DW Became OK After The 1989 All-Star Race
By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – Twenty-five years ago one quick spin in NASCAR’s All-Star race sent three-time champion Darrell Waltrip to the fans’ penthouse and Rusty Wallace to the outhouse.
When the 1989 All-Star race began many NASCAR fans equated Waltrip to the character J.R. Ewing on the then popular TV show “Dallas” – he was the driver they loved to hate. Wallace, on the other hand, was the popular young driver overflowing with confidence, even a bit cocky, with an aggressive driving style and a crew, like their driver, that cared only about one thing — winning.
All of that changed, however, with Waltrip’s spin off the fourth turn in the 1989 The Winston. When the checkered flag waved on the electric-charged event, Wallace was the driver who was booed by the crowd and Waltrip had found favor with the fans. In fact, Waltrip went on to capture NASCAR’s most popular Sprint Cup driver title two straight years – 1989-90.
“He put me in the spin cycle and when I came out I was squeaky clean,” said Waltrip, who was sponsored by Tide. “I went from the bad guy to the good guy in one swift spin right there.”
Today, Waltrip maintains Wallace’s Raymond Beadle-owned Pontiac “got into” his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, while Wallace says it was an accident. It’s still a touchy subject with some members of the respective crews and each driver’s fans, an argument of which no resolution will ever be reached. There is, however, one thing everyone can agree on: It was one of the most explosive All-Star races.
“It took me a while to get out of that one,” Wallace said, referring to the fans viewing him as “the bad guy.” “I was surprised at how the fans reacted to me after that, but that was back in 1989. I was confident and cocky a little bit, maybe cocky a lot and confident a little bit. I was a young punk coming along and I roughed up one of the veterans and it wasn’t taken kindly.”
Prior to the1989 race’s final 10 laps, The Winston had been a rather ho-hum event. Wallace dominated the event’s75-lap first segment and won easily. Waltrip claimed the 50-lap second segment, outdistancing Wallace, who had a tire issue that adversely affected his car’s handling. Bias-ply tires were used then and Dodson discovered the crew had mixed up the tires. They had reversed the right-front and right-rear tires.
“After we realized that and got it straightened out for the last segment the car was back to running normal,” Wallace said. “But then I had to run Darrell down and catch him.”
A little more than a lap remained when the fireworks erupted. Wallace had closed in on Waltrip. Suddenly, Waltrip’s Chevrolet shot off turn 4 in a slow, smoking spin, eventually sliding through the frontstretch’s grassy apron. Wallace grabbed the lead and finished 0.23-second ahead of Ken Schrader to become the fifth different winner in the race’s five-year history.
“I had that thing won and that would have been my second one,” Waltrip recalled. “I had a fast car and I fooled around there and the first thing I knew Rusty and I were in a little bit of a race. I really didn’t think he had anything for me. He really didn’t. He kinda overdrove the turn and he got into me, spun me out.”
Wallace said he was “real confident” that day that he had “a great car, but with all the adrenalin pumping and all the momentum, when I finally caught him and saw a chance to pass him I said, “Don’t lift. Whatever you do, do not get out of the throttle because you’re going to run out of time passing him.’”
“I carried that thing down in there and slid up into him,” Wallace continued. “I didn’t mean to wreck him, but I wasn’t going to back off either.”
In addition to the spin, it was the chain of events that followed that everyone remembers. There was a fight between the drivers’ crews, an angry remark by Waltrip and within 48 hours “The Ballad of Darrell & Rusty” had emerged from WRFX’s John Boy and Billy, the hosts of the radio station’s morning show that was popular among the racing community.
“It turned into kind of a childish thing,” Dodson said. “It looked like pro wrestling at the time, but it wasn’t. On the cool-down lap, Darrell was running, trying to catch us and wreck our car. Whitney was our best car and I told Rusty to hurry up and get to victory lane because Darrell was coming to try and wreck his car. As he came in (to victory lane), Sandy Jones, one of their crew members, kicked the car in the quarter-panel. Todd Parrott (one of Wallace’s crewmen) was there so a fight ensued.
“I was actually standing in the opening of the pit wall doing an interview, not realizing at the time that they were fighting behind me. When I did realize, obviously, I joined the fight because I had two little brothers in it. We won the race and the fight. But we needed the money to make payroll.”
While the crews were scuffling on pit road, Waltrip’s remarks only added fuel to the highly charged emotions.
“I hope he chokes on that $200,000,” Waltrip said angrily about Wallace in regards to the $240,000 the Missouri driver received for his victory. “That’s all I can tell him. He knocked the hell out of me. This is no kind of a race to be playing that kind of game. A lot of guys let greed overcome speed, and that is exactly what happened.”
In Wallace’s post-race interview that day, he said he hadn’t talked with Waltrip, “but out of all the drivers down there, he’s the most boisterous. I’d much rather this happened with Dale (Earnhardt) because then we could have shaken hands and gone on with it.”
“I got under him in the fourth turn,” Wallace continued that May day in 1989. “I had been faster in turns three and four, anyway. We touched and as soon as we did, I backed off. He spun. That’s it. I won the race and that is all there is to it.”
Then Charlotte Motor Speedway president H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler understood the situation’s volatility and he knew he had to provide Wallace with a safe way out of the track. He placed Wallace in the back of an ambulance and used that to transport him to his home “because there was so many people threatening me.” Wallace said he was in bed that night when his daughter, Katie, came running in to tell him there were police officers downstairs. Wheeler had requested police stay at Wallace’s house that night for his safety. At the time, Wallace lived in the Mallard Creek area near the speedway. The two officers slept in recliners in the house’s downstairs, while Wallace and his family slept upstairs.
The ill-will between the teams didn’t end on race day. It spilled over the following week to the Sandwich Construction Company, a restaurant in the University area that was popular with the racing community at that time. In fact, most of the crews could be found there having lunch during the week.
“We went in and sat down at some tables upstairs,” Dodson recalled. “They told us the Tide guys had reserved the tables. I told the owners we didn’t see any signs, so we just sat down. When they came in it was like, ‘Well, guys. Are we going to have to whip your ass again?’ We didn’t care. They quietly lined up and went downstairs.”
Looking back, Wallace describes that weekend as “fun” and a “real exciting deal.”
“I think what really freaked everybody out was the following week we were at the race track and Darrell and I are riding down pit road together on a golf cart,” Wallace said with a laugh. “It just proved that in NASCAR, you’d better get over it real quick.”
– Deb Williams can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment