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All-Star Moments: No. 4 – Jaws, Junior And The Beginning

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 16 2012

Junior Johnson joined Darrell Waltrip in Victory Lane after the 1985 All-Star Race, then known at The Winston. (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

It’s NASCAR All-Star Race week. It’s a week that culminates in a race which, despite the fact – or maybe because of the fact – that it pays no points, has produced some of the Sprint Cup Series’ most memorable moments.

Which All-Star Races are the most memorable? This week, RacinToday.com will count down it’s top five, starting with today’s No. 4: 1985 – New and controversial.

No championship points on line? Only 11 other drivers on the track? Not really interested, driver Darrell Waltrip said when he first heard about the race they were calling The Winston.

Not in 1985, when the young Waltrip considered himself a stock-car racing purist. This new all-star race thing, he thought, was nothing more than a gimmick.

But then again, there was the $200,000 purse which was being waved around by the people at R.J. Reynolds. And then there was the fact that Waltrip’s boss, Junior Johnson, loved the idea.

So Waltrip opted to drive. And win – by .31 seconds over Handsome Harry Gant. And claim the dough. And make history. And create a controversy which remains unresolved to this day.

For all those reasons and more, the inaugural Sprint NASCAR All-Star Race of 1985 checks in at No. 4 on the list of the five best all-star moments.

Waltrip’s team-owner, Johnson, positively lit up at the thought of competing in The Winston – in part, because he helped create the event and in part because he wanted to win it.

“Junior was dead serious about it,” Waltrip said. “That first race, Ralph Seagraves and T. Wayne Robertson and Jerry Long and everybody at R.J. Reynolds, Junior, they dreamed this race up at Junior’s house one Saturday morning before the North Wilkesboro race over breakfast.”

Johnson brought the idea to Waltrip and crew chief Jeff Hammond and the rest of the team.

Accoriding to Waltrip, “Junior said, ‘I want to win that first race. I want my name in the record book as the one who won that first race.’

“They wanted to win that race.”

To do so, “They built a special car for that race,” Waltrip said.

And that is where controversy comes in. Some around the sport still say that the “special car” was too special. As in illegal. Ditto for the “special engine”.

Waltrip says; not true.

“He took it to the wind tunnel a number of times,” Waltrip said. “He did a number of things that other people maybe might not have considered at the time. He had the special engine for that race – and it was legal.”

General Motors also got involved.

“Chevrolet, General Motors,” Waltrip said, “we did a test at Charlotte Motor Speedway where they brought in this black truck that was full of computers and telemetry. This black truck, we called it Oscar, had all this data acquisition stuff that was in the truck. The car, it was a ‘Twisted Sister’. The nose was moved, the tail was moved, the roof was moved. But all within the rules.

“Junior put an all out, full-court press to get the best car we could for that race.”

Terry Labonte started the race from the pole and battled Waltrip through most of the early race.

After mandatory pit stops cycled through, Gant had the lead, Labonte was second and Waltrip was third.

Waltrip took second away from Labone and on the white flag lap, Waltrip took the lead from Gant. That turned out to be the winning move.

As he crossed the finish line, Waltrip’s engine – a so-called Mountain Motor – exploded. Actually, some say, the engine didn’t explode but was exploded by Waltrip on purpose to keep it out of the hands of inspectors.

Waltrip and Johnson took the money and made history.

There was only one first race. And a memorable one it was.

The 2012 All-Star Race will held be this coming Saturday night. It will be broadcast live on SPEED beginning at 7 p.m.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 16 2012
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