It goes without saying that the Bojangles’ Southern 500 is one of NASCAR’s biggest Crown Jewel events, ranking up there with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the Daytona 500. One of the main reason for that is because Darlington Raceway is the sport’s first superspeedway; before the grace of Daytona and the pageantry of Charlotte, NASCAR muscled hard, rough, and fast on Darlington’s egg-shaped oval.
With Darlington playing host to NASCAR’s annual throwback event, several teams and drivers are paying homage to this year’s early 90s’ theme with different schemes paying tribute to the early part of the decade which brought the dominance of Bill Elliott, Mark Martin, and Dale Earnhardt Sr. Here are some memorable events in the Southern 500’s 90s’ chapter.
1990 – Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, and Geoff Bodine were the three fastest cars of the day; they combined to lead 286 of the 367 scheduled laps. Earnhardt would go on to win his third Southern 500 in four fall events, while Elliott faded back to fourth and Bodine to eighth. Ernie Irvan, who led 70 laps, would finish in second-place, 4.19 seconds behind Earnhardt.
There were plenty of fireworks during the day, most notably when early in the event Ken Schrader and Morgan Shepherd made contact which sent Schrader’s No. 25 Chevrolet to the garage. Several laps later Schrader would get back on track and return the favor to Shepherd before being parked for the race. Shepherd would go on to finish 21st.
1991 – Harry Gant began his famous four-win streak in the Fall of ’91 when he won his second Southern 500, leading 152 laps and finishing 10.97 seconds ahead of runner-up Ernie Irvan. Ken Schrader finished third and was the last car on the lead lap.
Davey Allison started on the pole and led 151 laps, but finished 12th, four laps off the pace. Gant’s ensuing winning streak was the first since 1987.
1992 – Credited as Darrell Waltrip’s 84th and final Cup win, the 1992 edition of this event originally looked to be in the hands of Davey Allison, who was looking to become only the second driver to win the Winston Million coming into the weekend. Allison and Harry Gant led a total of 163 laps as rain threatened the area. During a cycle of pit stops on lap 292, several drivers opted to stay out. Allison’s Crew Chief Larry McReynolds sent a crew member to check on the weather forecast in the NASCAR hauler, only for that crew member to misinterpret the weather radar which led to Allison coming down pit road.
Waltrip stayed out, however, and was credited with the win after 298 laps while Allison was credited with fifth-place after starting sixth and leading 72 laps. Mark Martin, Bill Elliott, and Brett Bodine placed second, third, and fourth respectively.
1993 – Mark Martin won the Southern 500 at Darlington. That’s a fact that doesn’t look impressive on paper. But it’s worth noting that Martin won the race without power steering, which is something else entirely since Darlington is such an unforgiving speedway.
Martin started fourth and led 178 laps, dueling most of the day with Dale Earnhardt and his No. 3 Lumina. However, after leading 101 laps on the day, Earnhardt made hard contact with the wall and faded back to fourth in the final running order. Brett Bodine and Rusty Wallace finished second and third respectively. Ernie Irvan would go on to finish fifth in his first race in the No. 28 Robert Yates Racing Ford.
1994 – Although Ken Schrader and Mark Martin combined to lead 232 of the race’s 367 laps, engine failure would sideline both drivers, leaving Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott to battle for the race win.
Ultimately it was Elliott who took the win, leading 21 laps against Earnhardt’s 87 en route to the checkered. Morgan Shepherd, Ricky Rudd, and Sterling Marlin rounded out the top-five. It would be Elliott’s final win for Junior Johnson, as Elliott wouldn’t win again until the Pennzoil 400 at Homestead in November 2001.
One of the top notable finishers of the day was Kenny Wallace, who was filling in for an injured Ernie Irvan in the No. 28 RYR Ford after Irvan’s accident at Michigan. Irvan would make his return in the fall of 1995.