Getty Images

From 1979 to 2000, CBS Sports played a central role in shaping NASCAR into a national television sport, becoming the first network to televise the Daytona 500 live from start-to-finish while also bringing some of the sport's other major races to national television. Along the way, CBS created many racing and television memories that are still looked fondly upon by the NASCAR fans and competitors of today.

After looking back at the inaugural race at Texas Motor Speedway last week, we're once again opening the vault to examine a classic that took place some 40 years ago at Talladega Superspeedway, one that marked an important milestone in the career of the one and only Dale Earnhardt.

The 1984 Talladega 500 had a tough act to follow at the end of July, as it came only a few weeks after an unforgettable superspeedway race at Daytona. With President Ronald Reagan in attendance, Richard Petty had narrowly beaten Cale Yarborough to earn the 200th win of his career, and he brought that same car with him to Talladega before it was committed to the Smithsonian Institution as a piece of American history.

As Petty looked for his 201st victory, Yarborough was looking to sweep the season at Talladega as he had won a Winston 500 in the spring that featured a record 75 lead changes. The Talladega 500 in the peak of the summer would prove to be just as competitive, with Yarborough starting from the pole over other heavyweights like Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte and then a relatively new face in Tommy Ellis up in fifth.

The race was indeed a dynamic one from the drop of the green flag, as the lead would swap hands six times between Earnhardt, Yarborough, Labonte and Buddy Baker in the first 10 laps. And in total, the lead would change hands a total of 68 times between 16 different drivers through 188 laps on the day. Petty would not be one of those drivers, as his day would be spoiled when he suffered a transmission failure leaving pit road, sending him behind the wall and leaving him many laps down.

Earnhardt had entered the race as the Winston Cup points leader, but he was still looking to earn his first win of the year and his first win for his new race team. After winning the previous year's Talladega 500 driving for Bud Moore, Earnhardt had moved over to Richard Childress Racing for 1984 as the new driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet, taking over for Ricky Rudd, who had gone to drive the Moore No. 15 that Earnhardt vacated. It would become one of the most famous pairings of driver, team and car number in the history of NASCAR, but no one knew as of yet what was still to come for the 1980 Winston Cup champion.

A wide-open finish without regard to fuel mileage would be ensured by the most spectacular accident of the day on Lap 157, when Canadian driver Trevor Boys spun and flipped over entering the trioval, tumbling several times through the infield grass before coming to a stop. The ensuing caution allowed everyone to get the fuel they needed to finish the race, setting up a battle that any one of the cars in the lead pack could win.

Terry Labonte would make his move with seven laps to go, storming past Buddy Baker for the race lead down the back straightaway with Earnhardt in tow. As Labonte went into defensive mode, Earnhardt remained discipline making a move of his own, waiting until the final lap down the backstretch. As Labonte went to the inside seemingly anticipating Earnhardt to cut low, Earnhardt instead went to Labonte's outside, roaring past and back to the checkered flag as Baker and the rest of the lead pack swallowed Labonte up.

Earnhardt's 10th career victory was his first for Richard Childress Racing, his second overall at Talladega, and it also made him the first driver to ever win the Talladega 500 in back-to-back years. The win extended Earnhardt's lead in the Winston Cup standings to 70 points over Labonte, and he would go on to pick up one more win late in the season at Atlanta. But it would come too late for him to win his second title, as Labonte would eventually win the championship by 65 points over Harry Gant.

Notes from the Race

  • The big story in the Winston Cup garage centered around Wood Brothers Racing, as there were rumors abound that Buddy Baker would not return to the team in 1985 and be replaced by Kyle Petty. Those rumors would end up becoming reality, as the third-generation Petty would leave Petty Enterprises to join the Wood Brothers and take his 7-Eleven sponsorship with him. Baker would end up driving his own car in a partnership with Danny Schiff, running the full season for the final time in his career.
  • Another Baker would bring out the first caution of the day, as Buddy's brother Randy Baker would make just 15 laps before blowing an engine. Baker would make only 14 Cup starts between 1982 and 1996, most of which came driving for his father and NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker.
  • Among the drivers who failed to make the field included former Winston Cup champion Benny Parsons, who was forced to withdraw after he crashed the only superspeedway car his team had in qualifying. Parsons would instead join the CBS broadcast booth for the race, serving as a guest analyst alongside Ken Squier and Ned Jarrett.
  • Past the midway point of the 1984 season, injuries had factored into the equation of the field. Neil Bonnett had been driving through a broken wrist suffered at Martinsville and Jimmy Means had been forced to miss considerable time after being injured in a crash at Charlotte. Means had come back from his injuries the previous week at Pocono, but substitute driver Morgan Shepherd would drive Means' No. 52 in his place at Talladega.
  • 1981 Talladega winner Ron Bouchard was a factor all day, running at the front and leading nine laps before late mechanical issues forced him to finish a lap down in 16th. Bouchard's run came in one of his first races with new crew chief Wayne Bumgarner, who had taken over on the Jack Beebe-owned No. 47 team a few weeks prior.
  • Among the crew chiefs on pit road was an Alabama favorite, as Donnie Allison -- who had scaled back his driving career significantly after being seriously injured at Charlotte in 1981 -- was serving as crew chief for newcomer Eddie Bierschwale. Bierschwale crashed hard out of his fourth career start and finished 31st, but he would go on to make 117 Cup starts in total throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s.
  • The Talladega 500 featured the first lap ever led by Ken Ragan, as the father of future winning Cup driver David Ragan continued establishing himself as an independent driver. Ragan would later suffer from fume exhaustion and turn his car over to Greg Sacks, who had dropped out of the race with engine failure, but he would be credited with finishing 11th.
  • One driver who found trouble on the day was Elliott Forbes-Robinson, who crashed hard in Turn 4 to bring out the second caution of the day. Forbes-Robinson's No. 2 Chevrolet was sponsored by Red Roof Inn, owned by Jim Trueman, creating an interesting coincidence: The No. 2 is now driven in Cup by Trueman's grandson, 2022 Daytona 500 champion Austin Cindric.

1984 Talladega 500 results

  1. #3 - Dale Earnhardt
  2. #21 - Buddy Baker
  3. #44 - Terry Labonte
  4. #22 - Bobby Allison
  5. #28 - Cale Yarborough
  6. #11 - Darrell Waltrip
  7. #33 - Harry Gant
  8. #1 - Lake Speed
  9. #4 - Tommy Ellis
  10. #9 - Bill Elliott
  11. #77 - Ken Ragan
  12. #88 - Rusty Wallace
  13. #75 - Dave Marcis
  14. #15 - Ricky Rudd
  15. #8 - Bobby Hillin Jr.
  16. #47 - Ron Bouchard
  17. #71 - Mike Alexander
  18. #73 - Steve Moore
  19. #12 - Neil Bonnett
  20. #66 - Phil Parsons
  21. #67 - Buddy Arrington
  22. #7 - Kyle Petty
  23. #43 - Richard Petty
  24. #48 - Trevor Boys
  25. #38 - Phil Barkdoll
  26. #5 - Geoff Bodine
  27. #41 - Ronnie Thomas
  28. #17 - Clark Dwyer
  29. #51 - Greg Sacks
  30. #52 - Morgan Shepherd
  31. #03 - Eddie Bierschwale
  32. #95 - Sterling Marlin
  33. #27 - Tim Richmond
  34. #84 - Jody Ridley
  35. #90 - Dick Brooks
  36. #14 - A.J. Foyt
  37. #98 - Joe Ruttman
  38. #2 - Elliott Forbes-Robinson
  39. #87 - Randy Baker
  40. #29 - Grant Adcox