Darlington Raceway Celebrating “7 Decades of NASCAR”: NASCAR Goes Mainstream In The 1990s

Darlington Raceway is celebrating “7 Decades of NASCAR” for its Bojangles’ Southern 500 Throwback Weekend on Sept. 1-2. As part of the celebration, the track Too Tough To Tame is highlighting specific moments in the sport’s history, continuing today with the 1990s.

Following a dramatic increase of popularity in the 80s, the 90s were a decade where every piece of NASCAR seemed to finally come together.

As “The King” Richard Petty stepped away from the sport and wrapped up what he referred to as his “Fan Appreciation Tour” in 1992, new drivers didn’t hesitate to fill the void.

Alan Kulwicki, the expressionless and unlikely outsider from Wisconsin had flown onto the scene in remarkable fashion. Instead of accepting an attractive team offer from Junior Johnson in 1992, Kulwicki chose to put his faith in his own operation. The decision shocked the entire racing community.

However, the decision would prove to be a great one as Kulwicki would go onto edge out Bill Elliott by a mere 10 points for the 1992 NASCAR Cup Championship.

In the midst of Petty’s final race and Kulwicki’s exciting finish at Atlanta for the 1992 title, there was also a new face at that event. It was the NASCAR Cup Series debut for an up-and-comer by the name of Jeff Gordon.

Gordon would make his mark on the sport in the 90s, including a 10-win season with 17 top-three finishes in 31 starts in 1995, en route to the championship that year.

Gordon would also solidify himself as one of the most successful drivers in Darlington Raceway history. In the 90s he would collect five of his seven total victories at the track Too Tough To Tame and would also amass a jaw-dropping four consecutive victories at Darlington from 1995-1998.

His 1997 win earned him a $1 million prize by being the second and last driver to claim the Winston Million, a feat only one other driver accomplished – Bill Elliott in 1985. The 1997 Bojangles’ Southern 500 was a thrilling finish that saw Gordon and Jeff Burton battle nose-to-nose with Gordon coming out on top.

“Jeff Gordon is one of NASCAR’s all-time greatest drivers and his recent inclusion into the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a testament to his impact on the sport,” Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said. “He had so much success at Darlington Raceway, especially in the 1990s. He was tough to beat at the Lady in Black and had many memorable moments here. He is one of the sport’s all-time greats.”

During the 90s, NASCAR had become one of the most popular sports in the country. Both attendance and television viewership were increasing, and with the flashy piloting of Gordon and the crafty veteran expertise of Dale Earnhardt Sr., NASCAR had become something incredibly entertaining to watch.

Although Earnhardt had created an illustrious career for himself, there was still one thing that had eluded him; a victory at the Daytona 500.  He had come very close in years prior. For example, in 1990 Earnhardt led 155 of the 200 laps at Daytona but blew a tire on the final lap, along with any chance of achieving victory that day.

However, his fate would change in 1998. Coming off of a winless 1997 campaign and in his 20th attempt, Earnhardt beat the odds and took the checkered flag at NASCAR’s premier event.

One of the most iconic moments in NASCAR history followed as every member of each crew lined pit lane to pay respects to The Intimidator on finally accomplishing what had long evaded him.

“20 years of trying… 20 years of frustration… Dale Earnhardt will come to the caution flag to win the Daytona 500! Finally!” Broadcaster Mike Joy would exclaim as Earnhardt crossed the finish line.

Other notable historic drivers and moments in the 1990s include:

  • In 1990, Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson produced the “Days of Thunder” motion picture starring Tom Cruise; it was partially filmed at Darlington Raceway.
  • Mark Martin narrowly lost the 1990 NASCAR Cup Series Championship, in part to a 46 point penalty at Richmond due to a carburetor that was a .5-inch too thick.
  • Rusty Wallace posted the most wins (10), top-10s and top five finishes of the 1993 season but still fell 80 points shy of Dale Earnhardt for the NASCAR Cup Series championship.
  • In 1995, Bobby Labonte earned his first career win at Charlotte and Terry Labonte finished second, marking the first time brothers finished 1-2 in a NASCAR Cup Series race since 1971 (Bobby and Donnie Allison at Charlotte).
  • After four exhibition races in 1994, The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series made its inaugural debut in 1995.
  • In 1996, Terry Labonte tied Richard Petty’s streak of 513 consecutive NASCAR starts.
  • Ernie Irvan capped his miraculous comeback from life threatening injuries by winning at New Hampshire in 1996.
  • Rookie Tony Stewart came onto the scene in 1999 and won three races that year.

Darlington Raceway’s award-winning throwback campaign is The Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR featuring the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500® on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018. The NASCAR XFINITY Series Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 will race on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. Deposits can be made by calling 866-459-7223 or visiting DarlingtonRaceway.com.

Darlington Raceway PR