Simply put, Bill Elliott is a racing legend. As a 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup Series Champion, a 16-time Most Popular Driver, and a Hall of Famer, Awesome Bill from Dawsonville has definitely left his mark on the sport of professional auto racing, even managing to pass on a few things to his son Chase in the process.
Since we will all get to see Elliott back on the track after a several year hiatus when he races at Road America on August 25, it’s only fitting that we remember one of the greatest moments of his career. A race that would solidify one of the most dominant seasons for the Georgia native. I’m talking about the 1985 Daytona 500.
Prior to that iconic race, Bill Elliott had three straight close calls at the long-running stock car race at Daytona International Speedway. He finished in the top five three straight times from 1982 and 1984, including a runner-up finish in 1983.
But 1985 was a different story for Elliott. During qualifying, Elliott won the pole with a speed of 205.114 MPH, which was a record at the time. He then dominated most of the race in his #9 Coors/Melling Ford Thunderbird, leading for 136 of the 200 laps and nearly lapping the rest of the field before he had to pit late in the race.
The forced pit stop for a broken headlight assembly sent him back to third place, but Elliott quickly made up for lost time. It also didn’t hurt that there were several engine failures during the race, which knocked out a number of drivers, including AJ Foyt, Benny Parsons, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, and David Pearson.
Following a late caution flag caused by Neil Bonnett’s Chevrolet spinning out with less than four laps to go, Elliott maintained his lead until the end, securing his first Daytona 500 win (his second would come two years later).
Later that year, Elliott became the first driver to win the Winston Million. The award went to any driver who won three of the four Grand Slam races in a year. Elliott, of course, won the Daytona 500, before later winning at Talladega and Darlington to win the $1 million award.
It took 12 years for another driver to accomplish that feat when Jeff Gordon won three of the four races in 1997.