For local fans, it’s only eight weeks until the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Back to its original name, the 75-lap Busch Clash was introduced in 1980 as an exhibition race for pole-winners from the previous season. It has since been expanded to include 2019 playoff drivers, former Daytona 500 winners and Daytona 500 pole-winners.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson is the defending Clash winner after claiming last year’s event in controversial fashion with a late wreck of Paul Menard.
Originally billed as the fastest of the fast, 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Buddy Baker won the first Busch Clash in 1979 by holding off Darrell Waltrip and defending series champion Cale Yarborough for the win.
The late Dale Earnhardt scored the first of his record six Busch Clash victories in 1980, the year he went on to win his first of seven NASCAR championships.
In 1982, Bobby Allison became the first of six drivers to win the Clash and the Daytona 500 in the same year. Neil Bonnett won the race in 1983-84, the first back-to-back winner. The 1984 race was noted for the violent crash suffered by Ricky Rudd, who literally was bruised so badly he had his eyelids taped open the following week to race in the Daytona 500.
Bill Elliott became the first Ford winner in 1987 and the second driver to win the Clash and 500 in the same year.
Tony Stewart scored back-to-back Clash wins in 2001-02, notably holding off Earnhardt to win what was then called the Budweiser Shootout in 2001 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2002.
Earnhardt Jr. captured the first of his two Clash trophies in 2003, holding off future teammate and 1994 Clash winner Jeff Gordon.
Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing are tied for most Clash wins by an organization. Childress won five with the elder Earnhardt and three with Kevin Harvick. Gibbs has three each by Denny Hamlin and Stewart, and one each by Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.
Hamlin and Harvick lead all active drivers, each with three wins, followed by Johnson with two and one each for Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.
BEFORE THE CLASH
The Clash wasn’t the first NASCAR exhibition race at Daytona.
In the early years, a consolation race gave drivers a last chance to qualify for the Daytona 500. Some of the biggest names in the sport were among the top finishers.
Jack Smith, who later won the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol, won the 1959 consolation race with future Hall of Famer Tim Flock second. Fireball Roberts finished sixth.
A year later, Curtis Turner won the consolation race with Ned Jarrett second. Johnson City’s Herman Beam posted finishes of ninth and 11th in the consolation races.
Another exhibition — the American Challenge Cup —debuted in 1961, a 10-lap sprint won by Joe Weatherly. The rest of the top five were Fireball Roberts, Junior Johnson, Cotton Owens and Richard Petty.
The consolation races continued through 1962. Junior Johnson, who won the Daytona 500 a year earlier, was the winner of the consolation race in 1961. Johnson City’s Paul Lewis finished sixth.
A race amongst top qualifiers for the Daytona 500 pole position took place in 1964. Richard Petty won and went on to capture the first of his record seven Daytona 500 victories.
The qualifying races started in 1961, but the consolation races picked back up in the 1981 season and ran through 1985. Lake Speed won the first one of those, followed by Tim Richmond.
Johnson City driver Connie Saylor won the 1984 Daytona 500 consolation race, beating Canadian driver Laurent Rioux to the finish line.
Randy LaJoie, who would go on to capture two NASCAR Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) titles, won the 1985 consolation race with Glenn Jarrett the runner-up.
The local racing community has been hit hard with the recent deaths of Bill Ledger and Greg Harvey, who served in different capacities at Kingsport Speedway and Volunteer Speedway.
Ledger, who died Jan. 6, was instrumental in the construction of Kingsport Speedway and served as a master handyman for decades.
Harvey, who died Tuesday of a heart attack, was a talented mechanic who served as a promoter and a lead tech official in his many roles over the years.
Email Jeff Birchfield at [email protected]