Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bill Elliott

You don’t really hear of many drivers caring about their secondary sponsors enough to even talk about them after they win a race, but Bill Elliott cared. According to an employee he would drive to Blue Ridge Plumbing Supply in the 70’s, and sign autographs right after the race. Now that’s dedication to sponsors.

William Clyde Elliott, was born October 8, 1955 in Dawsonville, Georgia, he is a part-time driver and former champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Elliott has been honored by the state legislature; having a stretch of road in his native Dawsonville renamed Elliott Family Parkway.

Bill Elliott started racing on short tracks in Georgia in 1970, in the Sportsman division with his brothers, Dan and Ernie. George Elliott, the boy’s father said “Actually, I got my boys into racing because I wanted them to stay away from the back roads. If they were going to be driving fast, I wanted them to do it in the right place." Which show the families raw racing talent was visible even at a young age.

Elliott made his first Winston (Sprint) Cup Series start at Rockingham in 1976, qualifying 34th in a field of 36 cars. Elliott only lasted 32 laps that day before the oil pump failed in his Ford Torino, earning him $640.

Elliott toiled for five years in the Winston (Sprint) Cup Series without sponsorship, and along the way showed flashes that he could compete with the established veterans of the sport.

In 1977, Elliott bought a Mercury Montego from Bobby Allison to replace the inferior Torino, and the move paid off. He soon earned his first top-10 finish in the Southern 500 in which he finished 10th.

In 1979 he got his first top-5 finish in the Southern 500, finishing second to race winner and boyhood hero David Pearson.

In the fall of 1980, Elliott gained his first major sponsor in the form of $500 from Harry Melling of Melling Racing in the 1980 National 500 at Charlotte. Melling would extend his contract and gave the team enough sponsorship to run a 12 race schedule in 1981.

After a 1981 season that consisted of one top-5 and seven top-10 finishes in 13 races, including the team's first pole in the CRC Chemicals Rebel 500, Melling bought the team from Elliott's father George on December 1, 1981.

In 1983 Elliott earned his first Winston (Sprint) Cup win in the Winston Western 500 at Riverside in the final race of the 1983 season.

He gained full sponsorship from Coors in 1984 to the tune of $400,000 and won three races, four poles and finished third in the championship standings.

In 1985, Elliott earned 11 wins and 11 poles out of 28 races and also won the first Winston Million in the Southern 500 at Darlington. This earned him the nickname "Million Dollar Bill", and "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville." He won the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 at Talladega, and the Southern 500 to earn the Winston Million. This led to him becoming the first NASCAR driver to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Elliott finished second in the championship standings by 101 points, losing the Winston (Sprint) Cup Championship to Darrell Waltrip after a string of poor finishes in the last quarter of the season.

In 1986, Elliott won two races, four poles and finished fourth in the championship standings. He also won The Winston II, held at Atlanta, the only year the race was run somewhere other than Charlotte.

He won six races in 1987, including his second Daytona 500, seven poles, and finished second in the final point standings. In The Winston he tangled with Dale Earnhardt in what has become known as "the Pass in the Grass". However, Elliott's most lasting accomplishment that year was setting 2 NASCAR qualifying records, which still stand to this day. At Daytona, he set the NASCAR speed record with an average speed of 210.364 mph. He broke his own record at Talladega with an average speed of 212.809 mph; the previous record he set in 1986 was 209.383 mph. In both races, he used a Ford Thunderbird which contained an engine built by his brother Ernie. Now, NASCAR mandates the use of restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega. As a result, Elliott's speed records will likely never be broken.

In 1988 Elliott won another six races, six poles, and won his only Winston (Sprint) Cup Championship.

Following his championship season, Elliott broke his wrist in a crash during testing at Daytona and required relief by Jody Ridley during several races in the first part of the 1989 season. Elliott won two poles and three races and finished sixth in the championship standings.

In 1990, Elliott won one race and two poles and finished fourth in the championship standings. In the 1990 race at Atlanta, Elliott's rear tire changer Mike Rich was killed when Ricky Rudd lost control of his car, spun, and slammed the crew member between his car and Elliott's. This resulted in NASCAR restricting the speed of cars on pit road. Also in 1990, Konami released the first officially-licensed NASCAR game, Bill Elliott's NASCAR Challenge for MS-DOS. The game was released for the NES and Amiga in 1991, and Bill Elliott's NASCAR Fast Tracks was released for the Game Boy at the same time.

