West Coast Stockcar HoF - Ernie Irvan

COUNTDOWN TO THE 2005 WEST COAST STOCK CAR HALL OF FAME INDUCTIONS 1 of 15 2005 Inductees ERNIE IRVAN Born: January 13, 1959 Salinas, California Wife: Kim Baker Irvan Married: November 21, 1992 Children: Jordan (August 12, 1993) Jared...


1 of 15 2005 Inductees

Born: January 13, 1959
Salinas, California
Wife: Kim Baker Irvan
Married: November 21, 1992
Children: Jordan (August 12, 1993)
Jared (February 9, 1998)
Parents: Vic & Jo Irvan


· 15 career NASCAR Winston Cup victories

· 22 career NASCAR Winston Cup pole positions

· 68 Top-5's and 124 Top-10's and over $11 million in career earnings

· Made NASCAR Winston Cup debut at Richmond International Raceway on September 13, 1987

· First pole position came in 65th attempt at 1990 Valleydale Meats 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway

· First win came in 79th start at the 1990 Busch 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway

· Won the 1991 Daytona 500 driving for Morgan-McClure Motorsports

· Finished a career best fifth in Winston Cup driver points in 1991

· Suffered horrific crash at Michigan Speedway in 1994 while driving for Robert Yates Racing, made a miraculous recovery and returned to racing at the end of the 1995 season with two top-10 performances

· Led the most miles in the 1994 season despite competing in only 20 events

· Returned to victory lane in 1996 with wins at New Hampshire and Richmond


· 1993 Super Ford Magazine Driver of the Year
· 1994 True Value Hard Charger
· 1994 Mike Rich Memorial Award
· 1994 Maxwell House Spirit Award
· 1995 "Winston Cup Scene" Top Story of the Year
· 1995 Maxwell House Spirit Award
· 1995 Arete Award for Courage in Sports (Professional Division)
· 1996 Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharius Courage Award
· 1996 AP Parts Meet the Challenge Award
· 1998 Selected as one of NASCAR Top 50 Drivers
· 2001 Selected as a Torchbearer for 2002 Olympics
· 2002 Inductee into the Stock Car Hall of Fame
· 2002 Voted by MSNBC Top Ten Greatest Sports Comebacks of all time


1968 - 1974 Ernie began his racing career in California at the age of nine driving go-carts, winning the California Championship at the age of 15. In '74, Ernie finished second in the country in his class at the national go-cart championship races.

1975 Ernie moved up to stockcars at the age of 16 at Stockton 99 Speedway and was victorious in his first race on asphalt, a semi-main event.

1976 - 1981 Ernie raced every weekend at Madera and Stockton, CA. He missed his high school graduation ceremony to race at Riverside, CA.

1982 - 1983 Ernie left California with $700 in his pocket and everything he owned loaded into his pickup truck and a homemade trailer, and he headed east to North Carolina. Worried about running out of money, Ernie stopped in Las Vegas and managed to leave with an additional $200.

With his sights on Winston Cup, Ernie supported himself in Charlotte by welding grandstand seats at Charlotte Motor Speedway (now Lowes Motor Speedway), unloaded Ken Schrader's moving van, built racecars, and took endless odd jobs. At the same time, he never missed a chance to talk, prod, wheedle, pester - whatever it took to get himself into a Winston Cup car. Meanwhile, he won nine races driving in the Late Model Series at Concord (NC) Speedway.

1984 - 1986 Ernie continued working odd jobs and building racecars while racing at Concord Speedway which was then a dirt track. Running a Firebird, Ernie won 2 races his first year and 11 races the next year.

1987 Ernie made his Winston Cup debut on September 13th at Richmond (VA) Fairgrounds Raceway driving a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, # 56. The car, built and prepared by Ernie and Marc Reno, was sponsored by Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet. Ernie qualified20th but, sidelined after only 35 laps due to an overheated engine, he finished 29th and won $860.

