Dodge Celebrates, Makes History at Darlington DARLINGTON, S.C., August 29, 2001 - In late summer, the air in South Carolina is often heavy with humidity. This weekend at Darlington Raceway, the air will be heavy with history as the past is ...
Dodge Celebrates, Makes History at Darlington
DARLINGTON, S.C., August 29, 2001 - In late summer, the air in South Carolina is often heavy with humidity. This weekend at Darlington Raceway, the air will be heavy with history as the past is celebrated and drivers compete for the honor of having their name added to the list of legends who conquered the track too tough to tame. Dodge will be in the thick of things as the brand returns for its first Mountain Dew Southern 500 since 1983.
Many of the legends of stock car racing will visit Darlington this week as members of the Union-Darlington Record Club gather for their annual dinner. There will also be inductions into the National Motorsports Press Association's Hall of Fame at Darlington. Adjacent to Darlington Raceway is the NMPA Stock Car Hall of Fame and the Joe Weatherly Museum. The museum sports one of the greatest displays of stock racing cars in the world.
On the track, Dodge drivers will compete to see who can set the new qualifying record for Dodge and earn their way into the exclusive Darlington Record Club. The last driver to qualify in a Dodge was Earle Canavan in 1978. Richard Petty set the current record for the brand in 1975 driving a Dodge Charger. His speed was 152.839 mph. Drivers qualifying for the Club last year all reached speeds of more than 170 mph.
The track will also honor history by having legendary driver and car owner Junior Johnson serve as grand marshal for the Mountain Dew Southern 500. Two of Johnson's six car-owner championships - 1981 and 1982 - were won with a car sponsored by Mountain Dew. Darrell Waltrip was the driver.
During his stock car racing career, Johnson won 50 races as a driver and 139 as a car owner. At Darlington Raceway, Johnson won the 1965 Rebel 300 as a driver and 10 races as an owner. Johnson also won in a Dodge, taking the checkered flag in a qualifying race for the 1964 Daytona 500 driving a Dodge Hemi-Charger.
Johnson had been set to drive for another brand that year but switched at the 11th hour to a Ray Fox-prepared Dodge with its new Hemi engine and won the first qualifying event at Daytona. Johnson was well known for calling the Dodges "Goats" and was happy that day to drive his No. 3 Dodge to the Winners Circle. "It's been a long time since a 'Goat' has been in this pen," said Johnson. Finishing behind Johnson in second and third place, respectively, were Buck Baker in a Petty Engineering Plymouth, and David Pearson in a Cotton Owens-prepared Dodge. Johnson finished ninth in the 1964 Daytona 500.
Johnson had great success at Darlington Raceway. His driving there was even better than the record shows. "They flagged me the winner in 1962 at the Southern 500, but two or three days later they took it away from me and gave it to Larry Franks," said Johnson. (NASCAR) said the scoring was messed up and all.
"I had the Southern 500 won several times but just had car trouble down toward the end of the race," he continued. "I had the fastest car and was pretty much in command of the thing, but that place is demanding on a car and if you don't take care of your car, you don't wind up finishing the race most of the time. I enjoyed that race track, probably more than any other race track I ran, because the challenge that thing was to a driver was unbelievable."
Johnson's driving style was also a challenge to manufacturers, car owners and crew chiefs. "Nobody ever could build anything I thought was strong enough, but if you're gonna race, you gotta go to the front," said Johnson. "That was my motto all of my career."
Johnson started driving fast cars when he delivered a certain mountain beverage made in bootleg stills. Many of the pioneers of stock car racing got their start running moonshine. Johnson is one who was arrested and spent 11 months in prison for involvement with bootleg whiskey. The revenuers never caught him in a car; he was surprised and arrested at the still.
During his moonshine running days, Johnson was known for his "bootlegger turn," where he would avoid roadblocks by jerking the wheel to one side and mashing the gas to spin the car 180 degrees and take off in the other direction. He is reminded of that maneuver when he sees today's post-race celebrations.
"If those guys had to do that stuff on the highways like we used to, they'd be a lot of 'em probably turned upside down," said Johnson. "They got a lot to learn on the turnarounds. I laugh when I see it. It's comical."
Johnson also did a great job of turning is own life around as he later devoted himself exclusively to race cars. Ironically, his sponsors included a host of legal beverage brands - Mountain Dew, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Budweiser and Maxwell House. He became such a legend in the sport of stock car racing that President Ronald Reagan pardoned him on Dec. 26, 1986. In another irony involving a man who honed his driving skills on the roads of North Carolina, the state Department of Transportation recently named a stretch of U.S. 421 in Wilkes County highway in his honor. Junior Johnson Highway recognizes his contribution to motorsports, the state and his community.