In the year 1991 Elliott won once in the Pepsi 400 and won two poles and finished eleventh in the championship standings during his last season with the Mellings.
Elliott left Melling to join Junior Johnson’s already successful team in 1992. Elliott's sponsor during his time with Johnson was Budweiser; ironic because his sponsor at Melling Racing was from Bud's rival brewery Coors. In 1992, Elliott won five races (including four in a row) and three poles, but much like his 1985 season he finished a disappointing second in the championship standings after squandering a large lead in the standings with a late season string of poor finishes. He did win the season finale at his home track in Atlanta, but lost the championship by 10 points to Alan Kulwicki. The difference was that Kulwicki gained the 5 bonus points for leading the most laps in the race. Kulwicki led one more lap with 103 and Elliot only leading 102. The 10 point difference was the closest point differential until NASCAR changed to the Chase for the Cup points format 12 years later. But even if Elliott had led that one extra lap Alan still would have won the championship, because in the case of a tie they would go on who had the most wins that year, which was Kulwicki.

Elliott went winless in 1993 and finished eighth in the standings.

Bill scored just one win in 1994, which happened to be in the Southern 500 at Darlington, after his Darlington victory, Elliott announced he would be starting his own team with sponsorship from McDonald's in 1995. He finished 10th in the championship standings.

In 1995, Bill Elliott began his own team and assumed sole ownership a year later.

In 1996, Elliott suffered a broken leg during an accident at Talladega and missed seven races that season.

In 1998, in celebration of NASCAR’s 50th anniversary NASCAR named Elliott one of the 50 greatest drivers, he was also voted into the Georgia Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1998.

Elliott celebrated his 25th anniversary in NASCAR in 2000.

He made another high-profile move in 2001 when he joined Ray Evernham and Dodge as the lead driver of their organization. The team would herald in a new era for Dodge as the manufacturer made its return to the track after more than 20 years.
The team found success in his first race in the #9 Dodge, as Elliott won the pole for the 2001 Daytona 500 and finished in the top 5, bringing home a 5th place finish, though the race will forever be remembered for the death of fan favorite Dale Earnhardt. Bill finished his first season with Ray Evernham Racing with two poles, five top 5 and nine top 10 finishes, and a win at the season ending Pennzoil Freedom 400 at Homestead from the pole. This was his first win in over seven years. He finished 15th in the final standings.

In 2002 he won four poles and went to victory lane twice. His wins included the Pennsylvania 500, and one week later an overwhelmingly dominant victory in that year's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He finished 13th in the final standings.

His last win, in what became his final full-time season, came in 2003 at Rockingham. And, he came within a lap of winning his final race as a full-time driver (he would have been the only retiring driver to do so) in the 2003 Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Elliott led 189 of 267 laps and was on his way to victory, but a cut tire on the final lap gave the win to Bobby Labonte. He still finished the race and maintained his ninth-place position in the final point’s standings, his best finish since an eight-place finish in the 1997 standings. A few weeks later, Elliott announced that he was relinquishing the #9 car to Kasey Kahne and switching to a part-time schedule driving R&D cars for Evernham. "The way I look at it, there's got to be a time when you've got to step back. We don't live forever. We don't drive forever. We don't do a lot of things forever. It would be nice to do it, but I feel like this is an opportunity for the fans where I can still run some events." Elliott said concerning his retirement.

In 2004, Elliott drove the #91 Dodge Intrepid for Evernham in four events and also drove the #98 Dodge Intrepid in one other event because of sponsorship issues between Coca-Cola (Elliott's sponsor) and Pepsi (Evernham's sponsor). Elliott was listed as the owner of the #98 car, but Evernham leased the car to him. Although he only made six starts during his first part-time season, he still managed to have some success which included a ninth-place finish at Indianapolis and second and third-place qualifying efforts at Texas and California respectively.

In 2005, Elliott continued his part-time driving duties which included driving the #39 Coors Dodge Charger(in a paint scheme reminiscent of his 1987 Coors Light Ford) for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Budweiser Shootout and the #91 Evernham Dodge in several events. Although he made three more starts than the previous season, he did not have the same amount of success. He managed to get an eleventh-place finish and a tenth-place qualifying effort at Michigan, along with a ninth-place qualifying effort at Texas. He also competed in select NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) Series events for Rusty Wallace and also drove the #6 Unilever Dodge Charger in the Busch (Nationwide) Series for Evernham at Memphis. Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue declared October 8th Bill Elliott Day in the state of Georgia starting in 2005.