In October, Ernie drove the # 56, again sponsored by Dale Earnhardt, in his first Winston Cup start at Charlotte, starting 36th, leading Lap 128, and finishing 8th. He drove the same car, this time displaying Ulrich's # 6 in Riverside, CA in November. Ernie made two additional starts for Ulrich's U. S. Racing team, first at Martinsville, VA (September) where he started 24th and finished 15th and then at North Wilkesboro, NC (October) where he started 25th and finished 22nd. Ernie ended his first five-race foray into Winston Cup racing with one Top 10 finish and $23,050 in winnings.

1988 Driving Ulrich's # 2 Kroger Chevrolets and Pontiacs, Ernie competed in 25 of the 29 Winston Cup Series events. Ernie lost Rookie-of-the-Year honors to Ken Bouchard by three points (242-239) in the closest battle in Winston Cup history. Ernie's best finish of the year was 11th at Martinsville, VA in September. He finished 26th in the final points standings with winnings for the year totaling $96,370.

1989 Ernie started 29 races in his first full year in the Winston Cup Series behind the wheel of Ulrich's U. S. Racing Pontiac. Ernie started 25th at Bristol in April and after only 38 laps, he caught leader Mark Martin. Ernie went on to lead 56 laps before being sidelined in an accident on lap 167. Ernie's sixth place finish at Martinsville in September gave him his best of four Top-10 finishes for the year. Ernie finished 22nd in final standings for the year with winnings totaling $155,239.

1990 Ernie began the season driving the # 90 Bull's Eye Barbecue Sauce Ford for Junie Donlavey, but after three races, he moved over to fill the vacancy in Morgan McClure's # 4 Kodak Oldsmobile. After starting 30th in his first race for the new team (Atlanta in March), Ernie charged to the front and grabbed a 3rd place finish - the first Top-5 of his career. Ernie then grabbed his first Winston Cup pole position at Bristol in the spring. He won his first Winston Cup race in the Busch 500 at Bristol on August 25th. Ernie wrapped up the season with three poles, one victory, six Top-5's and 13 Top-10's, winning $535,280 and finishing 9th in the final standings.

1991 Four short years earlier, Ernie watched the Daytona 500 on a borrowed black and white TV while washing cars, one of several jobs he worked to support both is family and his struggling career. In February 1991, Ernie out-raced a star-studded field and drove the Morgan-McClure Chevrolet to victory in the Daytona 500, the sport's most prestigious and then most lucrative race. Ernie's next victory came later in the season at Watkins Glen (NY). Ernie's first three Winston Cup victories - on a short track, a super speedway, and on a road course - helped to underscore his versatility as a driver. Ernie ended the year with two victories, three second-place and four fourth-place finishes among his eleven Top-5 and nineteen Top-10 finishes in 29 starts. He finished the year 5th in Winston Cup driver standings and won $1,079,017.

1992 Ernie's year included many highs but also some lows. Highs included Ernie's marriage to Kim Baker on November 21st. The season netted him three more victories - Sonoma, CA in June; Daytona in July; and Talladega, AL in July - along with three more pole positions, nine Top-5's and eleven Top-10's, $996,885 in winnings, and points finish for the season of 11th. Unfortunately, the lows included a broken collarbone suffered in an accident during a Busch series race in March at Atlanta and twelve finishes of 24th or worse including seven DNF's.

1993 Ernie continued his tenure with Morgan-McClure adding poles at Dover, DE (June) and Daytona (July) and a victory at Talladega in May. In total, while driving for Morgan-McClure, Ernie obtained nine poles, seven wins and 51 Top-10 finishes in 105 starts.

Following the death of Davey Allison in a helicopter accident, Ernie joined Robert Yates Racing (RYR) to drive the Texaco/Havoline Ford beginning at Darlington (September) where he started 10th and finished 5th. Ernie's first victory with RYR came in his 4th start with the team when he won at Martinsville later that same month. Ernie dedicated his victory that day to Allison and then followed that victory two weeks later with one at Charlotte in which he led all but six laps. Ernie scored five front-row positions (including two poles) and two victories in his nine races that season with RYR. Ernie was ranked ninth in driver standings at the time of his departure from Morgan-McClure, but he rose to sixth in the final standings.

