The Two-Car Team, With Darrell And Neil, Came In 1984

After the close loss to Bobby Allison in the fight for the 1983 Winston Cup championship, few anticipated any changes at Junior Johnson & Associates.

There was little reason for them. After all, with Darrell Waltrip aboard as driver, the team had won consecutive titles, in 1981 and 1982, and had come so very close to a third in a row – which would have matched the record set by Cale Yarborough in 1976-78 when he drove for Junior.

However, not only were there mere changes, there were almost unprecedented changes.

With the participation of financial partner Warner Hodgdon, Junior re-fitted his entire organization.

It would become something that had rarely been attempted and only once had been successful in NASCAR history.

There weren’t many who believed that what Junior had done could possibly match it.

In 1984 the evidence would come soon enough.

Junior’s commentaries, and more, will return to www.motorsportsunplugged.com in January 2012.

Perhaps the most drastic changes I made at Junior Johnson & Associates came late in 1983 as we prepared for the ’84 season.

Now, I had shaken up things a bit in the past, that’s for sure. Carling Brewery actually bought my team in 1974 and we fielded a car for a Canadian rookie, Earl Ross, as well as one for Cale.

But what was to be a long-term arrangement ended after just one season and I was easily able to buy back my entire team.

Then, in 1982 for the ’83 season, I took on Warner Hodgdon, a California real estate developer, as a partner. I thought his input would be good for the team and, in fact, it was.

The first season with Hodgdon was a very good one despite the fact that, with Darrell driving, we came up short in our effort to win a third-straight championship.

We lost it by 47 points to Bobby Allison, who won the first title of his career – and, as I’ve said more than once, would have captured a whole lot sooner had he raced for me beyond the 1972 season.

But just before the 1984 season started, well, I reckon I let loose with a bombshell.

In November of 1983, I announced, with Hodgdon, that our team would switch from Pepsi sponsorship to Anheuser-Busch for 1984. I had worked with the company before with its Busch brand of beer, but this time it was going to be Budweiser.

And there was something else.

Junior Johnson & Associates would become a two-car team. Hodgdon was going to bring Neil Bonnett over from Rahmoc Enterprises to be our second driver under the Budweiser sponsorship.

We were going to be a multicar team – a rarity in NASCAR. It had happened only a few times in the past. I tired it a decade earlier and as I recall, the Pettys did it a couple of times in the early ‘70s, although not on a full schedule, with drivers Pete Hamilton and Buddy Baker.

And Carl Kiekhaefer made history with his multicar, championship team of the 1950’s.

Darrell wasn’t thrilled with the two-car concept. In fact, he didn’t like it a bit. Except for Kiekhaefer, no one had made it work.

I told Darrell that I’d make sure he wasn’t held back any by Neil’s team. And by the end of the season it was easy to see I kept my word.

The season started just about as well as it could for us. Neil won the Busch Clash at Daytona with a last-lap pass on Baker.

Darrell was masterful in the Daytona 500 but lost it when Cale and Dale Earnhardt came slinging by on the last lap.

By August, Darrell had won four races, at Bristol, Darlington, Nashville and Michigan. On the other hand, Neil hadn’t won but had

Labonte

Terry Labonte, driving for Billy Hagan, won the 1984 Winston Cup championship despite the fact he won only two races. Darrell Waltrip, who drove for Junior, won seven yet finished fifth in points. Waltrip said the points system should be changed to better reward victories - which it does today.

turned in some impressive performances.

Actually he would have won at Nashville if NASCAR hadn’t ruled in Darrell’s favor. Let me explain:

Darrell was leading on lap 418 of 420 when the yellow and white flags flew simultaneously following an accident. Neil passed Darrell and NASCAR gave him the checkered flag.

Darrell protested, saying he had been passed illegally.

Heck, I didn’t discourage him. Whatever ruling NASCAR handed down would be fine with me. My team would win either way – although I do admit I was hoping it would be Neil just for his personal satisfaction.

Two days later, however, NASCAR ruled in Darrell’s favor.

As the season moved into its closing months, Darrell was to win three more times. We ended the season with seven victories, more than twice as many as any other team.

But we didn’t win the championship. Terry Labonte, who had a very consistent season, with 17 finishes among the top five and 24 in the top 10, took the title.

But he won only two races.

