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2 Drivers In Transitions Clashed In A Controversial Incident

A Special, One-Time Race At Charlotte Motor Speedway

The 1986 NASCAR Winston Cup season was one of a slow transition for one successful driver and not so much for another. The two would battle for the championship — and become involved in a very controversial, last-lap, multicar crash before the season was two months old.

By 1981, Darrell Waltrip had split with DiGard Racing Co., with which he had enjoyed successful seasons before the relationship soured and ended in an acrimonious split. Waltrip wanted to get away from DiGard to join Junior Johnson and Associates, already a powerhouse team that had won three consecutive titles with driver Cale Yarborough from 1976-78.

Waltrip knew he could win championships with Johnson, and he was right. In his first two seasons, he won 24 races and consecutive titles. As Waltrip’s tenure advanced, so did his acceptance and respectability from fans. In his earlier years the Kentucky native had been a brash, outspoken, witty competitor — even something of a smart aleck. Fans had never seen the likes of him. They felt he was a loud-mouthed egomaniac who disrespected established, veteran drivers.

But they admitted he had talent. And by 1986, with two championships to his credit and a calmer, much less vocal personality, Waltrip was slowly changing into a fan favorite. Not universally, you understand, but he was taking steps toward the elder statesman he would become.

On the other hand, by 1986 Dale Earnhardt was still the intense, unrelenting competitor he had been since he won Rookie of the Year with team owner Rod Osterlund in 1979.

It seemed that with Osterlund, the sky was the limit for Earnhardt. He won the 1980 championship and began the 1981 season with great optimism.

But it all came crashing down.

Late in ’81, Osterlund sold his organization to maverick owner J.D. Stacy, who had already spread money around in NASCAR by sponsoring as many as seven teams.

Earnhardt wanted no part of Stacy. He drove in just four events before he quit to join independent driver/owner Richard Childress, who agreed to provide Earnhardt cars for the remaining 11 races of the season in return for Wrangler sponsorship.

Earnhardt spent the 1982-83 seasons with veteran owner Bud Moore. They weren’t productive, largely because of mechanical and engine problems. By the time Earnhardt rejoined Childress’ more established, stable team in 1984, he was a disgruntled driver.

He spent two years trying to regain the form that had won him a championship. He did win again — six…

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