The 1985 Winston – Paving The Way For Today’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Showdown

Charlotte, NC (May 14th, 2012) – The Winston.

It’s hard to believe its now 27 years since NASCAR’s ‘All Star’ race made its debut. So much has changed since that first big money event debuted at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday, May 25, 1985.

NASCAR was a different community functioning on the fringes of major league sports back then. It had just been a couple of years since the fledgling cable television industry had crept into American households giving many their first extended look at NASCAR. The exciting sport – with the ability to market to millions – was coming of age.

As such, it was determined the sport needed an all-star race. Not just some trophy dash kind of deal, but a real race with real money. Thanks to the deep pockets of the R.J. Reynolds Company and its Winston brand of cigarettes, the event became a reality on a warm Sunday afternoon in May, 1985.

In all, 12 drivers – Harry Gant, Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Cale Yarborough, Benny Parsons, Bobby Allison, Geoff Bodine, Tim Richmond and Richard Petty – would compete for the unheard first-place prize of $200,000. In 1985 financial terms, this was a ton of money, even more than $185,500 Elliott got for winning the Daytona 500 earlier that year.

This was truly something special – the best drivers going for the biggest dough ever.

The inaugural Winston didn’t take long to complete as all 70 laps were run in a tick over 40 minutes. Waltrip, ever the cagey one in Junior Johnson’s Chevy, was the last of seven leaders in the caution-free event taking the checkered flag by a scant .31 seconds over Gant, Labonte, Yarborough and Richmond.

Almost immediately after taking the win, Waltrip’s Chevy started billowing smoke. To this day, only Waltrip knows if he ‘clutched’ the motor damaging it beyond repair – and post-race inspection by NASCAR officials.

The controversy over the finish only furthered the intrigue of the new event. Fast cars, big money and a wild finish put the event on the front page of newspaper sports sections and cemented the foundation of The Winston for years to come.

Over the years, NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway have done their best ‘tweak’ the race in an effort to make it bigger and better. Despite moving the financial needle above $1 million dollars to the winner, sponsor name and format changes have somewhat diluted the race. These days, at least a couple of regular season races pay over a million bucks to win and just about everyone is eligible to compete in the now-titled Sprint Showdown.

Still, it’s NASCAR’s All Star event and last year Carl Edwards proved drivers would let it all hang out for big money and glory as he took the checkered flag in front of Kyle Busch, David Reutimann, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle.

One of the best events of any racing season, The Winston originally gave NASCAR an All Start platform back in 1985. While the race these days with its 100-lap distance and four-segment format hardly resembles the original event, the thought of NASCAR’s best drivers taking the track with nothing in mind other than bringing back the only the steering wheel in pursuit of a $1 million dollar payoff still gets most race fans excited.

That’s good enough for us – especially those who remember the first Winston in 1985.

Last Call

I was driving down the road the other day when I came up on a guy in a pick-up truck pulling a stock car on an open trailer.

The racecar was your typical ‘street stock’ or ‘bomber’ – a mid 1980’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Based on the number of wrinkles in the sheet metal, this was one car that had been raced a lot.

Seeing the car reminded me that many local tracks around the country are opening their 2012 seasons. Like the racer in the lane next to me, thousands of other cars are being prepped for the season at a local short track. Soon, these cars and drivers, far away from the glare of the media spotlight, will be at full throttle at a track near you.

That said, make sure you support the local races in your area. More often than not, they’re affordable, family fun. Most produce more action in a night of multiple division heat races and features than you’ll see in any NASCAR Sprint Cup event.

That’s not a shot at NASCAR. It’s a tip of the hat as to how much fun and how good the racing is at your local raceway.

That said, next time you feel the need for speed, head out to Rockford, Slinger, The Dells, GMP, Concord or whatever short-track is just down the road from your house. They’re open for business and the racing is great.

You won’t be disappointed – and you might remember that there’s a lot more to stock car racing in this country other than the stuff you see on television every weekend.

Share Button