1994 Ernie was a dominant contender for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Championship throughout the first 20 races of the season. Entering the GM Goodwrench Dealer 400 at Michigan in August, Ernie matched Dale Earnhardt win for win with three each, led in Top-5 finished and winnings and trailed Earnhardt by only 27 points after having led the standings for most of the season.

All of this came to an end in an instant during an early morning Saturday practice session at Michigan, and Ernie's fight for the title turned into a fight for his life. According to drivers on the track, a right front tire deflated, sending Ernie's car into the Turn Two wall at over 170 miles per hour.

Emergency workers at the track worked frantically to extricate him from the car, and he was immediately airlifted to Saint Joseph's Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI. Diagnosed with critical brain and lung injuries and given only a 10% chance of surviving the night, Ernie clung to life for the first two days and then rallied to begin a very long road to recovery. By early September, Irvan was listed in "fair" condition and was removed from ventilator support. A few weeks later he was deemed well enough to be transferred to the Charlotte Institute of Rehabilitation in Charlotte, and only a few short weeks following the transfer, Ernie appeared and addressed the fans at the Charlotte Motor Speedway at the start of the UAW-GM race.

Less than two months later, at the gala NASCAR Awards Banquet in New York, Irvan walked on stage at the Waldorf-Astoria's Grand Ballroom to receive the True Value Hard Charger Award. In spite of having missed 11 races at the end of the season due to his injuries, Ernie had still raced among the top five for more miles than any driver. In addition, Ernie tied Geoff Bodine for the most poles won during the season.

1995 Throughout the first eight months of 1995, Ernie remained focused on returning to Winston Cup racing. He put himself through rigorous workouts to regain his physical strength; underwent extensive medical exams and additional procedures; patiently attempted to answer unanswerable questions; and survived microscopic scrutiny to prove that he was fit to drive a Winston Cup car. Finally, on September 16th, NASCAR cleared Ernie for competition.

After a rained-out qualifying eliminated him from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck field at Martinsville the week before, Ernie qualified his truck on the outside pole for the following weekend's event at North Wilkesboro on September 30th. Six laps after the green flag was dropped, Ernie was back in front, passing pole sitter Mike Skinner for the lead on Lap 6. Ernie led another 23 laps before mechanical problems sideline him. The very next day, October 1, he made his dramatic return to Winston Cup racing in the #88 Texaco-Havoline Ford of RYR. After starting in seventh position, he advanced to third by Lap 47 and took the lead on Lap 125. He held the lead for 31 laps and finished on the lead lap in sixth position.

Ernie capped his comeback with an outstanding performance at Phoenix. After being relegated to a last place start due to a wreck in practice, Ernie started his back-up car last in the 44-car field. He quickly moved through the field to seventh by Lap 75, then took the lead by taking on only two fresh tires during the first round of pit stops. Despite the fact that seven-time Winston Cup Champion Dale Earnhardt had four new tires, neither he nor anyone else could catch Ernie for the next 110 laps. Before he retired with engine failure on Lap 197 of the 312-lap race, Ernie led more laps than any driver.

Ernie finished the 1995 season with a solid super speedway performance. Starting 26th in the season ending race at Atlanta, Ernie had the # 88 Texaco-Havoline Ford in fourth by the middle of the race and advanced to second before a late race pit stop relegated him to a seventh place finish. In only 3 starts, Ernie had 2 Top-10 finished and earned $54,875.

1996 As promised, Ernie returned to the #28 Texaco-Havoline Ford with the same crew on duty as he had the day of the Michigan accident. His comeback season got off to a great start when he earned a front row berth for the season opening Daytona 500 beside teammate Dale Jarrett. During Speed Week, Ernie captured a dramatic victory in the 125-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500. As the season progressed, Ernie won the pole position for the spring race at Talladega, then scored victories at New Hampshire and Richmond.

On his way to a Top-10 finish in the Winston Cup points standings, he collected 12 Top-5 and 16 Top-10 finishes, led 15 of the 31 events, and earned a career-best $1,670,113.

