Hey race fans, this is Atlanta Motor Speedway President and GM Ed Clark! Well, here we are six races into the NASCAR season, and it’s been very exciting so far! Any time I talk to fans about racing, it doesn’t take long for the heated rivalries within racing to come up.
Whether it’s between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer or as recently as Joey Logano against Tony Stewart…or Logano vs. Denny Hamlin, fans today have no shortage of opinions as far as rivalries go.
We’re probably in a period right now with NASCAR where new rivalries are the talk of the town. But here’s the thing to remember - rivalries are hardly anything new in NASCAR. Take the incident last year between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer. It was really a throwback to some of the old rivalries of NASCAR. That was one where nothing much was said, he just did what he was going to do and delivered the message.
It’s probably more natural in racing than in any other place to have heated rivalries. The best thing about a rivalry, no matter the sport, is that the greatest beneficiary is the fans. Because when you have a rivalry, it tends to step up the level of competition for everyone.
As a driver you can have a guy that you may not particularly like, which gives you added incentive to step it up a notch. When you get around that car, you just get a little bit sharper and give it a little bit extra because there is that added incentive to beat that car.
As far as the best rivalries in NASCAR? There have been some great ones!
You can go back to Richard Petty against David Pearson. Now that was a heated rivalry. What made that one so great was that both of them wanted to win very badly and gave one another all they had on the track. Now that they are not in racing anymore, they can really appreciate what the other one accomplished, and the fact that they were able to go out and beat the other one, it meant something that is pretty special looking back.
It was almost as if they handed a baton off as a new crop of front-runners came along in NASCAR. Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough raced one another pretty hard. Have you ever wondered why people call ol’ DW ‘Jaws?” Well, after being wrecked by Waltrip during a race, Cale famously said that “Jaws got us.” He was referring to Waltrip, who had developed a reputation for having a lot to say.
Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison’s rivalry was pretty good too. It got so heated that it probably cost Darrell a championship in 1983. Trust me, as a racer, there are some things you don’t forget, and that intensity between those two is probably not forgotten, although I’m sure it’s fizzled since then. There’s even still a dispute between the two over who has more career victories. Allison is one spot ahead of Waltrip on NASCAR’s all-time Cup victories list, with Allison having 85 wins, one more than Waltrip. Waltrip has in the past disputed the validity of one of Allison’s wins.
Through the years, we’ve had a bunch of rivalries in NASCAR. Some fizzle out, some go in a years and some last a lifetime.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. was involved in his fair share of on-track rivalries. The one a lot of people talk about is the one he had on the track with Rusty Wallace, but his bouts with Geoff Bodine and Bill Elliott were pretty good too. I’m sure that if you’re a Bill Elliott fan, you still have memories of how hard the racing was between Elliott and Earnhardt in the middle part of the 1980s.
A lot of people talk about Jeff Gordon’s rivalry with Earnhardt – but that one was probably more centered on the fans than the drivers.
The funny thing about that one was that it was more than Earnhardt against Gordon, it was the fans against Gordon. The prevailing feeling was that Jeff had been too successful too easily or too quickly. When some of those wins came against Earnhardt, the Earnhardt Nation doubly didn’t like him. The amazing thing during the heat of all that was they would beat and bang on each on Sunday racing for wins, and on Monday would be doing business deals together.
Any time you are in sports and competing with somebody, there’s going to be incidents that happen that give you an added will to win.
That tends to be the case in racing an awful lot. And any time there’s a rivalry, the biggest winner isn’t the drivers. It’s the fans.