As fate would have it, despite the fact that he won more races than anyone else, Darrell finished fifth in points, behind Labonte, Harry Gant, Bill Elliott and Dale. None of them won more than three times during the year.

As you might imagine, Darrell wasn’t very happy. He didn’t think a driver who won the most races should be shut out of a championship.

Heck, I agreed.

“Winning ought to award more points; bonus points,” Darrell said. “We’ve won more than anybody and we should at least be in contention for the championship. We ought to have a system that rewards running to win, not running just to finish.”

You know what? It’s pretty ironic that such a system is just what NASCAR has had for several years now.

Neil didn’t win in his first year with me, but he did have 14 top-10 finishes and wound up eighth in points.

Not a bad start for a multicar team, in my opinion.

However, it was just that – a start.

I didn’t know it at the time but a rocky road was ahead.

Some New Twists For 1983 And, Yes, Another Slugfest With Allison

Darrell Waltrip won his second consecutive career Winston Cup championship with Junior in 1982 and both he and Junior determined there was no reason they couldn’t earn yet another title.

However, things weren’t quite the same in 1983. Junior decided to take on a business partner; a team co-owner who would provide an infusion of money needed during a time when NASCAR organizations were clawing for sponsorships.

And, as had been in seasons past, the year did not start off well. Waltrip was involved in a serious crash at Daytona that left him virtually a shell of himself for a few weeks. Junior believes his driver never fully recovered from the incident.

A strong challenge was issued early from Bobby Allison, a long-time rival for Waltrip and Junior Johnson & Associates.

For much of the season, Junior’s team was up to the challenge – at least it was within striking distance of Allison’s DiGard Racing Co. team, which raced its way to No. 1 in the point standings.

The scenario seemed to be much the same as it was in 1982, when Allison and Waltrip fought it out in a memorable battle for the championship.

But then, the season wasn’t over.

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

 

I know that many folks were stunned with a decision I made prior to the start of the 1983 season, but I did it because the offer was good and NASCAR was enduring a time when teams were scrapping for sponsors – and I didn’t want mine to be one of them.

When California businessman Warner Hodgdon – a real estate developer – came to me in late summer or early fall of 1982, he asked me about buying into my name and into Junior Johnson & Associates.

I took the offer because it was sound. It gave the team additional financial backing and it added to our sponsorship packages. It made Hodgdon my partner.

I had done something like this before, with Carling Brewery, almost a decade earlier. It didn’t last long but it proved worthwhile for me.

I thought it could be the same, even better, with Hodgdon. He had a half-interest in the Bristol, Nashville, North Wilkesboro and Richmond tracks. He sponsored both races at Rockingham and was a co-owner of the Rahmoc Enterprises team and driver Neil Bonnett.

So we began the 1983 season infused with new money, which, as you might think, raised our hopes for yet another championship with Darrell.

I have to admit I thought about how special it would be to win three consecutive titles with two different drivers. That would make NASCAR history.

But it seemed we were doomed almost from the start.

At Daytona, Darrell was involved in serious crash that began after Dale Earnhardt suffered a blown engine. Darrell hit the inside wall along turn four really hard. He was taken to Halifax Hospital where it was learned he had suffered a concussion. He was kept overnight and released.

Darrell couldn’t remember anything about Daytona but he returned to race the next week at Richmond. Looking back, he shouldn’t have done that. He was hurt far more than we suspected. He qualified fourth but dropped out of the race before the halfway point with a mechanical failure.

I thought Darrell was in a fog for the whole Richmond weekend. Sometime afterward he admitted to me that, just like Daytona, he didn’t remember a thing about the race.

I think his injury kept Darrell from accomplishing a lot more in future years. I think he would have done much more if that hadn’t happened.

Darrell has downplayed that over the years but does admit that to race at Richmond so soon after the crash was probably a fool thing to do.

“Hindsight makes you a lot smarter,” he said.

Waltrip

Junior Johnson & Associates sported Pepsi as a sponsor for the Chevrolets driven by Darrell Waltrip in 1983. The team also added a new co-owner when Junior surprisingly agreed to take on Warner Hodgdon as a partner.

After Richmond, it certainly appeared things were going to be just fine. Darrell ran third a week later at Rockingham. He then won for the first time in 1983 at North Wilkesboro to start a streak of four victories in six races, adding victories at Martinsville, Nashville and Bristol.

But we couldn’t get the points lead. After Darrell won at Bristol, for his 15th victory in 20 short-track races, he was just hanging on to the top-five in the standings.

