His 'big break' was a $500 sponsorship deal
NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Bill Elliott was part of the sport before multimillion dollar sponsorship and TV deals, before the drivers were household names, and before the days of luxury suites and condos at the race track. As he talked about his journey to the Hall of Fame in the Charlotte Motor Speedway media center Saturday, the dichotomy was striking.
Elliott (at left in photo with Bobby Allison) recalled his big break in the sport, which attributed to a $500 sponsorship deal in Charlotte in 1980 with Harry Melling.
“I asked Benny (Parsons) one day, ‘Do you think Mr. Melling would give us some money?’ He asked how much we were looking for, and I said like $500,” Elliott said. “And that was a heck of a deal for us. Harry agreed, and we put his name on the side of the car. We ended up winning the deal. Our next race was going to be Atlanta so we left Melling’s name on the side of the car. We ended up qualifying on the outside pole. The clutch tore up in the race and we came in and changed the clutch during the race. Harry came over there and watched us change it all and go back out there and run. He was so impressed that … he took a chance on us. He was really the one that helped us go to the level we went to, and without him we would never had made it.”
And make it he did. He became “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville,” and won 44 races, the 1988 Sprint Cup championship and the first Winston Million in 1985. He left an indelible mark on the sport and this week was announced as one of this year’s five inductee’s to the sport’s Hall of Fame, along with Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Rex White and Joe Weatherly.
“To be at this juncture in your life and … for them to call my name ... It was just an incredible day,” Elliott said. “It’s just an incredible run, an incredible journey through life. One thing I am so thankful for is that I am still around to enjoy this.”
Elliott is especially thankful for that, since he said he wasn’t really able to enjoy the journey as much as he should have.
“When you are in the heat of the battle you don’t have the chance,” Elliott said. “Once you get outside of the bubble you can see it and really look at the accomplishments and achievements … you don’t see that until you get out.”
Elliott came from a racing family in Dawsonville, Ga., a hometown that he admits he took for granted in the early days.
“I don’t know that I really realized the history of Dawsonville,” Elliott said. “I didn’t realize what Raymond Parks and Lloyd Seay contributed to that area, and what they had done in the past. It took a lot of people and it took and lot of parts and pieces. My dad giving up a lot of stuff to buy the parts and pieces we run and used to do what we did. If you could take that formula and try to do that today, it wouldn’t work. You see where the level of racing is today versus back then, it’s a whole different world. We built a championship team there in Dawsonville, Ga., and did it our way.”
Charlotte Motor Speedway..