When NAS­CAR’S quest for power al­most brought about tragedy at Tal­ladega

Motor Sport News - - Nascar Plymouth Superbird -

While the Superbird was the height of the out­landish ‘aero war­riors’, the ad­vance of aero­dy­nam­ics meant that cars con­tin­ued to get ever-faster – and in the 1980s no­body could make them faster than ‘Awe­some Bill from Daw­sonville’.

Bill El­liott’s fam­ily team ruled the su­per­speed­ways, work­ing won­ders to ex­tract every pos­si­ble drop of pace from Ford’s su­per-slick Thun­der­bird.

The 1987 Thun­der­bird was re­fined for low drag and high­speed sta­bil­ity. El­liott claimed pole for that year’s Day­tona 500 with a lap that av­er­aged 210.364mph. He dom­i­nated the race, av­er­ag­ing 176.263mph.

At the even-faster, even-fiercer Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way, El­liott went even quicker. In qual­i­fy­ing for the Win­ston 500, El­liott’s pole lap around the high-banked 2.66-mile oval av­er­aged 212.809mph. By com­par­i­son, a week later Bobby Ra­hal claimed pole for the In­di­anapo­lis 500 av­er­ag­ing 216.609mph.

Few NAS­CAR driv­ers were truly com­fort­able with the speeds, but the sport rev­elled in the head­lines – un­til lap 21 of the race. That was when Bobby Al­li­son’s Buick blew a tyre, lift­ing into the air and fly­ing into the fenc­ing. Nearly 100 feet of fence was ripped down; only two steel cables stopped the car from go­ing into the crowd, pre­vent­ing tragedy.

The race restarted sev­eral hours later, with Al­li­son’s son Davey win­ning the race. El­liott had been hunt­ing him down when his en­gine blew.

The crash was the wake-up call NAS­CAR needed. Restric­tor plates were in­tro­duced for su­per­speed­ways to throt­tle the cars’ power, keep­ing speeds be­low 200mph. It also bunched the cars to­gether, cre­at­ing in­tense, crash­strewn pack rac­ing.

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