For the 2006 season, the 2005 owners' points for the #91 team went to the new #10 Evernham team and driver Scott Riggs and the 91 team was discontinued. On January 4, 2006, Elliott announced that he would pilot the #36 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS for MB2 Motorsports in the 2006 Daytona Speedweeks events. This included the Budweiser Shootout, the Gatorade Duel, and the Daytona 500, which Elliott had not competed in since 2003. On March 17, 2006, it was announced that Elliott would drive the #00 Burger King Chevrolet for Michael Waltrip Racing in five NEXTEL (Sprint) Cup events which included Chicagoland, New Hampshire, Indianapolis, California, and Homestead. On August 8, 2006, Evernham Motorsports announced that Elliott would return to the organization for the race at Watkins Glen driving the #19 Dodge previously driven by Jeremy Mayfield. The team fell out of the top-35 in owners' points after Indianapolis, leading to the firing of Mayfield, and Evernham assumed that Elliott would guarantee a starting spot in the field by being a past champion. However, since the driver switch was made past the entry deadline, NASCAR said that Elliott was not eligible for the past champions provisional. For the race at Kansas, Elliott teamed up with R&J Racing to drive the #37 Dodge. Elliott finished a season-high 16th at the Banquet 400 at Kansas, but did not qualify for the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte two weeks later. Elliott drove the #37 Dodge at Atlanta, marking the 30th Anniversary of Elliott driving at his hometown track. In 2006, Elliott's book, "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" was published by Harper Entertainment.

Elliott attempted to qualify for the 2007 Daytona 500, but failed to make the race in the #37. Elliott signed to drive the #21 for Wood Brothers Racing for at least two events for 2007, in part due to his championship provisional, which guaranteed starting the race. Since fellow champion Dale Jarrett had used all of his guaranteed starts in his Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, Elliott was the only champion eligible for the provisional not guaranteed a spot by being in the top 35 in owner's points. His first race for the team was the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte, which he qualified without needing one of his six provisional’s. He led the race at one point until he was involved in a wreck around lap 200. At Michigan, Elliott gave the team a much needed 11th place finish, and was kept in the car until the fall Richmond race. The car then fell out of the top 35 again but at Bristol got back into top 35 in points. Ken Schrader returned to the #21 replacing Elliott at a testing session at Talladega Superspeedway due to the team being back in the top 35 in owners’ points. He returned for the final four races after the 21 fell out of the top-35 again. He became the 19th driver out of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest of all Time to get behind the wheel of the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford.

In August of 2007, he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in Detroit, Michigan. On September 23, 2007, in an interview with Charlotte Observer Len Wood the co-owner of the #21 said in 2008 Elliott would have his own sponsor and share ride with Jon Wood & Marcos Ambrose. Bill Elliott returned to the #21 to try to get the car back into the Top 35 points at Lowes Motor Speedway.

At Daytona in 2007 Bill announced that 2008 will be his final season as a Sprint Cup driver. But at Kansas in an interview on NASCAR Raceday, Bill was asked about him racing, Bill said "We will be at Lowes, and do a few more races. Then we will see how things go."

In 2009, Elliott was scheduled to run 12 races in the #21 Motorcraft Ford for the Wood Brothers. One of the scheduled events is the Daytona 500, along with 11 other races on superspeedways.

On Memorial Day May 25, 2009 at Charlotte, Elliott became the 7th member of the "800 club", with his 800th career Sprint Cup start at Lowes Motor Speedway.
His lengthy list of career accomplishments includes being one of only 10 drivers to top $20 million in career winnings in Cup racing, joining Jeff Gordon, the late Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte, Bobby Labonte, Ricky Rudd and Jeff Burton in that elite club.

Bill created the Bill Elliott Driver Development (BEDD) program as a means to pay forward the years of support, guidance and hard work from family, friends and fans that catapulted him to stardom in NASCAR’s top series. Based on the principles of teamwork, strong work ethic and positive attitudes, the program aims to guide young drivers through the highs and lows of life in auto racing. As a mentor to the young drivers, Elliott hopes to groom them into leaders on and off the track; to develop their media skills and allow them to be comfortable in various public situations; to cultivate feedback and communication skills to help them become productive team members; and to provide seat time in various types of racing equipment to develop their driving skills. The BEDD team, which operates out of the Bill Elliott Racing shop in Dawsonville, GA, includes Chase Elliott, Casey Roderick, Mitch Cobb, Trey Poole and John King.