The 165,000 fans that jammed Atlanta Motor Speedway on Nov. 15, 1992, for the season-ending Hooters 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race were treated to an event that featured more subplots than a good mystery novel.
Many of the fans were there to bid farewell to a retiring legend, while others were captivated by a three-way championship battle. But in the end, everyone experienced a unique moment in racing history.
Most significant among the many storylines that day were:
– Underdog Alan Kulwicki came from behind to edge Bill Elliott by 10 points for the NASCAR Winston Cup championship.
Elliott won the race and Kulwicki finished second. The championship fight, which also included Davey Allison until he crashed out after 285 laps, came down to which driver collected the five bonus points for leading the most laps.
Kulwicki led three times for 103 laps. Elliott led seven times, but came up one lap short with 102. That 10-point swing gave Kulwicki the title.
– Seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty made his 1,184th and final Winston Cup start, bringing down the curtain on one of the most storied careers in racing history.
Starting 39th in the No. 43 STP Pontiac, Petty ran 95 laps before he was involved in a frontstretch crash that involved six cars. The crew repaired Petty’s Pontiac and he returned to the race two laps from the finish.
After the other competitors pulled into the garage, Petty made one final lap, his left arm out the window waving to fans. As he came down the homestretch, flagman Doyle Ford waved a final checkered flag over No. 43.
“It’s over now,” Petty said after climbing from the car. “Lynda [his wife] is going to bury my helmet Monday.”
– Jeff Gordon, a 21-year-old California native who honed his skills racing USAC midgets and sprint cars in the Midwest, made his first NASCAR Winston Cup start in the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
Gordon started 21st and completed just 164 laps before he was involved in an accident that left him 31st in the final rundown.
– The race also marked the end of an era in the NASCAR garage as Dick Beaty retired after 12 years as director of Winston Cup racing.
Eighteen years after the milestone event, there are many who consider the 1992 Hooters 500 to be the greatest race in NASCAR history. There are even some who believe it is the most significant race in the history of the sport.