Which shouldn’t be considered unordinary. Given its 2.66-mile distance and high banking, which produce incredible speeds, and the tight racing created by the high-speed draft, anything can happen at Talladega. To be frank, it has.
Some of it – such as the high number of excruciatingly close finishes – has been positive. Some of it – such as massive accidents, cars flying into catchfences, over the wall, or worse, – has been negative.
But, good or bad, it’s all part of Talladega history, which makes it part of NASCAR lore.
I did say downright unusual races, didn’t I? Oh, Talladega has had plenty of those; races in which there arose circumstances not seen anywhere else and could hardly be believed.
One of them happened on May 5, 1985.
In the Winston 500 of that year, Bill Elliott did something that hadn’t been done at Talladega before nor has been achieved since.
He made up two lost laps without the benefit of a caution period. In other words, he lost over five miles to the rest of the field, recovered the distance by simply running it down lap after lap and then, remarkably, won the race.
It was an achievement so astonishing that, to this day, many do not believe it happened. They contend NASCAR fouled up somewhere – maybe in scoring or something like that. What Elliott did was impossible.
Me? I only know what I saw.
The 1985 season was the one that propelled Elliott into superstardom. He would win 11 superspeedway races and the first Winston Million bonus that year.
By the time the season’s first event at Talladega rolled around, Elliott had already won three big-track races, at Daytona, Atlanta and Darlington. He was the favorite to win the Winston 500.
He won the pole with a blistering speed of 209.398 mph utilizing an engine unfettered by a restrictor plate.
But after just 48 laps Elliott’s Melling Racing Ford started smoking badly. He began to lose power. He pitted and brother Ernie diagnosed and repaired a loose oil fitting.
It was a minor problem but it cost Elliott major distance. He returned to the race in 26th place. He was 2.03 seconds from being a full two laps down. To most observers, he’d lose that second lap quickly.
The race continued under green lap after lap – which was something unusual for Talladega, where wrecks, at times big ones, are common.
As each green-flag lap passed, Elliott faded from media consciousness – and for good reason. Without a caution period there was no way he stood a chance. No way would he regain his lost distance.
But one thing was forgotten. As long as the race continued under green-flag conditions one conclusion was simple: The fastest car, be that through horsepower, setup or a combination of both, would eventually lead.
Nine drivers did, indeed, lead after Elliott pitted. But his Ford was clocked consistently at a speed of 205 mph, faster than the others.
In time, somebody in the press box said aloud, “I think Bill just made up one lap. Ain’t too sure, but he might be on the lead lap now, a long way back.”
I yawned. So what, I thought. Elliott still needed a caution flag. If he got one, then he would be up front on the restart, on the tail end of the lead lap. He’d have a chance then.
But as time passed, the media began to notice Elliott. He was passing everyone, moving steadily through the field. His Ford clearly had dominant horsepower.
On lap 145, just 39 laps from the end of the race, Elliott passed Cale Yarborough to take the lead. The race had yet to experience its first caution period.
Fans were awestruck.
Those of us in the press box began to debate how Elliott could possibly have done what he did. There was only one answer: He ran everyone down because of the raw power his Ford possessed.
Elliott won the race by 1.72 seconds over Kyle Petty, then driving for the Wood Brothers.
When Elliott came to the press box, naturally he was inundated with questions, nearly off which asked him how he could make up a lost five miles in a race that had only two caution periods for eight laps.
“It’s a real credit to Ernie and all the guys in the crew,” said Elliott, who clearly followed the party line.
Elliott’s performance at Talladega only fueled the argument that he, and brother Ernie, had concocted a means by which their Ford’s engines were so much more powerful than others that they had created a great, and unfair, advantage.
Talladega would certainly not be the last race in which Elliott’s competitive superiority would be called into question.
But it would be, however it was done, the only Talladega race – or any other in NASCAR, for that matter – in which a driver made up so much lost distance solely on his own.