NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 68- The Day: 1992 Hooters 500

by Phil Allaway

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to The Critic’s Annex, where I take an additional look at the motorsports programming available to us. A couple of weeks ago, SPEED debuted the latest episode of their excellent series, The Day. Since it was during the lead-up to the Advocare 500, The Day covered the infamous 1992 Hooters 500. I wrote about that race here in the Newsletter during my Turning Back the Clock series last year.

However, before we get into the Hooters 500 goodness, we need to discuss the new streaming announcement that was officially verified by ESPN on Wednesday. Yes, RaceBuddy (temporarily renamed “ChaseBuddy”) is on for this weekend at Chicagoland and all the other Chase races this year with the exception of Charlotte because ABC doesn’t want to share (officially, it’s a protectionist measure for their affiliates). I’m generally happy with this. Also, you will be able to watch the ESPN telecasts of those nine races on WatchESPN.com as well, which is pretty sweet. You can watch a race on tablets, laptops, PC’s, cell phones and all kinds of other stuff now. Pretty got darn sweet, don’t you think? Also of note, ESPN recently merged WatchESPN and ESPN3 into one website. A great example of streamlining.

The only drawback as of now is limited distribution. ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Goal Line and ESPN Buzzer Beater is only available to subscribers of Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Verizon FiOS. I’m confident that discussions are ongoing with a number of different cable companies as I type this. Perhaps by the beginning of next season, the WatchESPN service will be available to more prospective users. ESPN3 access (required to watch American Le Mans Series races live) is also available via a multitude of other Internet Service Providers. The list of participating ISP’s for ESPN3 can be found “here”:http://espn.go.com/watchespn/affList.

Even better, according to “Dustin Long”:http://hamptonroads.com/2011/09/espn-turner-sports-deal-goes-through-2014-fans-watch-races-online, this is not just a one-time thing for the Chase. The deal is through the end of the 2014 season, when the current TV deals expire. That means that approximately 20 races a year will be available online. FOX would thus be the only holdout, and since they’re over-the-air, don’t expect that to change. Nationwide Series races are also included in the deal, meaning that RaceBuddy will likely be available for those events as well, along with WatchESPN.com.

NASCAR Now will also be available on WatchESPN.com. Sounds great. However, with the recent move of the show to either 2:30 or 3:00pm EDT, I think they should archive the shows online so that more people can watch. Let’s face it. That show got the shaft when Charissa Thompson and Dan LeBatard got new shows. Simple as that. Now, to your regularly scheduled critique.

The show was framed around the substantial amount of change that was going on, not just in NASCAR, but in the United States around the time of the race. A fair amount of time was given to Bill Clinton being elected President a couple of weeks before the race.

There was a good amount of time given to Petty Enterprises being in a substantial lull and the amount that the Fan Appreciation Tour was taking out of Richard Petty. 1992 was not Petty’s worse season on the tour (1989, where he failed to qualify for four races and finished 29th in points was rock bottom). However, he still failed to earn even one top-10 finish all year. His best finishes were three 15th-place runs at both Talladega races and the June race at Michigan. For “The King,” the race didn’t go very well. He wasn’t all that competitive out there, then got caught up in a big wreck that resulted in the “No. 43 catching fire, and Petty cursing on live television at the 6:50 mark of this clip”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsykVE0jCDI. However, Petty did come back to finish and take one last cool-down lap with the fans showering cheers on him.

Some time was spent covering the pre-race tests at Atlanta that used to come the week before the final race of the season. Period piece interviews helped to augment the footage.

Alan Kulwicki today is a bit of a forgotten soul in NASCAR. Yes, he won the championship in 1992, but he only ran seven full seasons in the Cup Series prior to his unfortunate death. This is a man that started less races (207) than drivers like Johnny Benson and Martin Truex, Jr., and managed five wins in that time. Outside of the championship year, he never finished better than eighth in points. I guess Kulwicki is considered a bit of an enigma. He died too early for us to really see what he was completely made of.

Part of the show focused on Kulwicki’s travels in Winston Cup, coming down from Wisconsin to press his luck, finding zilch, and going it alone. What wasn’t mentioned was the fact that the team in 1986 (the Quincy’s Roadhouse-sponsored Ford shown in the piece, normally with No. 35, but the team did use No. 32 early in the year) ran the entire year with one car. Kulwicki DNQ’d four times, but ran well enough to beat Michael Waltrip for Rookie of the Year.

Davey Allison… was wreck-prone in 1992. That is all that can be said. This is someone that got hurt no less than three times during the season, yet still managed to come into Atlanta with the points lead. He should have won the title by 300 or so, but that just wasn’t in the cards. A fair amount of time was focused on Allison’s struggle with injury throughout the season (broken ribs in Bristol, concussion at The Winston, multiple injuries in July at Pocono) and how the team persevered through all that (Allison did take relief from Bobby Hillin, Jr. at Talladega in July, a week after his “infamous Pocono blowover”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqJ2jft5hP4). Add in the fact that his brother Clifford was killed in Michigan while practicing his Busch car, and you could tell that 1992 was just not Davey’s year.

In addition to the championship chase and Petty’s final start, it was Jeff Gordon’s first career start. In the general scheme of things, this was at best, an afterthought. Granted, there was a lot of excitement in the debut race, but a great run just wasn’t meant to be, despite having just about the fastest car in town (he actually tested a full mile per hour faster than Rick Mast’s record-setting pole speed). Ray Evernham talked about how the team screwed up on a pit stop and left a roll of duct tape on the deck lid of the car after a stop, and it just so happened to fall off on the track (drawing a yellow), and Davey Allison just so happened to run over it. If your brand new team was looking to make a good impression on debut (although Hendrick Motorsports had run three cars in the past, the No. 24 was a brand-new team for that race), don’t do what the No. 24 team did here. It was a little painful. Even 19 years later, Evernham is still pretty embarrassed about it.

I don’t think anyone realized it at the time, but Atlanta in 1992 was it for Elliott and Junior Johnson. The show mentioned that the team only won one more race (the 1994 Mountain Dew Southern 500) after the Hooters 500. That one Darlington win was Elliott’s last win of the 1990’s. He never seriously challenged for another title, with three eighth-place finishes (1993, 1995 and 1997) being the best he could muster. That eighth in 1993 was a little deceiving as it took until the end of July for Elliott to so much as lead a lap.

The show ended up with a look at the…grim futures for two of the championship contenders from this race. Unfortunately, neither Allison nor Kulwicki made it back to the Hooters 500 in 1993, scene of Dale Earnhardt clinching the title when T.W. Taylor crashed, Rusty Wallace getting his tenth win of the season, and Brian France shilling about some nonsense (at the “1:50 mark here”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgfbv1WwDnk) on ESPN. Both drivers were killed in aviation incidents during the 1993 season. Terrible tragedies at the time, and even now. Larry McReynolds still gets choked up when asked to talk about Allison today.

I greatly enjoyed watching this special. The piece was historically accurate, the sound bites were appropriate and really played up the sheer emotions of what was going on that day. I remember watching the race live, but not realizing just how much of a nail biter it really was. At the time, I was eight and bummed out that Earnhardt couldn’t do much in 1992 (12th in points, one win, and a whole bunch of engine issues). Only as I’ve gotten older have I come to realize the gravity of that day.

I hope you liked this look back at The Day: 1992 Hooters 500. Check back next Thursday, when I’ll be covering the Indy Japan 300 from the Twin Ring Motegi road course. Until then, enjoy this weekend’s action from Chicagoland, Motegi, Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca.

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