The leader? Do I really have to tell you? After two seasons of head-to-head battles with Darrell, and losing them both, out in front was Bobby Allison, our old nemesis. He was still driving for DiGard Racing Co.

Bobby admitted he was miserable after losing the championship, closely, over the previous two seasons. He said that in 1983 he was going for the title harder than ever and that, sooner or later, he would win one.

I never doubted his resolve.

So the situation was simple: If Darrell and I were to win a third-straight title we’d have to beat Bobby.

Certainly Bobby knew he’d have to beat us to win the championship. And he was going to do everything he could to do just that – even running his mouth.

When Bobby won at Dover in May, he said that we had been cheating all along and that he had won the race because he had been given our “secrets” from a former Johnson-Hodgdon employee. Funny thing, but he wouldn’t divulge exactly what those “secrets” were.

Bobby started a war of words. I knew he was going to lose it and I wouldn’t have to say a thing.

The very next week Darrell won at Bristol. He beat Bobby and they were the only two drivers on the lead lap. As I thought he would, Darrell pounced.

“Obviously we haven’t given away all of our secrets, have we?” he said in victory lane. I loved it.

Unfortunately, Darrell didn’t have the chance to fire off a few more verbal salvos for the next three months. We didn’t win a race. Bobby won only once but his other finishes were good enough to keep him ahead of us in the point standings.

Reckon I knew just how badly Bobby wanted to win the championship at the Talladega 500 in July. Darrell and Dale were fighting for the lead. On the last lap, Bobby tucked in behind Dale and gave him the push he needed to win the race.

Thing about it was, Bobby was a lap down. He had no business getting involved. He shouldn’t have been sticking his nose into it – hey, he was in ninth place with no chance to win. He should have let Darrell and Dale decide it between them.

“No doubt about it,” Darrell said. “Bobby won his one for Dale.”

It showed just how much Bobby coveted the championship; how much he wanted to, at last, take the measure of Darrell and our team. He would do whatever it took. That was obvious.

After Talladega, Darrell was 170 points behind Bobby in the standings. There were 11 races remaining in the season.

There was plenty of time left to make up the difference.

I certainly didn’t know it then, but there was also plenty of time for some of the most unusual events in NASCAR’s history to unfold.


Another Title Year, But Along Came “Jaws”

After the successful 1976 season, in which he won his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship, Junior felt his team had finally reached its stride. He had no doubt 1977 would be another banner year.

There was reason for Junior to be optimistic. His team and driver remained intact and would campaign a new car approved by NASCAR.

It was the slope-nosed Chevrolet Laguna S-3, judged by nearly everyone to be the car to beat on the superspeedways.

Of course, Junior Johnson & Associates wasn’t the only team that would race the car in 1977. Another was the fledgling DiGard Racing Co., which had Darrell Waltrip as its driver.

Waltrip won two short-track races for DiGard in 1975 and 1976. But he was far from happy. His team failed to finish 16 of 30 races in 1976.

That did not sit well with the ambitious, brash Waltrip, a Kentucky native who had never shied away from expressing his opinions.

Crew chief Mario Rossi was gone before the season started. Replacement David Ifft lasted a month and the job was handed to Buddy Parrott.

As much turmoil as there was at DiGard, all went smoothly for Junior’s team – for the most part, anyway.

For the first time there was discord between Junior and Cale. Also, despite its internal problems, DiGard became a NASCAR force.

It and Junior Johnson & Associates won the most races.

It was just a matter of time before the teams, and their drivers, were at loggerheads.

 

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

 

My faith in Cale and the team was rewarded just as the season began.

We won the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s most prestigious race and followed that with a victory at Richmond one week later.

Then we went on our usual short-track blitz, winning at North Wilkesboro, Bristol and Martinsville. To be honest, everyone thought our team was the one to beat on half-milers, but that didn’t happen often.

Then we went on to win at Dover and Michigan. Cale led the point standings for the first 17 races of the season and, to tell you the truth, I was feeling pretty cocky.

But at Daytona on July 4, we suffered a broken transmission and finished 23rd, 14 laps down, to winner Richard Petty, who had been dogging us in the points all season long. Cale’s lead shrank to 17 points over Petty.

Twelve days later at Nashville, Cale finished a respectable fourth as Darrell Waltrip won. Waltrip, by the way, had been steadily improving – and piling up victories – with DiGard.

