742.  Bill Elliott

 

After Harry Melling bought Elliott Racing at the end of the 1981 season, the team improved quickly.  At Riverside, in the ’83 season ending race, William Clyde Elliott claimed his first victory in his 117th Winston Cup start.  The next year, he won three times, but 1985 was when the redhead earned the nickname, “Million Dollar Bill.”

In one stretch, Elliott won seven of ten superspeedway races. 

“Critics say I should have eased off, sandbagged…  to make everybody else and NASCAR look good, but the thought never crossed my mind.  I was young and hungry.  I’m not a politician.  I’m a racer.”  At Talladega, he came back from a two-lap deficit, and set a closed course record for 500 miles of 186.288 mph.

Janie Turner, a friend from Dawsonville, started the Bill Elliott Fan Club.  In 1984, Elliott won the first of many National Motorsports Press Association “Most Popular Driver” awards.  Although Elliott enjoyed chatting with fans one-on-one and signing autographs, he wasn’t comfortable in press conferences and media events, and, at the time, seldom was quotable.  Often as not, his answers were, “Yup,” “I guess,” or “OK.”  His lack of media savvy probably contributed to his dislike of Darrell Waltrip, who frequently baited him in the media.  “Darrell… is a loudmouth.  He always was.  You never get the last word in with him.”

                                                                                              DW & Bill    DW and Bill

For the Winston Million in 1985, Elliott was the center ring in the circus.  “… suddenly there were new faces, an enhanced crush, and, for the first time, a genuine rudeness about the media’s interest.  Now we had people who’d never covered the sport…  sticking their noses in without apology.  One afternoon, Ernie and I and a couple of guys were standing in a small circle by our garage talking about the car when I felt something down by my leg.  I looked down and there’s a guy on the ground with a boom microphone stuck up in the middle of our conversation.  I just wanted to hurt him.”

As Elliott was winning eleven races and the Winston million, his personal life was stressful.  “I was never home.  Even when I was in Dawsonville, I was spending nights in the shop.  My marriage to Martha was terrible and would eventually unravel.  My daughter missed her dad.  Expectations began to soar.”

                                                                               Bill and Starr Tona    Bill & Starr at Tona

For ten seasons with Melling, Elliott exceeded everyone’s goals but his own.  He won thirty-four races, forty-one poles, the Daytona 500 in ’85 and ’87, and the 1988 Winston Cup.  He left the family business to drive for the legendary Junior Johnson.  He claimed six victories in three seasons for Johnson, who struggled as multi-car teams changed Winston Cup team business models.  Brother Ernie built engines for Kenny Bernstein’s King Motorsports and for Harry Melling.

“In the 1980s, all I cared about was racing.”  Elliott began dating Cindy about the same time his divorce with Martha was final, in 1990.  Cindy was a NASCAR photographer who traveled with the tour.  “I was basically living alone in a trailer with no furniture.  I can remember going to a Dairy Queen at the time and it only seemed fitting that my Brazier Burger was served without the burger.”   Bill and Cindy were married near the end of ’92, and their son Chase showed up in November of 1995.  “I have tried very hard not to make the same mistakes with my son Chase, and my wife Cindy, that I made as a younger man.”

                                                                       Cindy & Bill    Cindy and Bill

With McDonalds sponsorship, Elliott started his own team, run out of Dawsonville, in 1995.  The team was competitive, but the day of the NASCAR owner-driver was over.  At the end of the 2000 season, he sold the team’s assets to Ray Evernham, who was starting Dodge’s factory sponsored return to Winston Cup.  Driving for Evernham, he won at Pocono, the Brickyard, and Rockingham.

                                                                 Ganassi Indy car 91    Ganassi's Indy car 1991

Born in 1955, Elliott “semi-retired” in 2004.  He continues to drive, nearly full time, largely due to his outstanding qualifying efforts.  Nearly forgotten among today’s stars, he remains a quiet, shy, unassuming, but talented racer.  Chase races go-karts and is an honors student.