Six Races That Changed NASCAR: Part 2
Part two of this series takes a look at the 1985 Southern 500.
The 1980's saw an amazing growth in popularity and overall value of NASCAR. The thoughts came into being about ways to increase coverage of the sport. Thus, a new program was introduced to the drivers for the 1985 season. It became known as The Winston Million. The basics of the program was this: Any driver that could win three of the four "crown jewel" events on the Winston Cup schedule (Daytona 500, Winston 500 at Talladega, World/Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, and the Southern 500 at Darlington) would earn a bonus award of one million dollars. Such a task was seen as very difficult and not likely to happen.
Enter, Bill Elliott.
Bill Elliott became the first driver eligible for The Winston Million by winning the Daytona 500 from the pole. At the next "crown jewel" race, Elliott again won the pole. During the Winston 500 at Talladega, he suffered engine problems that put him two laps down. He made up the laps under green and won the race in one of the greatest individual driving performances in NASCAR history. Bill again won the pole at the World 600, but finished 18th, 21 laps down. That pushed his chance at history back to the Southern 500 at Darlington, SC on September 1st.
The focus on the day was squarely on Bill Elliott as he tried to make racing history. Like he had in the other "crown jewel" races, he won the pole. Bill spent the day dodging trouble, including avoiding Dale Earnhardt when he wrecked and being right behind Cale Yarborough when his power steering failed. Bill was able to avoid all the trouble and took the win at the Southern 500, becoming the first to win The Winston Million. Bill Elliott became an instant star in NASCAR. The entire NASCAR community celebrated his historic win. Elliott became the first NASCAR driver to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
In the aftermath, some wondered whether there would be any difficulty to winning The Winston Million. After all, if Elliott could do it in the first year, then it's going to be won several times. That turned out not to be the case. After Elliott in '85 through 1996, no driver won the big prize. The only other driver to win The Winston Million was Jeff Gordon in 1997, which turned out to be the final year of the program. The Winston Million was replaced by The Winston No Bull Five. In that program, the drivers who finished in the top five of the prior No Bull Five race would win one million dollars if they won that next eligible race. That program lasted until 2002.
Bill Elliott has had a great career in NASCAR racing. He won 44 Winston Cup races, named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers, won the 1988 Winston Cup Championship, and the most popular driver award 16 times. But it was him winning The Winston Million that made him one of the elite drivers in the sport. His driving skills and down home attitude has made him a favorite among many fans even today. Elliott retired from full time racing after 2003, but drives on a part time basis. Many fans still refer to him as "Awesome Bill From Dawsonville". But on that September afternoon at Darlington, he earned another nickname that sticks with him still today: "Million Dollar Bill".
Here is a video of the last 5 laps of the 1985 Southern 500 Courtesy of
Here is a video of the last 5 laps of the 1985 Southern 500 Courtesy of youtube.com