Speed to Start 400th

The year was 1980 and Dale Earnhardt was on the way to his first of seven NASCAR Winston Cup Series titles; The Empire Strikes Back was the most popular movie; Robert De Niro won the Oscar for Raging Bull; the world lost Jimmy Durante,...

The year was 1980 and Dale Earnhardt was on the way to his first of seven NASCAR Winston Cup Series titles; The Empire Strikes Back was the most popular movie; Robert De Niro won the Oscar for Raging Bull; the world lost Jimmy Durante, Alfred Hitchcock and animator Tex Avery, but said hello to Macaulay Culkin; Ronald Reagan was elected the 40th President of the United States; Mt. St. Helens erupted in May and then the world followed suit in July when the U.S. boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow.

In the midst of all this was the NASCAR Winston Cup Series debut of Jackson, Miss., native Lake Speed in the Winston Western 500 at Riverside International Raceway in a car owned by Cecil Gordon. He started 32nd and finished 26th after an engine failure forced him out on lap 79. He earned $1,305 for his efforts. He recorded five top 10 finishes in 19 starts that year as he won Rookie of the Year honors.

In honor of Speed's anticipated 400th career NASCAR Winston Cup start, Cartoon Network Wacky Racing and Melling Racing will recognize the driver with a special logo on the trunk lid of the No. 9 Ford Taurus for the Miller Lite 400 this Sunday at Michigan Speedway.

"I think the coverage on the cable networks had more to do with the growth in this sport than anything else," Speed said. "The networks were new and hunting for programming and we were looking for some nationwide exposure. The coincidence of us needing them and them needing us at about the same time is the most significant period in the growth of Winston Cup racing.

"Finishing second in the 1985 Daytona without a sponsor ranks right behind my win at Darlington. I've also been lucky enough to compete at nine new tracks (Texas Motor Speedway, California Speedway, Sears Point Raceway, Phoenix International Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire International Speedway, Watkins Glen International, and the new layout at Richmond International Raceway)."

Speed, who joined Melling Racing in 1995, is a rarity in racing, holding the dual roles of driver and general manager.

"Lake's personality fits the mentality of what a race car driver should be -- never too high, never too low, always very focused," said Mark Melling, vice president for Melling Engine Parts, which is based in nearby Jackson, Mich. "He is the rudder that steers the Melling ship."

His first win came at the 1988 TranSouth 500 at Darlington Raceway as he dominated the field on the way to victory in the dual role of driver/owner. The Michigan track is a good one for Lake as he was 11th at the Miller 400 last year. With Melling, he has four top-20 finishes and three top 10 starts at Michigan.

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt