NASCAR: 1985-’ 87 MELLING RACING FORD THUNDERBIRD
1985 MELLING RACING FORD THUNDERBIRD
1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989
NASCAR introduces power-sapping superspeedway restrictor plates
Ford switches to the slicker tenth-generation Thunderbird
With Bill at the wheel, the Elliotts had won before – a road
course win at Riverside in 1983, and three victories on a
one-, a 1.5- and a two-mile speedway in ’ 84 – but ’ 85 was
the breakout season. “Awesome Bill” won 11 of 28 Cup
races, including the Daytona 500, Talladega’s Winston 500
(fighting back from two laps down) and the Southern 500
– the three races which earned him the Winston Million.
Confirming the Elliotts’ aerodynamic/power edge, all but
one of the 11 wins came on speedways longer than a mile.
FORD’S TOP DAWGS
Bill Elliott was Ford’s
from 1984 to ’ 88.
But when the tenth-gen T-bird appeared in
’ 89, its more slippery
shape took away the
aero advantage. Now,
every team running a
Ford was slick, with
the likes of Robert
Yates and Jack Roush
in the ascendancy.
ill Elliott was never much for talking.
Yes, he was the 16-time NASCAR Most
Popular Driver, and someone beloved
by his fans. But “Awesome Bill from
Dawsonville,” as the Georgia driver was
known, always preferred to let his racing
do the talking for him.
Without question, Elliott’s record from
1985-’ 87 spoke for itself: 19 wins, 40 top
fives and 23 poles in those three seasons.
Included in the mix were Daytona 500 wins
in ’ 85 and ’ 87, and an All-Star Race victory
in ’ 86. In ’ 85, Elliott became the first driver
to win the Winston Million by capturing
three of NASCAR’s four major races.
But along with all the records, Elliott is
perhaps best known for what he did at
Talladega Superspeedway: In 1985 at the
mammoth, 2.66-mile Alabama tri-oval,
Elliott went two laps down because of a
loose oil fitting and made both laps up
under green, coming back to win the race.
At the same track in ’ 87, he set the all-time
NASCAR qualifying record of 212.809mph,
a record that still stands 30 years later
and likely never will be challenged.
Characteristically, Elliott is very modest
when it comes to talking about the
phenomenal speed of the No. 9 Melling
Racing Ford Thunderbirds he drove during
that era. “Well, I often said when Ford came
out with the T-bird it was a very aerodynamic
car, and I think we kind of understood it very
well,” he says. “And that helped lead us to
the things that we did as far as the car goes.”
Uh-huh. Truth be told, there was more
to it than that – a lot more. Elliott and his
brothers, Ernie (who built the engines and
served as crew chief) and Dan (who built
the gears), were ahead of the field when it
came to aerodynamics. Way ahead.
(LEFT) Series sponsor
Winston offered a
million bucks to
anybody winning three
of the season’s four
biggest races in 1985.
Bill Elliott had won
the Daytona 500 and
the Winston 500 at
Talladega, but brake
problems in Charlotte’s
Coca-Cola 600 meant
he’d need to win
500 to seal the deal.
Holding off Cale
T-bird in the closing
laps, Elliott duly did.
“I can just say that, having run all
of our major cars through the wind
tunnel, theirs was the best by far”