BRISTOL, Tenn. — Two hundred and twelve miles per hour.
With one sizzling lap at Talladega Superspeedway back in 1987, Bill Elliott became the fastest man in the history of NASCAR, a distinction he owns to this day.
But when it comes to the passage of time, even the guy they call Awesome Bill from Dawsonville can’t help but marvel how fast the sand slips through the proverbial hourglass.
Elliott was on hand at Bristol Motor Speedway on Wednesday, Jan. 16 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his thrilling win over Geoff Bodine in the 1988 Valleydale Meats 500 at the half-mile track, a victory that helped propel him to his lone Cup championship.
“It don’t even seem like 25 days,” Elliott said. “It seems like time goes by so fast. Where has time gone? My son, now he’s 17 and he’s racing and running these places.”
With his iconic No. 9 Ford sitting a few yards away, Elliott stood inside the infield media center gazing up at a television monitor as the final laps of first Cup win on a short track played out in all their low-def glory.
Elliott led for 113 laps before Bodine spun him on lap 491, bringing out the final caution flag of the day. Elliott went into the pits for four tires and came out with just one thought on his mind.
“Beating Geoff,” Elliott said. “All I had in my head was beat Geoff, whatever it took.”
Of course, Elliott wanted to pass Bodine cleanly and win fair and square, and he ultimately did just that. But after watching the playback on Wednesday he admitted he was willing to go outside the realm of proper racing etiquette to get the job done.
A little peer pressure from Dale Earnhardt Sr. probably had something to do with that.
Elliott recalled pulling up alongside Earnhardt, who was running several laps down after some problems, prior to the final restart and glancing over to see the Intimidator gesturing wildly for him to get to the front and get around Bodine.
“Dale and I had our days, but I don’t think he liked Geoff very well either,” Elliott said.
It didn’t take Elliott long to get around Bodine once the green flag fell, and after getting back to the point on lap 497, he silenced the critics who labeled him as a speedway specialist when he pulled away for the win.
By the end of the season, Elliott also added a Cup championship to his resumé.
While NASCAR developed a restrictor plate to slow down the cars, no such invention has come along to decelerate the passage of time. Indeed, hardly anything on the NASCAR landscape has remained untouched.
Elliott said gaining entry into the Sprint Cup Series is a much different process than it used to be for young drivers.
The work was hard in the old days for sure, but hard work and talent could take a driver a long way. That certainly was the case for Elliott, who toiled away for years on the Cup circuit before finally becoming a full-fledged star in the mid-1980s.
“I think back to how hard that era was,” Elliott said. “You didn’t go anywhere and buy all the parts you needed to build the cars. You had to hand-make stuff. It was so time consuming.”
Now Elliott says money is essential in order to get a shot at driving alongside NASCAR’s elite. That’s the message he passes on to any parent who asks him about getting his or her child started in motorsports.
“I say, first of all, you’ve got to have a truckload of money. You’d better go win the lottery,” Elliott said. “Not being disrespectful, just being realistic. I can go down to the sporting goods store and buy the best stuff and go play with my kid in the yard if they play baseball, basketball or football.
“But you buy a race car and you spend 15 or 20 grand, you’ve just started,” he continued. “When you look at the generation that’s coming today, they’ve either got money or they’ve got sponsorship.”
Elliott learned firsthand about the high cost of racing in the 21st century when he decided to run a developmental program out of his shop back home in Georgia.
Along with helping his son Chase launch a budding stock car career, Elliott gave a driver with Kingsport ties named John King II a boost that eventually led to King winning a Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona International Raceway last year.
Elliott recalled sitting in front of the television and watching King seal the deal.
“He was running about fifth or six, and it was getting late in the race, and I said, ‘John’s going to win this race, the way all this is going to unfold,’ and lo and behold, he went and did it,” Elliott said.
The win was even sweeter for Elliott because he had known King’s father for many years. Elliott even remembered the day King was born — April 1, 1988, just nine days before Elliott’s breakthrough win over Bodine in Bristol.
Indeed, time stops for no man, not even the fastest one to ever climb behind the wheel of a stock car. So Elliott is doing his best to go with the flow during the time in his life people keep referring to as his golden days.
“I don’t know what’s golden about getting older, but at least that’s what they tell me,” he said.