We came out of that race with a 12-point lead over Petty.

Then we lost our advantage at Pocono. Cale finished sixth and Petty was the runnerup to Benny Parsons. We lost the points lead for the first time that season as Petty swept into an eight-point lead.

As disappointing as that was I knew it was a lead of little substance. We could get it back in the very next race.

Which we did at Talladega after Cale finished second to Donnie Allison, who had to get out of Hoss Ellington’s Chevrolet after the heat got to him

His relief driver? Waltrip. A bit ironic don’t you think?

Everyone on our team was happy that we had retaken the points lead by 32 over Petty. That is, everyone but a single individual – and that was Cale.

For some reason he thought our Chevrolet was junk. He sounded off about it afterward. He said he had the sorriest Chevrolet in the race and that if he had won, “I’d be in court Monday morning for stealing.”

I thought to myself, “What the hell?” Here we finish second, retake the points lead and Cale has the audacity to criticize our Chevrolet? I admit I was pretty steamed.

I told the media, “Here we are in the middle of a championship battle and if Cale starts to running his mouth, he’ll be looking for another car.

“We don’t have to listen to a bunch of lip from him.”

And I meant it. I wasn’t going to tolerate any of Cale’s guff. I know for a fact he was never one not to speak up when things bothered him. But he knew I meant what I said.

We didn’t know it at the time, of course, but Cale would lead the points standings for the remainder of the year and win a second consecutive Winston Cup title.

For us, that was the end of the verbal confrontations, but not those on the track.

In the Southern 500 at Darlington, Cale and Waltrip went head-to-head, and lip-to-lip, for the first time.

They staged a terrific battle for position until, on lap 277 of 367, they finally crashed. Waltrip tapped the rear of D.K. Ulrich’s car, sending him into our Chevrolet. Terry Bivins became involved in the four-car melee. Everyone suffered extensive damage.

Afterward, Ulrich went up to Cale and asked, “You knocked the hell out of me. Why did you hit me?”

Cale told him the truth. He said he wasn’t the culprit, Waltrip was. “I didn’t touch you. Ol’ Jaws hit you.”

“Who?” Ulrich asked.

“Jaws,” Cale heatedly said. “It was ol’ Jaws Waltrip.”

Cale had given Waltrip his lasting nickname – that of the famous movie shark.

I thought that was pretty funny. But I knew Waltrip well enough to know he wasn’t going to take it. He would, somehow, retaliate.

At Martinsville in intense, searing heat, Cale won. But he was completely physically spent. He was red-faced, drenched in sweat and, to be honest, looked like a prisoner of war.

He told the media the length of Martinsville’s races should be cut from 500 laps. It had gotten to the point where driver fatigue was more dangerous than actual racing.

He added that, as far as physical punishment, Martinsville was the absolute worst.

If Cale had asked my opinion, I would have told him to shut up. I knew that the track’s bulldog president, Clay Earles, wasn’t going to stand for his remarks.

He didn’t. He said he would not reduce the length of his races and if drivers didn’t like it, they could stay away.

A week later at North Wilkesboro, Waltrip got his chance. He outran Cale to win and promptly fired the next shot in the verbal war.

“I’d have to say this was a one-and-a-half or two on the ‘Cale Scale’,” he said. Everyone knew what he meant.

“I think Cale’s problem could be his years. I know I’m finding out I can’t do the things I did 10 years ago.”

They weren’t that far apart in years. Cale was 38 years old, Waltrip 30.

Me? I thought the whole thing was funny. I could see where Waltrip was coming from. Cale was on top of the heap and Waltrip did everything he could to knock him off, one way or another.

I got a few chuckles but I stayed out of it. I could easily afford to. After North Wilkesboro we had a 293-point lead over Petty. We won the championship three weeks later at Rockingham, two races before the end of the season. Cale won nine races that year.

Waltrip finished fourth in points with six victories, his best season with DiGard. I knew he was going to be a force in the future.

What I didn’t know is that within a short time, I would become more involved with him than ever I could imagine.

It All Came Together For Cale, Team In 1976

After the somewhat disappointing 1975 season, Junior was nonetheless convinced his team and driver had what it took to win a Winston Cup championship.

He thought, correctly, that three years’ worth of seasoning with driver Cale Yarborough, while it had already paid benefits, could provide bigger ones to come – and more of them.