Johnson is also credited with an early safety innovation - the shoulder harness. Johnson and Banjo Mathews developed the new device to help hold the driver in the seat. At the time, stock car seats were just that - stock seats from passenger cars.
"At that particular time, nobody had experience fixing seats where you didn't fall out of them," said Johnson. "Our theory of putting it (shoulder harness) in there was to keep us from falling out the seat. In the first two or three wrecks, we found out that it was a very good safety feature for head-on crashes into walls and stuff, so it became a common thing. I'm not going to say we're the ones that developed it, but that was the first seatbelts that I ever saw with a shoulder harness and all that on it."
Johnson retired as a driver in 1966. He won his first championship as a car owner 10 years later with Cale Yarborough at the wheel. Johnson and Yarborough won three consecutive NASCAR Grand National championships, a record that still stands. After two years without a championship, Johnson signed a young driver named Darrell Waltrip to drive his No. 11 Mountain Dew car.
"We had a two great seasons with Mountain Dew and they were a great sponsor," said Johnson. "You could not ask for a better bunch of people, a better sponsorship than Mountain Dew and Pepsi. I've had a bunch of great sponsors over a period of years, you know. Go back and look at all the people that's sponsored my cars; they were just great sponsors, every one of them."
One initial concern Johnson had about Mountain Dew as a primary sponsor was the necessity of painting the car green, a color typically avoided in racing circles because it is thought to bring bad luck.
"I was a little concerned to start with, but when we started winning about every race we went to, that didn't last too long," said Johnson. "Success will take care of it, I guess. I think a lot of people have their own little thing about peanuts and green cars and stuff, but I haven't seen anybody turn that money down when they handed it to them."
Mountain Dew is now sponsoring another car in NASCAR, the No. 19 Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T prepared by Evernham Motorsports and driven by Casey Atwood. The Dew Crew services the No. 19 car.
Atwood, Evernham and the Dew Crew can be seen in television commercials for the beverage. In one commercial, Atwood pulls his car into the pits and watches as the Dew Crew runs past his car to a pit wall lined with cans of Mountain Dew. Ray Evernham times the crew as they quickly do the Dew. Evernham approves of their performance but Atwood is not amused. "You better not do this on Sunday," says Atwood.
A current Mountain Dew promotion offers a die cast No. 19 in a can. Mountain Dew buyers are invited to send a check and four UPC labels to purchase a 1:64-scale die cast No. 19 Dodge Intrepid R/T in a 12 ounce Mountain Dew can. The top and insides of the can slide out to reveal the car.
Dodge and Darlington
Darlington Raceway made history in 1950 by becoming the first paved superspeedway in stock car racing. With that one layer of asphalt, a new era was born and stock car racing grew to become one of the most widely watched sports in the world.
Dodge has three wins at Darlington, all by members of the Baker family. Buck Baker led the way by winning the Southern 500 on Sept. 7, 1964. His son Buddy Baker made family and track history by winning the same race on the same day six years later. Buddy Baker also won the spring race at Darlington on May 2, 1971. Dodge also won the pole four times at Darlington, with drivers LeeRoy Yarbrough, Charlie Glotzbach (twice) and Richard Petty.
Current Dodge driver Bill Elliott has five victories at Darlington - four in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 and one in the track's spring Winston Cup offering, the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400. His most memorable win at Darlington was the 1985 Mountain Dew Southern 500 when Elliott became the first driver to win $1 million from R.J. Reynolds for winning three of the four "crown jewel" races, at Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte and Darlington. The win earned Elliott the nickname "Million Dollar Bill."
Junior Johnson's last victory at Darlington Raceway as a car owner was the 1994 Southern 500 with Elliott at the wheel. That was also Elliott's last NASCAR victory. Wouldn't it make great history for Elliott to add a new win to his list achievements at Darlington this weekend?
This week in Dodge history:
* 9/7/64 - Buck Baker won his third Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in a Ray Fox-prepared Dodge. It was his 46th career NASCAR Grand National win.
* 9/5/69 - Bobby Isaac drove the K&K Insurance Dodge to victory at Hickory Speedway in North Carolina. Isaac began his NASCAR Grand National career at the same .4-mile paved track 13 years earlier.
* 9/7/69 - Bobby Allison drove a Mario Rossi Dodge from the back of the field to a three-lap win on the.542-mile paved track at Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway.
* 9/7/70 - Buddy Baker drove a Cotton Owens Dodge Daytona to victory in the Southern 500 at Darlington on the sixth anniversary of his father's third win in the storied race. Owens said at the time it was his biggest win as a team owner.
* 9/3/83 - Buddy Arrington drove the last Dodge to compete in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway before the manufacturer returned in 2001. The No. 67 Arrington Dodge started 34th and finished 18th.