Ah, yes. Those “I Got Dem Short-Track Blues.” Bill Elliott knew that “tune” well throughout his NASCAR Winston Cup career, but in the April 10 Valleydale Meats 500 at the 0.533-mile Bristol (Tenn.) International Raceway, he forgot the words.
Elliott, driving the Melling/Coors Ford Thunderbird which had won 23 times previously on superspeedways, captured the race in exciting fashion to nail down his first career short-track win. After 52 races on the half-milers, Elliott could at least claim a victory.
“To win here is the greatest feeling there will ever be,” said the 32-year-old NASCAR Winston Cup driver from Dawsonville, Ga. “It just shows that you can’t give up no matter what happens or where you are. I watched Dale Earnhardt win the Busch Series race yesterday at this track and he had to come back. He didn’t give up. I never gave up, either, and that helped me out.”
Elliott took the lead for good on lap 379 of the 500-lap race after his crew got him out of the pits during the 10th caution period of the day. He built up nearly a two-second lead over Geoff Bodine in the Hendrick/Levi Garrett Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS. By lap 484, however, Bodine had made up ground and was riding Elliott’s rear bumper. It was clear the two were going to battle to the checkered flag, with the outcome in doubt.
On lap 492, Bodine moved alongside Elliott in the third turn of the high-banked track and the two made contact. Elliott’s Ford wavered, then turned sharply into a smoking, looping spin. It did not make contact with the wall. During the resulting caution – the 12th of the race – Elliott dashed into the pits and took on four fresh tires. So did Mark Martin in the Roush/Stroh Light Ford and it would later prove to be the right move for both.
When the race restarted on lap 497, Bodine, who did not pit, held his advantage for one lap. On lap 498 Elliott pulled alongside him and then took the lead coming out of the fourth turn. Martin was in his wake and took second place, relegating Bodine to third. The three were the only drivers on the lead lap.
“Geoff and I got together over there in the turn and I think he got into me a lot more than I got into him,” said Elliott, who won for the first time in 1988 and became the fifth different winner in six races. “I gave him all the track I could, but he just spun me out. I just knew I was going to hit the wall, but I didn’t.”
“I knew I was going to pit for four tires. Me, Geoff and Mark were the only guys on the lead lap so the worst I could have finished would have been third. But I knew the car would really pick up with four fresh tires.”
Suffice it to say it did.
After the first six races of 1988, Elliott stood fourth in the point standings, behind Dale Earnhardt, Sterling Marlin and Neil Bonnett. “To win the championship, you have to win on the short tracks,” Elliott said. “I hope what we did here proves we can do it.”
-Grand National Illustrated (January 1989)