It evolved that Yarborough and Junior Johnson & Associates did win their first title in 1976. While Yarborough captured nine victories, it was the team’s astounding consistency that brought the Winston Cup home.

The fact that Johnson, Yarborough and the team put together a string of four consecutive victories late in the season certainly didn’t hurt the cause one bit.

 

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

 

 

When the 1976 Winston Cup season started, believe it or not, I wasn’t faced with a dilemma.

Unlike in the past I actually had a sponsor – Holly Farms, which had signed on early in 1975 after our team began the year without financial backing.

There was very little change in personnel and certainly Cale Yarborough was ready to go again in ’76. We didn’t have quite the year we expected in 1975 as Cale won only three races in 27 starts and we ended up ninth in the point standings.

But I was very optimistic, and there was a reason for that. We were in our third year together and I believed that it took all of that time for our team to mesh with Cale’s talents.

When we lost the championship in 1972 it kinda irritated me. I felt we had the right crew and that everyone, and me, associated with the team was doing their job to win the championship. They deserved to win it; they worked hard to win it.

But when we lost it like we did, I was determined to get back to the point where I had the driver and the team to win the championship.

We had some trial-and-error moments with Cale from the time he came on board in 1973, there’s no doubt about that. Yes, they were a good three years but they had some bad moments.

But, as I said earlier, I felt that starting in 1976 we had the team that could match Cale’s talents.

And I know for sure Cale’s only interests were winning races and championships. I never believed he had a hidden agenda, which I thought Bobby Allison had when he drove for us in 1972.

Cale won nine races in 1976, just one less than in 1974, and we won our first Winston Cup title by 195 points over Richard Petty, who was always in the championship hunt.

Even though Cale won fewer races than he did two years earlier – although three times as many as in ’75 – we were much more consistent. That made all the difference.

Cale had more finishes among the top five – 22 – and finished more times among the top 10 – 23 – than any other driver in NASCAR.

Finishes like that really pile up the points.

Cale wasn’t the dominant driver of 1976. That was David Pearson, who won 10 of the 22 races he entered with the Wood Brothers.

But David and the Woods ran only a limited schedule and were not in contention for the championship.

Let me tell you what consistency is all about.

When you have a guy who gives you 100 percent, who will hang the car on the wall every lap if he has to in order to win, then you are able to extend.

You extend the motors, the chassis setups, the gear arrangements and so forth and you don’t get into trouble when you do that.

That’s because you have a driver with determination yet who is smart enough to do the right thing under different circumstances.

Cale’s determination was unbelievable but he didn’t have to lean on a motor to the point where he tore it up. He didn’t have to hang himself out with the car and take a chance on tearing up the various combinations we had.

He pretty much stayed in the safety zone most of the time. You combine that with our ability to extend and try different things for different races, well, the results are going to be good – and good results always provide consistency.

That’s the way it was for us in 1976.

Now that I’ve said that it pains me to say that we started our season in the Daytona 500 with a blown engine after just one lap. We finished dead last.

It might have been the absolute worst beginning for any campaign, but we recovered nicely.

Cale won in the fifth race of the season, at Bristol. It was one of seven victories we earned on the short tracks in 1976.

We swept Bristol and North Wilkesboro. We also won at Martinsville, Nashville and Richmond. The only superspeedway races we won were the Firecracker 400 at Daytona (nice rebound for us) and at Dover in September.

But I think what really drove the championship home for us was the way we ran in September through the first week of October.

It started on Sept. 12, when Cale beat Bobby at Richmond. A week later he took the checkered flag at Dover ahead of Richard. On Sept. 26, Cale won the rain –shortened Martinsville race and then he followed that with his second win of the year at North Wilkesboro – where the governor, James Holshouser, had proclaimed “Cale Yarborough Day” in North Carolina.

That’s four consecutive victories in four consecutive weeks. Talk about consistency.

I reckon I don’t have to tell you how tickled I was over how everything turned out in 1976. I figured that because we had meshed as a team and were able to make the most of our cars and Cale’s skills, we could do it all again in 1977.

I certainly didn’t know it at the time, but things would turn out to be a tad different. For one thing, Cale and I had our first real disagreement.

Then we went head-to-head, toe-to-toe and lip-to-lip with a mouthy driver from Tennessee named Darrell Waltrip.

Print This Post Print This Post