The Season Of Bobby’s First Title And Richard’s Major Controversy
The 1983 NASCAR Winston Cup season settled into a fight between the Junior Johnson & Associates team with driver Darrell Waltrip and DiGard Racing Co. with veteran Bobby Allison behind the wheel.
By mid-season, Allison held a solid advantage in points. But Waltrip began to chip away, and at one point, gained nearly 130 points on Allison.
It seemed it all was going down to the wire. Waltrip was looking for a third-straight title with Junior’s team, while Allison was desperately seeking the first championship of his career.
As much as the points battle captured the headlines, it paled when NASCAR became embroiled in one of the biggest controversies in its history – which involved the driver considered by many to be its greatest ever.
It also involved Junior and his driver. And if the issue had been settled differently than the way it was, that could have made all the difference in the championship.
But in the end that wasn’t to be.
Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.
Now, I will admit I was pretty ticked at the way Darrell lost at Talladega in July. He was fighting for the lead with Dale Earnhardt when Bobby Allison tucked in behind Dale to give him the push he needed to win.
Bobby was a lap down at the time. I felt he had no business sticking his nose into it. He should have left the racing to Darrell and Dale – and I said so.
But it wasn’t long before I realized that, while the Talladega loss was tough to take, we still had a chance to win the championship.
Darrell was 170 points behind Bobby with 11 races remaining in the season. There was plenty of time.
Things got a lot better just two weeks later. On Aug. 21 at Michigan, Bobby lost all the oil pressure in his car after just 137 laps. He left the race and wound up 34th in the 37-car field.
Meanwhile, Darrell ran a great race. He didn’t win – he finished second to Cale Yarborough by a half-second – but with Bobby out of the race, Darrell picked up a bunch of points.
He was only 61 points behind Bobby with 10 races left in the season. It appeared Bobby was going squander a big lead for the second time in two seasons. I wouldn’t mind a bit.
It got better. We ended a nine-race losing streak at Bristol a week later. I’ll admit that my cars had always been strong on short tracks, and Darrell was great on the half-milers, but it was the pit crew that won this one for us.
Darrell and Dale pitted for four tires on lap 411, when the caution came out after Neil Bonnett spun. Dale pretty much had been dominating the race until then but my guys got Darrell out of the pits first – and into the lead.
Since everyone knew rain was coming, Darrell held the best track position. Sure enough, the wet weather hit and NASCAR was forced to call the race off after 419 laps.
Bobby finished third but we cut another 20 points out of his lead. We were only 41 points back – a gain of 129 points in just two races - with nine to go.
I was feeling very, very confident and Darrell was too. Maybe he was a bit too confident.
He said 20 points was a very big deal and that we were poised to win a third consecutive championship.
“We’re only 41 points down,” he added. “We got ‘em where we want ‘em.”
Well, no, we didn’t.
Remember I said it looked like Bobby was going to squander another points lead? Reckon he decided that, no, he wasn’t about to do that.
Danged if he didn’t go out and win the next three races, at Darlington, Richmond and Dover. Darrell finished in the top 10 in all those races – third twice, at Darlington and Richmond – but in the space of three weeks we lost 70 points.
Bobby was in front by 101 points with six races to go. We could still pull it out but, admittedly, things didn’t look nearly as rosy as they did just a few weeks earlier.
Even when Darrell won at North Wilkesboro in early October, we couldn’t gain much ground on Bobby, who finished third. We were 91 points down with four races remaining.
Then came the Miller High Life 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Oct. 9.
Darrell worked his way into the lead on lap 292 of 334. It was the first time he got out in front.
He stayed there until lap 312, when Richard Petty came out of nowhere to zip past Darrell to lead for the first time.
Petty’s car looked like a blue blur as it went past Darrell in the second turn and he just flat-out pulled way. Darrell simply could not stay with him – much less catch him – and Richard won by more than three seconds.
I knew something wasn’t right. Richard went by Darrell as if he was tied to the track. I realized immediately what Richard’s team had done.
It put soft compound left-side tires on the right side. This gave Richard much more traction in the turns and it made him faster.
I sent two of my boys to Victory Lane to take a look at Richard’s tires and, sure enough, they told me his team had done exactly what I suspected.
NASCAR saw it, too, and ordered Richard’s car to a secure area to have it torn down.
But Maurice Petty, Richard’s brother and engine builder, told them not to bother. He said the motor was too big. NASCAR tore it down anyway and discovered that it wasn’t big - it was huge.
It measured a whopping 381.983 cubic inches, well over the 351 cu. in. maximum.
I thought at the time, are you kidding me?
I don’t think I have to tell you how Darrell and I reacted.
Darrell flatly said that he had nothing against Richard, but given that he won with an illegal car, Darrell should have been given the victory.
I was a bit more blunt. I didn’t have anything against Richard, either, but I had a serious beef with NASCAR. Just three weeks earlier they had taken four laps away from Tim Richmond for using illegal tires. Four laps! It would have made all the difference for us at Charlotte.
But NASCAR said the difference was that it had taken Richard’s money. I told them, “Like hell it was Richard’s money! It was my money!”
The episode was embarrassing for NASCAR and its top star. Some of Richard’s most loyal fans said he should have returned the victory, but of course, he never did.
I’d like to say that we responded nicely after Charlotte but the truth is we didn’t win another race and finished the year second in points, 47 behind Bobby, who won the first championship of his career.
I’ll admit I was happy for him because he had tried so hard for so many years.
But I also thought that if he had done things a bit differently when he was racing for me in 1972, it would have been his second championship.