Leaving Their Mark
They were the drivers that were in NASCAR in the 1980's and into the 1990's. They were a major part of the incredible boost that the sport enjoyed in that time. These drivers are a major reason why NASCAR has become the force in American sports it is today. Now, many of these drivers have either left, or are leaving the sport. They are leaving the sport to the younger stars, but the legacy they have should never be forgotten.
Darrell Waltrip: His career rise actually began in the 1970's, but the height of his career was in the 1980's. Early in his career, Darrell's brash attitude earned himself many critics and the wrath of many fans. By the end of his career, that changed. Darrell became one of the most popular drivers in the sport. He also had himself quite a career. Darrell finished with 84 career Winston Cup wins, which is tied for third most with Bobby Allison. He also has three Winston Cup titles. His driving career ended in 2000. Darrell is now a popular broadcaster with Fox Sports for their NASCAR coverage.
Dale Earnhardt: No name in NASCAR brings out more emotion in fans than this one. Widely known as "The Intimidator", Dale Earnhardt made himself the biggest name in NASCAR and one of the most recognized sports figures in the country. His seven Winston Cup championships are tied with Richard Petty for the most in NASCAR history. He won 76 career Cup races. He also set the bar for merchandising in the sport. His marketing skills are considered one of the best. Tragically, he died on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
Rusty Wallace: After grooming his racing talents on the short tracks in the Midwest, Rusty Wallace made his mark in NASCAR, starting with his Rookie of the Year award in 1984. Wallace quickly gained a reputation as a tough, hard-nosed driver. That became known to everyone in The Winston of 1989, when he made contact with Darrell Waltrip, spinning him out. Wallace won 55 races in his career. His career peaked in 1989, winning the Winston Cup. He retired after the 2005 season. He currently is a broadcaster for ESPN and ABC.
Bill Elliott: "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" is how many know the Georgia native. Bill Elliott is one of the most popular driver in the sport's history. He won the "Most Popular Driver" award a record 16 times. The award will be named after him after his retirement. Bill put himself on the map in 1985, winning 11 races. But it was winning The Winston Million that gained him nationwide attention. He became the first to win the million dollar bonus for winning three of the "crown jewel" races in the sport (won the Daytona 500, Winston 500, and Southern 500). He earned another nickname, becoming known as "Million Dollar Bill". He also became the first NASCAR driver on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He won 44 career Cup races and the 1988 Winston Cup title. He also holds NASCAR's speed record of 212.809 mph in 1987 at Talladega. He retired from full time racing after 2003, but races on a part time basis currently.
Terry Labonte: A native of Corpus Christi, "Texas Terry" became one of the most respected drivers on the circuit. He has been given the nickname "The Iceman" for his cool demeanor. Labone won 22 races in his career and won two Winston Cup titles in 1984 and 1996. Labonte's record of 655 consecutive starts is one of the longest in NASCAR history. Terry has run in three races in 2007, but now is mostly retired.
Tim Richmond: His style was so unlike many of his other fellow drivers in the 1980's. Tim Richmond was known for his flamboyant persona that made him a hit among many fans and the media, though some in NASCAR didn't like it. Despite that, Richmond was a great driver behind the wheel. He won 13 races in his career. It looked like he had a bright future. But, his health late in the decade took a turn for the worse. It was discovered that he had the AIDS virus. He tried to make a comeback in 1987 despite the disease that was discovered in 1986. In those days, little was known about AIDS. Richmond left NASCAR in 1987. He died from complications from the disease on August 13, 1989. He was only 34 years old at the time of his death.
Ricky Rudd: A native of Chesapeake, Virginia, Ricky Rudd has one of the longest careers in NASCAR. He started in Winston Cup career in 1975. With his long career, Rudd has set some records in the sport. He's tied with Rusty Wallace for the record of consecutive seasons with a win (16). His streak lasted from 1983 to 1998. Rudd is also NASCAR's "Ironman" with a record 788 consecutive starts. After taking the 2006 season off, Rudd is racing the #88 M&M's Ford for Robert Yates. On September 2, 2007 at California, he made career start #900. He will retire for good following the season.
These drivers, along with others in that time, made an impact on NASCAR that will never be forgotten. Not should it be. The drivers of today and of the future need to look at these guys and thank them for the legacy that they have. In each of their own way, they have left a mark on NASCAR history.