The Frontstretch: That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time: Mr. Popularity's Legacy by Amy Henderson -- Thursday May 19, 2005

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Author’s Note: This story originally ran on January 28, 2005. I got unexpectedly delayed (I was busy witnessing a car accident) and was not able to finish the story I had planned to write. I’ll be back next week, with an all-new episode, so stay tuned!

You probably recall that Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Nextel Cup Most Popular Driver Award in 2004. And who could argue? Junior, as he is know the world over, is a winning driver with fans everywhere; you cant turn around without tripping over one of them, even away from the track.

But Junior is just the latest in a long line of drivers to win the award, which is both prestigious and unique because it is voted on by the fans of the sport. He joins his father, the late Dale Earnhardt, on the list, representing the only father-son duo ever to both claim the honor. Bill Elliott holds the record for receiving the award the most times, sixteen. Richard Petty has nine, Bobby Allison has six. The list of winners mirrors lists of the greatest drivers of all time.

But there was one name on the list that I did not recognize. In 1966, the Most Popular Diver was one Darel Dieringer. Dieringer, it turns out, holds a place in NASCAR history that is both impressive-he’s a member of the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame-and innovative.

A test driver for many years, Deiringer won seven races in what is now the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. His first win came in 1963 at Riverside in the #16 Mercury Marauder owned by Bill Stroppe. In 1966, the year Dieringer, then 40, was chosen Most Popular, he won three of the 25 races he ran. The year before, he finished a career-high third in the season points. All in all, Dieringer finished his 181-race career with the seven victories, nine poles, and 79 top ten finishes to his credit over twelve seasons on NASCAR’s top circuit.

But it is Dieringer’s career as a test driver that brought what was perhaps his greatest accomplishment and certainly his largest legacy in NASCAR’s history. For Dieringer was one of a handful of test drivers who helped develop the tire inner liner, the “tire-within-a-tire” that is one of the most important tire safety innovations in racing history. When a tire is cut and loses its air pressure, the car can often make it to pit road on the inner liner, saving at least a destroyed racecar, and at most a destroyed driver.

It’s unlikely that Dieringer’s work on safety was the deciding factor in his 1966 Most Popular Driver Award. Probably many of the race teams in NASCAR today don’t even know that the Indianapolis native played such an important role in the safety of each and every driver over the past three and a half decades. Darel Dieringer passed away in 1989 at the age of sixty-three. His legacy is much more far-reaching than many who share Most Popular honors with, although his name is not the most recognizable by a longshot. Sometimes, that’s history.

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John Potts
05/21/2005 09:50 AM
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Your story on Darel Dieringer brought back a memory…

My brother, a good friend, and I were at Daytona in 1967, and one of the big deals in those days was to go to Mac’s Famous Bar on South Atlantic (A1A) to watch race films.

Dieringer came over and sat with us (he ran an ARCA race now and then, and I was flagging for ARCA off and on), and we were watching the 1966 Southern 500 – the first NASCAR race won by an intermediate-size car, Bud Moore’s 1966 Comet, driven by Dieringer.

On the last pit stop, Dieringer is jumping up and down and yelling, “Hurry up, hurry up, dammit.”

We finally settled him down by reminding him that he won the race.

 

Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
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