‘Divine’ Team Led Elliott to 1987 Bank of America 500 Win

Thirty years ago Bill Elliott emerged as the fittest of the survivors when he walked off with his fourth victory of the 1987 season in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s October classic. It was more, though, than just his 21st career victory. The triumph ignited a spark in the family-run team that resulted in it winning three of the season’s final four races.

“We had good stuff, we had good aero and Ernie (Elliott) had good motors,” said Bill Elliott, who was driving one of only 19 cars running at the finish of the 1987 Bank of America 500. “Everybody was trying to figure out my secret and, heck, we didn’t have one. We didn’t have anything that was any different than anybody else. The T-Bird, to me, was ahead of its time. It took them (other teams) a while to get their hands around it. We just came out of the box and were able to run well with it.”

Elliott ended the 29-race season with six victories, eight poles, 16 top-five finishes and 20 top-10 results. For the second time in three years, he was the runner-up in the standings, this time to Dale Earnhardt.

It was, however, a brutal season for the small team owned by Harry Melling, but better known for the three Elliott brothers – Ernie, Dan and Bill – who ran the operation founded by their father, George.

Ernie Elliott, the oldest, built the engines and handled crew chief duties. He had battled mononucleosis in 1986. Ivan Baldwin joined the operation in 1987 with the intention of helping Ernie with his workload, taking on crew chief duties, but things didn’t work out as hoped. Dan Elliott constructed the gears and transmissions. Bill Elliott, the youngest of the three brothers, focused on the car’s chassis/setup in addition to serving as the driver.

“The hours (we were working) were horrendous,” recalled Dan Elliott, who still possesses the transmission used to win three of the season’s final four races. “They were some of the worst that I’ve ever encountered because it was still a small group. It was more like family with the people that you worked with. It was awful, but it was the hardest work I ever loved. The only reason you could survive any of the race seasons, because of the hours, was because of the adrenaline rush you were getting from the success at the different places you were going to.”

When the team rolled into Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Bank of America 500 in October, it had produced seven top-10 and five top-five finishes, including two victories, in the last nine races. Elliott qualified seventh for the Charlotte race, but wasn’t a factor in the early stages. However, by the time the seventh and final caution period ended on lap 276 of the 334-lap race, Elliott was leading.

Two laps later Bobby Allison, who had dominated the event at the 1.5-mile track, was in position to retake the lead he’d lost during the final pit stops that took place under yellow. Allison, however, could never accomplish the task even though the left-side tires on Elliott’s Ford were worn (eventually completing 134 laps, 201 miles) and he was low on fuel. At the finish, Elliott was 1.5 seconds ahead of Allison, but during the final 62 laps had led by as much as 3.95 seconds.

“We knew we were going to go a long way on the right-side tires and I don’t have to say anything about how long those left sides were on the car,” Elliott said immediately after the race. “And I was running on gas fumes at the end. If we had to go another two laps or so, I don’t think we would have made it.”

Dan Elliott maintains the team was “divine.”

“I look at where we came from and where we were at; and we were very thankful and very blessed,” he said. “We did it as a family operation.

“I have to give pretty much all the thanks to No. 1, God, and No. 2, (our) parents. If not for them, we wouldn’t have been where we were. Mother had to sell family property. She had to come up with the money to be able to buy the race car and parts from Roger Penske (in 1977). That was the first break we got in being able to put this together with good parts. Daddy could have retired a millionaire off of what he spent on racing.

“What a tremendous battle and what a tremendous journey it was!”

As a salute to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Charlotte race as a full-time driver, adult tickets to the Bank of America 500 are available as a two-pack for $88 and include a Dale Jr. bobblehead while supplies last. All adult tickets are good for admission to the Brad Paisley concert. For tickets, camping and upgrades, fans can call the ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267) or shop online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

CMS PR/(CMS Archives photo)

Spread the love