Southern 500 – Darlington Raceway – 9/1/1985 – “Million Dollar Bill”

NASCAR Winston Cup race number 20 of 28

Sunday, September 1, 1985 at Darlington Raceway, Darlington, SC
367 laps on a 1.366 mile paved track (501.3 miles)

Time of race: 4:08:02
Average Speed: 121.254 mph
Pole Speed: 156.641 mph
Cautions: 14 for 70 laps
Margin of Victory: 0.6 sec
Attendance: 80,000
Lead changes: 20


Bill Elliott and the Coors – Melling racing team rolled into Darlington having won 2 of the “Big Four in NASCAR”, looking for the win and the Million Dollar Prize. 1985 was the first year NASCAR and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company offered a Million Dollars for any driver who could win 3 out of 4 races of the “Big Four” in NASCAR. The “Big Four” consisted of the Daytona 500, the Talladega 500, the Coca Cola 600, and the Darlington 500. Elliott had already won the Daytona 500 and Talladega 500 but had brake problems at Charlotte finishing 18th after leading 81 laps. The media pressure was unprecedented at the Charlotte 600 and continued to mount as the year went on. The media attention had grown to the point that Darlington Raceway had to assign Highway Patrol officers just to keep the press out of Elliott’s garage area so that Elliott could have time to work on the car without the “Media Circus” hounding him constantly. Elliott was not very comfortable with the press attention at this time, and with the “Winston Million” on the line at Darlington it was really adding pressure to Elliott and the team. But once Elliott was in the car he was away from the outside pressures of the “Winston Million” and it was business as usual.

Elliott did not have an easy win and was found to avoid disaster several times during the race. The track was slick and hard to drive on, a normal condition for the Southern 500 on a hot September day. Darlington Raceway was one of the oldest, most challenging racetracks on the circuit in 1985 and still is today. Most of the race Dale Earnhardt, Harry Gant and Cale Yarborough took turns leading the race and setting the pace. With Yarborough leading midway through the race, Earnhardt spun out coming off of turn two, tagged the wall and slid down the backstretch. Elliott, following behind Earnhardt, had to make an evasive maneuver by going low on the speedway to avoid Earnhardt’s car which was against the wall. As Elliott decided to take the low groove Earnhardt’s car suddenly slid down the track towards Elliott’s car. Earnhardt’s car missed hitting Elliott’s by less than a yard. Elliott took the lead from Yarborough after the quick pit stop by the Coors Melling team during the caution. Yarborough took the lead back on lap 324. On the next lap Yarborough’s car blew a power steering line and sent fluid and smoke onto Elliott car. Elliott dove low and took the lead back from Yarborough. Yarborough’s team attempted to make repairs to his car during the caution to clean the track. Not being able to make repairs Yarborough, was forced to continue without power steering which made the car difficult to drive.

Elliott drove to the victory and the “Winston Million”. This was Elliott’s 10th win of the season on a superspeedway which tied a record set by David Pearson in 1973 for the most wins in a single season by a driver. Elliott also set a record for the highest season earnings of $1,857,243, an all-time winnings record in any racing series at that time. The post-race celebration like no other with Elliott driving around the track and with an armored car behind him throwing out “Winston Million” dollar bills. It was estimated that 68,000 people stayed around to see the celebration and to see R. J. Reynolds present the One Million Dollar check to “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville”. Elliott said it wasn’t the money that was as important as being the first driver to achieve the award. The “Winston Million” cemented Elliott in the record books as well as putting NASCAR on the level with big league sports. It was the only time the “Winston Million” award was won by any driver; Elliott earned another nickname, “Million Dollar Bill”.

Darlington was always a special track to Elliott, not only for the “Winston Million”, but also for his tremendous stats at “The Track too Tough to Tame!” Elliott won the Pole Award for the 1985 Southern 500 with a speed of 156.641 mph. David Pearson started on the outside pole. Elliott led 4 times for a total of 100 laps that day with a race average pace of 121.254 mph. Cale Yarborough, Geoff Bodine, Neil Bonnett and Ron Bouchard rounded out the top 5 positions. There were 14 cautions for 70 laps.

Elliott ran 52 races at Darlington Raceway with 5 wins, 22 top 5’s and 35 top 10’s. Elliott won 5 poles at Darlington. He ran a total of 17,477 while leading 980 laps. His average starting position was 11.0, and he had an average finishing position of 9.4 at Darlington. Elliott won $2,719,414 in winnings at Darlington while driving an astounding 23,873 miles at the track.

(Article by Dale Brown)

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