BROOKLYN, Mich. (June 5, 2001) -- For Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T, this weekend's race at Michigan International Speedway will be a sentimental journey. He is bringing the car that made him famous -- the No. 9...
BROOKLYN, Mich. (June 5, 2001) -- For Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T, this weekend's race at Michigan International Speedway will be a sentimental journey. He is bringing the car that made him famous -- the No. 9 -- back to the track that helped make him famous - where he collected seven wins and six poles driving for Michigan native Harry Melling.
"It's very much a home track for me," said Elliott, who leads all active drivers in wins and poles at the speedway. "I enjoy going there because I know so many people. It always reminds me of the early days with Harry Melling and Jim Knutson. Their support really meant a lot to me and my brothers. Back then, $500 meant the world. We really struggled back then. People took us in and fed us. Mother and Daddy sacrificed a lot to get us to race tracks. We throw away better stuff today than we raced back then." Elliott has come a long way since those early days, but hasn't forgotten the inauspicious stop that changed his career.
"We were up there for a race," remembered Elliott. "Ernie enjoyed fishing and I liked motorcycles. We found this motorcycle store that had fishing behind the house. They lured us in the door with fishing and motorcycles. Turns out, that was Jim Knutson's store. We went back again and became friends. I still go see him when I'm in town.
"Later on, Jim put 'Good luck Bill Elliott - No. 9' on his sign out front," said Elliott. "Harry Melling drove by and thought if Jim could get involved in racing then so could he. He began sponsoring Benny Parsons in the late 1970s and Benny got us involved together. The next step, Harry was buying from Daddy and the next step we were racing for Harry. We did so much together that it's a part of who we are. It's ironic the people you meet that you really develop relationships with just by walking through the door."
Elliott hopes to return to his winning ways at Michigan International Speedway this weekend. He is currently 19th in the points standings, with one pole, one top five and six top 20 finishes this year.
"It's one of my favorite tracks," said Elliott. "A lot of people finish the race there. It's a short race. It's a competitive race. There are usually a bunch of guys that run well there. It's the type of track that is pretty good for getting up through traffic. Aero is definitely a factor. The guy in the lead has the advantage. The way things are now, it's a little too aero sensitive. The rest of the guys can't get caught up." Elliott said starting position isn't a key factor at Michigan International Speedway, but having a good pit stall is.
"I don't care where I start," said Elliott. "I just want to finish well. Any time you're in the top 10 is a good day. You just don't want to play catch-up all day."
Elliott, who compares Michigan to California, said it isn't a bad track for the Dodges but expects it could be a bit difficult finding the right set up for the weekend, given that he hasn't tested there and Casey Atwood had limited practice in cold, windy weather earlier this year.
"I approach it like California," said Elliott. "You've got to be pretty good to pass there because it's hard to pass. The tires won't be an issue because everyone's on the same tires. But having the right set up is important. Running at Michigan will help us at Pocono, which help our run at Indy, which will help us back at Michigan."
This weekend, Elliott will be running a special paint scheme featuring champion boxer Muhammad Ali. The promotion includes a special edition diecast of the car. A portion of proceeds from the sale of the car benefit the Dodge Motorsports Diversity Program, which helps students obtain scholarships to pursue careers in motorsports.
"Muhammad Ali is a boxing legend," said Elliott. "Any time you flipped on the TV, he was there. He really was a great boxer. He's like the Darrell Waltrip of that era and that sport. He was outspoken and said what he felt. But he backed up what he said, just like Darrell did."