speeds.
So it was that every driver’s car in the 600 was mounted with Hoosier tires – all but one.
Dave Marcis, intensely loyal to Goodyear throughout his long career, shunned Hoosier.
Darrell Waltrip, driving for Hendrick Motorsports, went on to win the race by .24-second over Rusty Wallace, driving for Raymond Beadle.
It might have been a close finish, but the race itself was a mess.
The Hoosier tires apparently couldn’t stand the heat and speed any better than Goodyear’s. Blown rubber created wreck after wreck.
“We knew about the tire problems that would happen,” said Waltrip after the race. “I had watched guys pass me and then take off, only to see them in the wall a few laps later.”
A blown tire sent Bonnett into the wall on lap 115 of 400. He spent the night in a hospital but was able to race a week later at Dover.
Harry Gant, known as “The Skoal Bandit,” experienced the same fate. On lap 233, his Chevrolet slammed the wall hard in the second turn. Gant broke two bones in his leg and missed the next five races. Morgan Shepherd replaced him.
Buddy Baker, driving for his own team, was swept up in a multicar accident on lap 244. At first he appeared be unharmed.
But, several weeks later, it was discovered that Baker had a blood clot on his brain. After 1988, he made only 17 starts before his career ended in 1992.
Other drivers taken out by tire-related accidents included Cale Yarborough, Jim Sauter, Derrike Cope, Brad Noffsinger and Rick Wilson, who was also taken to the hospital.
Even with Goodyears, Marcis wasn’t spared. Sterling Marlin experienced yet another blown tire grazed the wall and attempted to make it back to the pits.
But he drifted into Marcis’ path. Marcis hit him, sailed into the fourth-turn wall and out of the race.
Hoosier won eight of the first 16 races of 1988, but only one of the final 13.
“The Tire Wars” continued into 1989, but came to an end after Goodyear had, finally, successfully developed a radial tire for racing.
On May 8, one day after the Winston 500 at Talladega, Hoosier pulled out of Winston Cup racing.
The wars were over.
But, certainly, there had been casualties.