In 1985 superspeedways and Bill Elliott victories went hand-in-hand. And not just wins but dominating performances. Massive leads were common while the rest of the pack slugged it out for second place on any tracks a mile or over. Fans flocked to NASCAR’s biggest venues to see if any of the established heroes could offer a challenge to the popular ‘good ole boy.’
When the Firecracker 400 got ready to crank on July 4th, the circuit’s best threw their best at Elliott. On this hot and humid Florida morning someone found an answer to Elliott’s speed that the entire tour had been searching for all season. And it wasn’t the last name Petty, Waltrip, or Earnhardt.
Enter Greg Sacks.
Sacks was a modified hot shoe from Long Island, New York. His driving talent was groomed on the Island bullrings of Islip and Riverhead. As his career progressed he ventured out as a big winner at Stafford, Thompson, Oswego, and other northeast marquee racetracks. In 1983 he dipped his toe in Cup competition with a few starts before running the entire 1984 tour with a family-owned team.
The 1985 season saw Sacks’ underfunded operation begin with a few starts including an impressive sixth place Daytona 500 finish. But so goes the dollar goes one’s racing effort. Lack of sponsorship forced Sacks’ team off the circuit full time.
With his equipment ready to race and simply lacking the funding he formed an alliance with DiGard Racing as a research and development machine. Bobby Allison was DiGard’s full time driver. Sacks entered the Daytona summer classic with his own machine that had been prepared by a renowned secret weapon.
Enter crew chief Gary Nelson.
In 1992 when NASCAR hired Nelson as director of competition fellow officials made the following paraphrased comparison: If you want to build a security system for a bank do you hire a policeman? Or do you hire a crook?
NASCAR hired one smart crook in Nelson. Known for finding rulebook loopholes, he routinely challenged inspection parameters during his crew chief days.
This race was seven years before that.
The car qualified ninth while, as expected, Elliott scorched the track to win the pole. As the green flag waved out jumped Elliott while the pack drafted in an effort just to keep ‘Awesome Bill’ in sight.
Sacks flexed his muscle and started working his way up through the field. The car was obviously fast. During caution periods the Long Islander’s Achilles’ heel was shown.
The Sacks crew was made up of a thrown together group that had not pitted a car before. There were stories that a few members had never seen a race before. Needless to say his pit stops were horribly slow.
And this is where the magic of the day came out.
Sacks would enter the pits in a top ten position. He would leave pit road well further back than when he came in. Pacesetter Elliott would show his power, break the draft and pull away to a large lead. Sacks had the speed to work his way up through the pack to second.
Then something occurred that none of us had seen all year. Sacks pulled away from third place and was actually closing the gap on Elliott. Sacks ran down Elliott’s huge distance that was built up and was passed for the lead.
MRN’s broadcast described the fans as possibly watching a tennis match or shaking their heads in disbelief of what they were seeing.
Sacks held a commanding lead and passed Terry Labonte on the final lap to place him a lap down. Sacks thought he was passing Labonte for the lead. This was in a day before there were spotters. His actual margin of victory was 23.5 seconds over Elliott.
This remains Sacks’ first and only NASCAR Cup Series victory. And is remembered as one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Thursdays at 9pm ET. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com)
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