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May 17, 2024

NASCAR Classics: Races to watch before North Wilkesboro

View of racing at Charlotte.
NASCAR Research & Archives Center
Getty Images

Throughout the 2024 NASCAR season, Ken Martin, director of historical content for the sanctioning body, will offer his suggestions on which historical races fans should watch from the NASCAR Classics library in preparation for each upcoming race weekend.

Martin has worked exclusively for NASCAR since 2008 but has been involved with the sport since 1982, overseeing various projects. He has worked in the broadcast booth for hundreds of races, assisting the broadcast team with different tasks. This includes calculating the “points as they run” for the historic 1992 finale, the Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The following suggestions are Ken’s picks to watch before this weekend’s All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

The Winston 1987:

The beginning of the 1987 NASCAR Cup Series season was dominated by Dale Earnhardt in historic fashion.

If not for mechanical issues while dominating the race at Atlanta, Earnhardt would have eight consecutive victories on his already legendary list of accomplishments.

He won at Rockingham and Richmond before his issues at Atlanta. The Kannapolis, North Carolina driver backed that up with four straight wins at Darlington, North Wilkesboro, Bristol and Martinsville.

Earnhardt entered the All-Star Race at Charlotte with a 220-point lead in the season standings over Daytona 500 winner, Bill Elliott.

The entry criteria included winners from the 1986 and 1987 seasons, the winner of the 1986 All-Star event, plus the winneeeeeeeer of the All-Star Open.

Four additional drivers were added to the field since it did not meet the 19-driver threshold. Cale Yarborough, Harry Gant, Richard Petty, and Greg Sacks were eligible via this change, as they were the four most recent drivers not yet eligible for the event, to have a points paying victory.

Buddy Baker advanced to the main event, thanks to a victory in the Open.

The first two segments of the All-Star Race went to Elliott, who seemingly had the fastest car of the day. The two early triumphs brought home a combined $75,000 for the Dawsonville, Georgia star.

Early on in the race, the polarizing duo of Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine had a run-in on the track, that left Earnhardt with some minimal damage.

It wasn’t a surprise that the race for the victory came down to those three drivers, as the beginning of the third and final segment started with fireworks that had a lasting impact.

Contact off the restart saw Bodine go around after racing for the lead with Elliott and put Earnhardt in the lead, as the race was yellow-flagged.

Once the green flag waved, Earnhardt looked to be in control until Elliott closed back in. The move, which is heralded as the “Pass in the Grass,” occurred on the frontstretch.

Elliott closed in on the back of the blue and yellow No. 3 car, as Earnhardt laid a block on Elliott to stay out front. Elliott took a strong run out of the fourth turn and put his front bumper to Earnhardt’s car, sending him sliding through the grass, before coming back onto the track right in front of Elliott in thrilling fashion.

The two drivers continued their battle, door slamming on the track before Elliott’s chance at victory ended with a cut tire.

Earnhardt held off Terry Labonte and Tim Richmond to capture the victory. Following the race, Elliott let Earnhardt know he wasn’t pleased with the action on the track by pulling up alongside of Earnhardt on the cool-down lap.

Elliott was visibly frustrated during his post-race interview. He pointed out all of the things that he said Earnhardt did from his point-of-view and said that it needed to stop.

Earnhardt, Elliott and Bodine were all fined by NASCAR for their involvement in the incidents.

View of Dale Earnhardt in Victory Lane
NASCAR Research & Archives Center | Getty Images

The Winston 1992:

Charlotte Motor Speedway’s new state-of-the-art light system was on full display for the first time as the NASCAR Cup Series raced the All-Star Race under the lights for the first time in event history.

The event was comprised of 20 drivers, with race-winning drivers and owners from the 1991 and 1992 seasons, the top-two finishers from the Open and former Cup Series champions filling the field.

The biggest surprise to the field was Dave Mader, who was eligible for the event because he was driving the No. 9 car for Melling Racing that Bill Elliott won with the previous season. This stipulation also allowed Morgan Shepherd in the race, thanks to a Dale Jarrett win for the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing team in 1991.

Flashbulbs illuminated the Charlotte night sky, as drivers took to the track for the main event. The 20-car field stopped at the start finish line for a historic photo, before taking a few pace laps in preparation for the event.

It should come as no surprise as the event was full of just about everything, as they raced under a full moon.

The final lap of the race saw Earnhardt and Kyle Petty battling for the lead, before contact between the two sent Earnhardt around, ending his chance at the win.

This allowed Davey Allison to close in on Petty, as the two drivers raced side-by-side to the checkered flag. Allison crossed the line first, but the two cars made contact, which sent Allison hard into the wall and required him to be cut from his No. 28 Robert Yates Racing Ford.

Allison was transported to a local hospital and admitted with a concussion, a bruised lung and bruised legs.

View of Davey Allison's No. 28 Ford
NASCAR Research & Archives Center | Getty Images

All-Star Race 2023:

North Wilkesboro Speedway sat dormant from the NASCAR Cup Series schedule since 1996 and many believed that the historic facility was slowly fading into oblivion, but that was not the case.

To the surprise of just about everyone, the venue opened back up and the Cup Series All-Star Race, as well as a Craftsman Truck Series event, were added to the schedule for the 2023 season.

The historic buzz around the events could be felt from the moment the announcement of its impending return was made official, so it was no surprise that the venue was sold out for the annual All-Star Race.

The field for the main event was made up of race winners from the 2022 and 2023 seasons, full-time former series champions, former All-Star Race winners, the two top finishers from the Open and the winner of the fan vote.

An ever-popular event also made a return of sorts, as a pit crew competition set the field for both the Open and the main event.

Josh Berry, who was subbing in the No. 48 car for an injured Alex Bowman, and Ty Gibbs advanced to the main from the open race, while Noah Gragson captured the All-Star Fan Vote.

Daniel Suárez led the 24-car field to the green flag for the main event, in a scene that most in attendance never believed would ever happen after the near 28-year absence from the series schedule.

It was the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports car of Kyle Larson who stole the show. He led 145 of the race’s 200 laps en route to the checkered flag.

The victory was somewhat of a throwback, as Hendrick Motorsports swept the final two races of the 1996 season at the track. Terry Labonte piloted the No. 5 car and won in April, while Jeff Gordon won the somber finale at North Wilkesboro in September.

23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick finished second and third, while a pair of Chase’s, Briscoe and Elliott, rounded out the top five.

View of racing at North Wilkesboro
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

You can watch these three races and hundreds more by visiting NASCAR Classics.