CONCORD, N.C. – For three decades, the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway has produced some of the most memorable and intense on-track action of the entire season.
When the 1989 race (then called The Winston) began, Darrell Waltrip was the driver NASCAR fans loved to hate. Rusty Wallace, on the other hand, was the popular young driver overflowing with confidence, even a bit cocky, with an aggressive driving style and a crew, like their driver, that cared only about one thing: winning.
All of that changed, however, with Waltrip’s spin off the fourth turn, best known as the Tide Slide.
A little more than a lap remained when the fireworks erupted. Wallace had closed on Waltrip. Suddenly, Waltrip’s Chevrolet shot off Turn 4 in a slow, smoking spin, eventually sliding through the frontstretch grass. Wallace grabbed the lead and finished 0.23 seconds ahead of Ken Schrader to become the fifth different winner in the race’s five-year history.
When the checkered flag waved on the electric-charged event, Wallace was the driver who was booed by the crowd and Waltrip had found favor with the fans. In fact, the three-time champion went on to capture NASCAR’s most popular Sprint Cup driver title two straight years, 1989 and 1990.
“He put me in the spin cycle and when I came out I was squeaky clean,” said Waltrip, who was sponsored by Tide. “I went from the bad guy to the good guy in one swift spin right there.”
Twenty-five years later Waltrip maintains Wallace’s Raymond Beadle-owned Pontiac “got into” his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, while Wallace says it was an accident. It’s still a touchy subject with some members of the respective crews and each driver’s fans. There is, however, one thing everyone can agree on: It was one of the most explosive All-Star races in the 30-year history of the event.
“It took me a while to get out of that one,” Wallace said, referring to fans viewing him as “the bad guy.” “I was surprised at how the fans reacted to me after that, but that was back in 1989. I was confident and cocky a little bit, maybe cocky a lot and confident a little bit. I was a young punk coming along and I roughed up one of the veterans and it wasn’t taken kindly.”
In addition to the spin, it was the chain of events that followed that everyone remembers. There was a fight between the drivers’ crews, an angry remark by Waltrip and within 48 hours “The Ballad of Darrell & Rusty” had emerged from WRFX’s John Boy and Billy, the hosts of the radio station’s morning show that was popular among the racing community.
While the crews were scuffling on pit road, Waltrip’s remarks only added fuel to the highly charged emotions.
“I hope he chokes on that $200,000,” Waltrip said angrily about Wallace in regards to the $240,000 the Missouri driver received for his victory. “That’s all I can tell him. He knocked the hell out of me. This is no kind of a race to be playing that kind of game. A lot of guys let greed overcome speed, and that is exactly what happened.”
Looking back, Wallace describes that weekend as “fun” and a “real exciting deal.
“I think what really freaked everybody out was the following week we were at the race track and Darrell and I are riding down pit road together on a golf cart,” Wallace said with a laugh. “It just proved that in NASCAR, you’d better get over it real quick.”