MRN Flashback: Elliott’s Rockingham Squeaker

Last week’s announcement that NASCAR-sanctioned racing would return to Rockingham Speedway was greeted warmly by officials in Richmond County, North Carolina, and by race fans that had fond memories of the track that provided some memorable moments before leaving the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series schedule seven years ago.

Although the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series never competed at the tough Sandhills track, many observers believe Rockingham Speedway will be a perfect addition to the series next year. The track had a legacy of playing roles in deciding numerous championships over its NASCAR pre-departure history.

Long-time “bench racers” point to the 1984 Warner W. Hodgdon American 500 as an example of one of those highly memorable moments. It’s unlikely that Bill Elliott or Harry Gant will ever entirely forget that race, either.

October 21, 1984, marked the 28th race of 30 on that year’s schedule for NASCAR’s premier series.

Geoffrey Bodine put Rick Hendrick’s Northwestern Security Life Chevrolet on the pole, while Harry Melling’s Coors Ford was on the outside of the front row with Elliott at the wheel. Bodine led the first 32 laps before the first of 28 lead changes.

Over the final 200 laps, the race evolved into a battle between Elliott’s Thunderbird and Gant’s Skoal Bandit Chevrolet. It would turn out to be the most exciting finish to date for the track then known as North Carolina Motor Speedway as Elliott and Gant swapped the lead three times in the final two laps.

When legendary Cup Series flagman Harold Kinder waved the white flag at lap 491, Gant was out front. Elliott caught Gant coming off the final turn and managed to make it to the finish line first . . . by a margin of one foot.

“If it’s by an inch or by a mile it doesn’t matter,” Elliott told MRN Radio pit reporter Ned Jarrett in Victory Lane. “I really don’t know what I could have done differently on that last lap. Harry (Gant) slid up a little bit and I was able to get back on the accelerator. I didn’t know if the old car had enough to get up off that corner, but it did.”

Elliott knew it was close.

“I knew it wasn’t much,” Elliott said, “but it was enough.”

It was Elliott’s third win of the 1984 season, but he left Rockingham still 218 points behind leader Terry Labonte with only two races remaining. Gant’s second-place finish left him 49 points behind Labonte, who would go on to capture the 1984 Winston Cup.

(MRN Radio’s Steve Blevins on September 14, 2011 | 10:02 A.M. EST)

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