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All-Star Moments: No. 1 – Turf War Breaks Out

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 19 2012

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

It’s NASCAR All-Star Race week. It’s a week that culminates in a race which, despite of 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 has been counting down its top five, continuing with today’s No. 1: The Pass In The Grass

Dale Earnhardt Sr. was one of the best stock car drivers ever to take to the asphalt and concrete tracks of NASCAR’s premier series.

In 1987 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Earnhardt proved he wasn’t too bad driving on grass, either.

The occasion was the NASCAR All-Star Race, then known as The Winston. Earnhardt won it that year and ever since, that race would be known as “The Pass in the Grass” race.

Because of what happened in the infield grass at Charlotte that day, because of what happened on the pavement before and after that, because of what it did for the reputation of the All-Star Race and because of who was involved, the 1987 race checks in as No. 1 on the list of 10 best NASCAR All-Star Races.

The 1987 Winston was the third for Cup cars. It came on the heels of 1985 and 1986 events which were fairly bland. Darrell Waltrip won the first by a healthy margin in Charlotte. The second was moved to Atlanta and was held in front of a small, quiet crowd on Mothers Day. The winner was Bill Elliott.

And it was Elliott, driving the No. 9 Ford for Harry Melling, who dominated the first two segments of the three-segment event, winning both.

But it was the third, 10-lap-dash segment where myth and fact combined to create history.

On the first lap, Elliott and Geoff Bodine bounced off each other and that allowed Earnhardt to blow past and take the lead.

Shortly after the ensuing restart, Elliott and Earnhardt began bumping each other.

With seven laps to go and coming out of Turn 4, Elliott hooked Earnhardt from behind. The move sent Earnhardt into the grass. Earnhardt kept the wheels straight, blew back onto the track, and when he did,was still in front of Elliott.

There was no pass. But there was grass and there was a fabulous save by Earnhardt.

Richard Childress, owner of the No. 3 blue and yellow Wrangler Chevy Earnhardt was driving would describe the big moment by saying, “When Elliott stayed in the gas and kept pushing him across the grass there, I just thought it was all over. But Dale’s a great race driver and he proved it right there. A man who can hang onto a car like that deserves to win.”

Earnhardt would say, “Elliott got under me and clipped me sideways. I almost got the car started the other way before I went into the grass and then I was able to get it right while I was in it. If I hadn’t, I might have gone right up into the flag stand right there with (flagman) Harold Kinder. I can guarantee you that, if I had turned someone sideways like that, I would be hanging from the flagpole right now.”

The race was not over. Neither were the hard feelings and hard racing between Elliott and Earnhardt. They would bump some more before the checkered flag. They would bump after the checkered flag on the cool down lap.

Heading into the pits after the race they would faint and weave at each other, and as Elliott headed from pit road into the garages, he swung wide and put Earnhardt into the grass a second time.

Crews of the two drivers exchanged angry words.

Then, changed into street clothes, a still-seething Elliott gave his take on it all. He accused Earnhardt of overly rough driver before, during and after the so called pass in the grass.

“We come down the front straightway and I was clearly under him right here,” Elliott said. “He cut down on me there and nearly spun himself out. He let me in on the back straightaway and run me straight into the wall.

“I clearly had the quickest car and he was trying to cut me off everywhere he could,” Elliott said.

And Elliott, one of the more mild mannered drives in the series, ended his version with a subtle threat and a statement.

“I had him covered. That’s the thing about it. If we’re going to let stuff like that go, we’ll see what happens next week,” Elliott said.

His statement was that if it took driving the way Earnhardt was driving to win a championship, Elliott did not want to be a champion.

Earnhardt and Elliott were fined $2,500. Also, Earnhardt was required to post a $7,500 bond, which would be returned to him after the next seven races if no further incident occurred.

None did. But, the ill feelings continued on for years.

And so has the legend of the Pass in the Grass.

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 19 2012
One Comment

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  • Joe says:

    I was there in both 87 and 92. NASCAR should be so lucky to have cars, drivers and racing that good today. I miss the sport I loved.