November 20th - An Important Day in Elliott Family history


By Cody Dinsmore

November 20th, 1983 - A redheaded mountain boy from North Georgia won his first NASCAR race with his family team. Exactly 5 years to the day later, the group would be at the pinnacle of NASCAR greatness. 

The Elliott family from Dawsonville & the Peach State are synonymous with each other. Today, Chase Elliott is the most popular driver in Nascar, and for many years prior, his father Bill held the same respect from fans.

The Elliott family’s presence in stock car racing started many decades ago. Family patriarch, George, started fielding cars at local short tracks starting in the early 1960’s at tracks like the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Jefco and others in the North Georgia area.  George would enter a car in NASCAR’s Grand National division just a handful of times in the early 70’s for Georgia drivers Charles Barrett, Jody Ridley, Harry Gailey & AJ Reno. In 1976, brothers Bill, Ernie & Dan would make their trek into the Winston Cup Series with a Ford Torino originally raced by Ritchie Panch a few years prior. When Bill took the green flag for the 1976 Carolina 500 at Rockingham Speedway, it was the start of a family legacy that would become Hall of Fame worthy. 

It was exactly 40 years ago today that Bill Elliott placed the Elliott name in the record book by claiming his first NASCAR victory at Riverside International Raceway. In a popular victory that finished under caution due to rain, the #9 Melling Ford Thunderbird finished ahead of Benny Parsons while Bobby Allison clinched the 1983 Winston Cup Championship.

It was a long time coming for Elliott, who was only in his first full season, after running the seven previous seasons on a part time basis. Even still, he showed plenty of promise early on, even finishing a surprising second place to David Pearson in the 1979 Southern 500 at Darlington. The Elliott team was very consistent, especially with the lack of funding compared to the other top teams and drivers. Up to this point, Bill had finished runner up 8 times before finally finding victory himself. (Coincidentally enough, his son Chase also finished second 8 times before reaching his first victory in 2018, also on a road course).  In the first 115 races of his Winston Cup Career, he placed in the top 10 an impressive 53 times. Even more impressive that it was with cars built by the small, family based team. 1983, their first full season, the #9 finished in the top ten 22 times in 30 races, an impressive feat!

The Elliott’s triumph in the 1983 Winston Western 500 was just what they needed. As previously mentioned, they were so close, so many times to reaching victory lane and as the old saying went, once you win your first race, it gets easier to get the second, third and so forth. Prior to this race, the team had also announced they had secured a major sponsor for the 1984 season and beyond - Coors Brewing Company. If you’ve ever seen Smokey & the Bandit, you’ll remember that until the early 80’s, Coors was not available on the east coast due to the beer not being pasteurized. By this time, Coors was experiencing a product boom and wanted to enter themselves among the ‘Beer Wars’ in the Winston Cup Series and wanted to align themselves with a fellow family organization. The Dawsonville bunch was the perfect fit. And boy did they ever exceed expectations.

Exactly 5 years to the day that Bill Elliott parked his #9 in Victory Lane for the first time in Nascar’s top series, he would win the Winston Cup Championship, in 1988. In those 5 years, the Elliott/Melling team went on an absolute tear. In that short time span, the team won 29 races, 33 pole awards, 2 Daytona 500’s, the 1986 ‘The Winston’, the Inaugural Winston Million in 85’, and set and broke multiple speed records at Daytona & Talladega. Truly, it’s hard to comprehend their dominance in just a 5 year stretch. There was not one team that won more between 1983 & 1988. 

When Bill won the Winston Cup in 1988 it was significant for a number of reasons. He clinched the title at his home track of Atlanta International Raceway (Now Atlanta Motor Speedway). It was the first championship for Ford in 19 years at the time when David Pearson won his third title in 1969. Elliott was a savior for Ford fans everywhere. It was also the first Georgia connection to a Nascar championship in several decades. While in the infancy of NASCAR’s existence, many drivers hailed from the Peach State, there really had not been a successful Georgia racer since the 1950’s when the likes of Jack Smith, Rex White, Gober Sosebee & the Flock brothers all visited victory lane. 

It would be the only championship for Elliott, and really the end of their successful 5 year reign on the Winston Cup circuit. The following year in 1989, Ford debuted a sleek, new bodied Thunderbird and the Dawsonville team did not find the same success they had in prior years with the ‘aerobirds’. Right out of the gate in 1989, Bill blew a tire in Daytona 500 practice and broke his wrist. The year was salvaged with three victories, but would only enjoy one victory in each of the next two seasons before leaving the team following the 1991 season for Junior Johnson’s team in 92’. 

We got to experience the same thrill here in Georgia, back in 2020 when Chase won his 1st Cup Series Championship. A sense of hometown, and home state pride radiated over fans for quite some time. Chase’s championship was even the first in a rebirth of successful Georgia sports. 

Do you think back on this day, 40 years ago, standing in a light rain accepting his winning trophy, Bill Elliott could’ve imagined the legacy his family would create over the next four decades?