Earnhardt’s Historic CMS Weekend Remembered
By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – Twenty years ago Dale Earnhardt Sr. owned Charlotte Motor Speedway during the month of May, sweeping the All-Star race and the Coca-Cola 600. At that time, no one realized it would be Earnhardt’s last visit to the 1.5-mile speedway’s victory lane.
It was an era when an inscription on a souvenir T-shirt read “Real Men Wear Black and Silver”, touting Earnhardt’s Richard Childress-owned team and their black and silver, GM Goodwrench-sponsored No. 3. It was a slogan that conveyed more about the organization than perhaps many realized.
“Dale Earnhardt and our race team … we never ever, ever gave up and I think that’s what made us as good as we were,” said Danny “Chocolate” Myers, Earnhardt’s long-time gasman who now co-hosts a show on SIRIUSXM Satellite Radio’s NASCAR channel. “We didn’t want to give up with Richard and Dale and Richard and Dale never gave up on us. We were all just so close and we were all in this for the same reason. No one ever asked how much it paid. Nobody ever asked anything except what do we need to do? They can say what they want to, but we went to the race track for one reason and one reason only and that was to win.”
In May 1993, first on the agenda was the All-Star race and Earnhardt won it with a controversial move, jumping the restart in the event’s final 10-lap segment. NASCAR didn’t put him at the rear of the field for the maneuver that eventually led to his third and final All-Star victory and that angered many of his fellow competitors.
Immediately after the All-Star race, Earnhardt told his crew he wanted to drive the same car in the Coca-Cola 600. That gave his crew only two days to prepare the car since check-in was on Tuesday and qualifying was on Wednesday.
On the day of the Coca-Cola 600, Earnhardt once again produced a phenomenal performance to win stock car racing’s longest event for the third and final time. He shook off two penalties and came from a lap down on two occasions to become the first driver to win the Coca-Cola 600 at night.
“What Dale Earnhardt was able to do was damn near impossible,” Myers said. “It was through sheer dedication and determination that he was able to pull it off.”
Earnhardt’s victory made him the first driver to claim two consecutive Coca-Cola 600 victories since Darrell Waltrip in 1988-89. And Earnhardt accomplished the feat with an event record of 145.504 mph, breaking the old one of 145.327 mph set by Richard Petty in a Dodge in May 1975.
By claiming his 55th career victory, the then 42-year-old Earnhardt became the first driver in motorsports history to reach the $17 million mark in winnings. In one week of racing at CMS, Earnhardt had collected a record $156,650 for the Coca-Cola 600 victory, $222,500 for the All-Star win and $1,395 in the Champion Spark Plug 300 Busch Series [now Nationwide] race. Winnings total: $381,545.
In addition to the penalties and overcoming the lost laps during the Coca-Cola 600, one of Earnhardt’s tire carriers slipped and was tagged by Jeff Gordon’s Chevrolet, which was pitting directly behind Earnhardt, during the race’s first pit stop.
“That was one of the craziest races we ever won,” said Danny Lawrence, who was then the team’s assistant engine builder and second gasman.
Earnhardt’s first stumbling block in the Coca-Cola 600 came on lap 221 when NASCAR assessed him a 15-second penalty for entering pit road too fast. During that green-flag stop, he lost a lap. On the restart following the first caution period, Earnhardt jumped past the leader to put himself on the tail end of the lead lap. With 100 laps remaining, he had taken over second but was still a half lap behind leader Dale Jarrett.
On lap 327, Greg Sacks’ Ford spun off turn four after what appeared to be a tap from Earnhardt. NASCAR penalized Earnhardt one lap for rough driving.
“There wasn’t a mark on our car anywhere,” Lawrence said. “I remember Dale saying, ‘Sit back and relax boys. It’s OK. We’ll make it back up.’ When something like that happened he never dwelled on it.”
In the press box during his post-race interview, Earnhardt said, “I did not hit him, per se, hit him. … If we rubbed or the bumpers touched a bit, it wasn’t like I just went up there and knocked the crap out of him and turned him over or around or whatever. I don’t think I nudged him. I might have been agin ‘im. I still don’t think I hit him.”
On the restart following the caution period for the Sacks incident, Earnhardt again passed the leader to go to the tail end of the lead lap. When the seventh and final caution flag waved Earnhardt drove around the track and caught up to the rest of the field. When the race restarted, he quickly clicked off the cars in front of him, taking the lead for good on lap 362 of the 400-lap event.
Will Lind, who was Earnhardt’s tire specialist and rear tire changer, was surprised that his driver overcame the numerous adversities to win the event.
“Talking to a lot of the people that are out there today, they don’t really understand it, but when you lived it as I did and you saw him do a lot of things … adversity only made him dig deeper,” Lind said.
Myers, Lawrence and Lind worked with Earnhardt from the time he joined Childress’ team in 1984 until his death in 2001. Initially, the three men, along with jackman David Smith and then crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine, were known as the “Junkyard Dogs”. Later, the pit crew’s name was changed to “The Flying Aces.” Shelmerdine left at the end of 1992, making the 1993 season the first for Andy Petree at the team’s helm.
“We were really a tight-knit group of guys,” Lawrence said. “Dale would tell us all the time, ‘Boys, we’re making history’, but we never thought about it. It was neat to be able to go to any race you wanted to and you felt like you had a chance to win. When we had a bad day it was when we finished 12th. If we had a 12th-place car, he somehow would finish fifth. It was awfully neat to be working on that deal back then when he was so good. He wasn’t happy unless he was winning.
“He was cool under pressure. He always thought if the race was still running he still had a chance of winning it. He never overdrove it; he never got in trouble. That’s why he was the best.”
– Deb Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments