1984 Coors 420: NASCAR Reverses Nashville Call

Darrell Waltrip Car

Waltrip’s win at Nashvile was one of seven for the No. 11 Budweiser team in 1984. (Photo: ISC Archives)

There are some NASCAR fans who know Darrell Waltrip only as a racing analyst on television.

They’re not familiar with the 29 seasons he spent behind the wheel in NASCAR’s top series.

During the 1980s, Waltrip was at the top of his game, taking 57 of his 84 career wins during that decade. Some things were a given when you talked about “Ol’ D. W.” in those days. He was always a threat to win on a short track. He hated to lose anywhere, but most of all Waltrip considered Nashville his home track, so losing there wasn’t just a loss. It was personal, and if he felt that he had been wronged on his home ground, he didn’t go quietly into the night.

In 1984, NASCAR’s “beer wars” were in full swing. Tim Richmond was driving the Old Milwaukee Pontiac for drag racer Raymond Beadle. Bill Elliott was at the wheel of Harry Melling’s Coors Ford. Bobby Allison piloted DiGard’s Miller High Life Buick. Anheuser-Busch had what they called “Double Thunder”. Darrell Waltrip and Neil Bonnett competed in a pair of potent Junior Johnson Chevrolets with Budweiser sponsorship.

The NASCAR Winston (now Sprint) Cup Series went to the .596-mile oval at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in Nashville for the 10th race of the 1984 season. Since it was the Coors 420, those drivers had a little extra incentive to win, and to keep their competing sponsors out of Victory Lane.

Waltrip captured the Busch pole and led the first 43 laps. Bonnett started the race in 15th and by lap 87, he got to the lead. In the final 200 laps of the race, Bonnett would lead all but 13 circuits and was in front with 10 laps remaining. Geoff Bodine took the lead for three circuits. Then with seven laps left, Waltrip took the lead for the fourth time, but would have to hold off Bonnett to take the win.

On lap 418, Allison, Rusty Wallace and Kyle Petty crashed on the backstretch, and the timing of the caution flag played a major role in the outcome.

On the final lap, Bonnett passed Waltrip and took the checkered flag first. The late Dick Beaty was series director at that time and declared Bonnett the winner. Waltrip was quick to express his disagreement with Beaty’s ruling and argued that the rule book was clearly on his side.

“The caution flag was out when we got to the finish line on the next-to-last lap,” an angry Waltrip said. “I had beaten Neil back to the line. I won the race at that point. He can’t pass me when the yellow flag is out.”

In those days before frozen fields and green-white-checkered flag finishes, the rule book stated that “when the yellow flag is displayed during the white-flag lap, all cars will be scored on the basis of the position in which the cars cross the start-finish line after receiving the checkered flag.” It turned out that Beaty had misinterpreted a rule that had been in place for more than 30 years.

After two days of review, NASCAR made a rare reversal, agreeing that the caution flag had waved before Waltrip took the white flag, and before Bonnett made his last-lap pass. Therefore, Bonnett’s pass was not legal. As a result, Waltrip was given the win and Bonnett was moved back to second.

This week’s edition of MRN Flashback Friday revisits the Coors 420 from Nashville International Raceway. Barney Hall, Mike Joy, Eli Gold, Dr. Jerry Punch and Ned Jarrett call the action beginning at Noon (ET), April 22nd, on MotorRacingNetwork.com.

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