1997 In his final season driving the RYR Texaco-Havoline Ford, Ernie notched his 15th career win. The dramatic victory came in June at Michigan Speedway, the track that nearly claimed his life three years earlier. Ernie ran up 5 Top-5 finishes, 13 Top-10's and 2 Pole positions and earned $1,614,281. Irvan finished 14th in the Winston Cup Points standings.

1998 Ernie joined MB2 Motorsports to drive the # 36 Skittles Pontiac. During the year he scored 11 Top-10 finishes with three pole positions despite missing the final three races while recovering from injuries suffered at Talladega (October). Ernie finished the season 19th in the Winston Cup points standings, earning $1,476,141. The highlight of 1998 was the birth of his son, Jared, on February 9th.

1999 Ernie continued driving the # 36 for MB2, but with a different sponsor. M&M Mars (parent corporation of Skittles) decided to emblazon the popular "M&M's" characters on the car. As a result, the "M&M's" Pontiac easily became the most recognizable and popular car on the Winston Cup circuit.

On August 20th, exactly 5 years after his near fatal accident there, Ernie crashed at Michigan while driving his own # 84 Irvan-Simo Federated Auto parts Pontiac in a practice session for the Busch Series race. Ernie was again airlifted from the track and was diagnosed with a mild head injury and a bruised lung as a result of the accident.

Less than two weeks later, on September 3, 1999, surrounded by his wife and two children, Ernie announced his retirement from driving at a tearful press conference in Darlington, SC.

Ernie finished his Winston Cup career as a driver with 15 victories, 22 poles, 68 Top-5's, 124 Top-10's and over 11 million dollars in career earnings.

Ernie Retires:

Ernie Irvan just two weeks after his accident at Michigan has decided today to walk away from the sport that nearly took his life five years ago.

Ernie started racing stock cars at the age of 16 in Stockton, Ca and broke in NASCAR in 1987 in the Mark Reno pre-paired #56 Dale Earnhardt sponsored car.

Ernie got his first win in the Morgan-McClure 4 Kodak Olds in 1990 at Bristol, and just one year later won the Daytona 500. Ernie collected seven wins with the Morgan-McClure team.

Ernie got his big break in 1993 when he took over the #28 Havoline T-Bird for Robert Yates Racing after driver Dave Allison was killed in a Helicopter crash at Talladega. Ernie had two wins that year in #28 and was ready to battle Earnhardt next year for the WC title.

Ernie Irvan and Larry McReynolds were clicking in 1994 with three wins, five poles, 13 top fives, 15 top tens, and was battling Earnhardt for the title just 27 points behind. An early morning crash during practice in August at the Michigan International Speedway left Ernie Fighting for his life. Ernie won True Value Hard Charger Award as driver who led most miles that season.

Ernie would make a miraculous recovery and returned to racing in 1995 in the #88 Havoline Ford.

Ernie returned to form of old in 1996 with two wins, one pole, 12 top fives, 16 top tens.

Ernie in his final year for Robert Yates returned to Michigan in June to beat the track that nearly took his life three years earlier.

Ernie was with a new ride in 1998 with MB2 Motorsorts and Mars Candies as the sponsor. It was about mid season when the team stared to click with 3 poles and 11 top tens, but a late season injury at Talladega forced Ernie to sit out the remainder of the season.

Ernie and the team had high hopes this year, but series of bad luck and misfortunes found themselves out of the top 20 in points by mid season.

Ernie returned to Michigan for the first time in his BGN car since August of 1994. On an early Friday morning practice session before second round BGN qualifying. Ernie took to the track on a cool foggy morning where you could not see from one end of the track to the other. Ernie would exit turn three and spin the car around hitting the drivers side of the car in turn four.

Ernie was airlifted to St. Joseph Hospital In Michigan and treated for a bruised lung and a minor head injury. This was the second major injury to Irvan in less than a year. After consulting with his doctors , family and friends, Ernie has made a decision that is in his best interest to retire from the sport he loves.


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About this article
Series NASCAR , Stock car
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Ernie Irvan , Dale Jarrett , Mike Skinner , Ken Schrader , Robert Yates , Mark Martin , Davey Allison
Teams Yates Racing