Ask anyone who has ever been involved in racing, and they are likely to tell you that it’s a sport filled with numerous highs and lows. But for three drivers, Atlanta Motor Speedway stands out as the apex of their racing careers, each of them earning their first and only wins in NASCAR’s premiere series at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Way back in 1961, Bob Burdick headed to Atlanta with the Atlanta 500 being part of a very limited schedule. In seasons in what is now known as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he competed in a total of 15 races from 1959 to 1962. The 1961 March event in Atlanta, however, proved to be one of the bigger upsets of the early era of NASCAR.
Despite being underfunded and having a patchwork pit crew, Burdick drove the car owned by his father, Roy, to victory, leading 43 laps after qualifying in the seventh position. He bested some of the best drivers of the time to get the win. Rex White finished second ahead of Ralph Earnhardt in third with Ned Jarrett being fifth. The race was marked by a high rate of attrition. While 46 cars started the race, only 13 were running at the finish.
Burdick remains the only Nebraska native to have won a race in NASCAR’s top division.
Five years later in the spring of 1966, another upset stole the show. This time, North Tonawanda, N.Y.’s Hurtubise collected his first and only win on the Cup level. Hurtubise was a factor for much of the race. He qualified fifth and took the lead 32 laps into race, going on to lead eight times for a race-high 139 laps.
Hurtubise got by Fred Lorenzen with 58 laps to go for the lead and didn’t look back, getting the Plymouth owned by Norm Nelson into victory lane ahead of a pair of drivers from the famed Holman-Moody team – Lorenzen and Dick Hutcherson.
Like Burdick, Hurtubise came from an era when a driver running part-time schedules was not uncommon. From 1957 to 1977, he never ran more than six NASCAR races in a single season, and Hurtubise’s Atlanta win was his first career top-five finish in a NASCAR points event.
He also made a name for himself within the open-wheel ranks, competing in the Indianapolis 500 10 times with a best finish of second in addition to racing sprint cars.
He is famous for injuring his hands as a result of a fiery crash in a USAC Champ Car race in 1964 at Milwaukee. His hands burned badly, he instructed doctors to form his fingers so that he would be able to hold a steering wheel.
As the end of the 2000 NASCAR season approached, Jerry Nadeau came to Atlanta looking to end his first season at Hendrick Motorsports on a high note having posted two top-five finishes and four within the top 10.
Nadeau and the No. 25 team had proved an ability to go fast throughout the year, qualifying within the top 10 in the season’s first five events on 1.5-mile tracks. Finishing the races themselves, however, proved to be a challenge for Nadeau with four DNFs in those five races. Two were a result of engine failure with the other two times followed by involvement in accidents.
But on a crisp November afternoon, Nadeau finally put all of the pieces together and claimed the win. Nadeau started on the outside of the front row alongside polesitter Jeff Gordon, matching Nadeau’s best starting position of the season.
After Gordon led the first five laps, Nadeau made his way into the lead, holding the top spot for the next 22 circuits. It turned out to be a sign of things to come for Nadeau, who led eight times for 155 laps.
Despite being strong for most of the day, Nadeau needed some good late-race fortune with Ward Burton leading the race and Nadeau desperately trying to catch up from more than four seconds behind. Good fortune went Nadeau’s way with 12 laps to go when Scott Pruett spun on the backstretch, bringing out the caution.
As the lead-lap cars pulled onto pit road, Burton and Skinner opted to change only their right-side tires, putting them at the front of the pack on the restart.
On the restart with seven laps to go, Nadeau took the lead coming out of turn three and didn’t look back, earning the win.
“We had a tough year, but what a way to end it,” Nadeau said after the race in victory lane. “The car was flawless.”
Finishing second that day was Dale Earnhardt Sr. in what turned out to be the final points event he would complete in his career. The race was also Darrell Waltrip’s final race before retiring from his career as a driver.