2010-02-04 / Sports

“Awesome Bill” To Return Part Time

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

Bill Elliott Bill Elliott Bill Elliott, the 54-year-old driver often dubbed “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville,” will return for at least 13 races in 2010 for the Wood Brothers Racing team. His first race will be the season-opening Daytona 500, on Sunday, Feb. 14.

“I don’t feel any different, really,” he said on Speed TV. “(The age) just doesn’t seem to matter. That’s one thing I questioned when I stopped. I ran a handful of races in ’04 and ’05, and when Len and Eddie (Wood) asked me to do a few races in ’07, I said,

OK, I’ll do a few.’ When I started off, I was racing every week. I thought, ‘Man I’m going to die doing this.’ But once you get used to it, it’s kind of old hat.”

Team co-owner Eddie Wood said his team will continue to put all its strength into its part-time schedule while trying to build a base to return to full-time racing, possibly as early as 2011.

“You have more time,” Wood said. “The group of people we have together is a very close-knit group. And it’s small. And small is OK. It works for us. We have a lot of time to do things. If we want to do a test or have an idea, we have time to go do it. The bigger teams don’t.”

“We do want to get back fulltime, but we won’t do it until we can do it correctly. You won’t ever see us be a start-and-park car.”

Lee Petty, first Daytona 500 winner

Lee Petty was one of NASCAR’s pioneer drivers. The highlight of his career came in 1959 when he won the first Daytona 500. Lee, Johnny Beauchamp and Joe Weatherly arrived at the finish line in a near deadheat. It took NASCAR officials three days before declaring Lee Petty the winner.

But that was much later. Unable to afford a new car for NASCAR’s first race at Charlotte in June 1949, Lee borrowed a 1948 Buick Roadmaster from a family friend.

He packed up his wife, Elizabeth, and sons Richard and Maurice and headed to Charlotte.

From the grandstands, the family watched as Lee moved through the field that included Red Byron, Buck Baker and Curtis Turner. Lee was reeling them in until a sway bar broke on the big Buick, causing it to barrelroll four times.

Lee received only a minor cut, but the car was torn up so bad that it took two wreckers to remove it from the track.

“Since we had driven the car to the track, we didn’t have a ride, and had to thumb our way home,” said Richard Petty.

Lee won three NASCAR Grand National (later Winston Cup) championships in 1954, ’58 and ’59. Throughout his career he was one of the most consistent drivers in racing. Between 1949 and 1959, he never finished below fourth in the final standings.

Even though he ran his first NASCAR race at the age of 35, he still managed to start 427 races, with 54 wins, and 231 top fives. His winning percentage was 13 percent.

“Racing isn’t just for the people who go to races or listen to them on the radio or read about them. It’s done something for everybody who rides in a car, and that’s one reason the factories need to be kept in the sport,” said Lee.

“There’s no denying, however, that racing has really come a long way. We used to think we were fortunate if we got $1,000 for winning a race. Later, Richard won millions in his career, and the purses keep going up.

“It takes a lot more to go racing than it did back in “the good old days,” too. It used to be that I could buy a car and go racing without spending more than $1,000 on it.”

“Don’t think that I’m saying racing isn’t getting bigger and better though. NASCAR and racing have done me and a lot of people good.”

“NASCAR has done a lot of things I haven’t liked—and I’ve done quite a few things NASCAR hasn’t liked. But we’ve both had a good ‘marriage’ and both of us have benefited from it.”

In 1961 Lee had a terrible accident trying to avoid a spinning Banjo Matthews during a qualifying race at Daytona. Lee’s car flew over the guardrail and into the parking lot. He spent four months in the hospital, and did return to racing.

But essentially, his racing career was over. He only ran nine races before retiring in 1964.

Lee Petty founded Petty Enterprises, the winningest racing organization in American motorsports. Petty Enterprise drivers have claimed 10 NASCAR Grand National and Winston Cup championships, won 271 races, and fielded over 2,200 cars in 1,800 events.

Lee Petty died April 5, 2000, at the age of 86.

Weekend racing: The 32nd annual Budweiser Shootout launches Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, Feb. 6 with green flag set for 8:10 p.m. (EDT) on Fox.

Drivers that are eligible include: Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Bill Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Michael Waltrip, Bobby Labonte, Dale Earnhardt Jr., John Andretti, Derrike Cope, Geoff Bodine, Terry Labonte, Sterling Marlin, and Ken Schrader.

Not all 28 drivers that are eligible will run the event.

The race distance will continue to be 75 laps (187.5 miles), consisting of two segments; 25 and 50 laps. Both green-flag laps and yellow-flag laps will count. Between segments there will be a 10-minute pit stop, allowing teams to pit and change tires, add fuel and make normal chassis adjustments. Crews will be permitted to work on cars and will be allowed to perform functions they would do on a normal pit stop in a regular NASCAR Sprint Cup event.

Starting positions will again be determined by a blind-draw at the annual Budweiser Shootout Draw Party on Thursday night, Feb. 4.

Racing trivia question: Name Mark Martin’s three teammates that race with him in the Cup Series. If you e-mail us the correct answer, we will send you a photo of Martin.

Last week’s question: Who was the winner of the first Daytona 500? Answer. Lee Petty.

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