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1981:

An Even Dozen for Waltrip

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By Ben White

Darrell Waltrip, wheeling the No. 11 Junior Johnson and Associates Buick, notched 12 wins and 25 top-10 finishes in 1981 as he dominated during his first season of driving for the powerhouse operation from Ronda, North Carolina.

On Sept, 9, 1980, three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Cale Yarborough announced he would be cutting back to a limited schedule. That meant moving from Junior Johnson’s team to a part-time Cup Series schedule with team owner M.C. Anderson. 

Darrell Waltrip had already won 27 Cup Series races since joining the circuit in 1972, two in his own car and 25 in the No. 88 entry fielded by DiGard Racing, which was co-owned by Bill Gardner and Mike Di Prospero. Yarborough went to Waltrip and suggested he contact Johnson about the ride, even though the two drivers were bitter rivals.

In order to make the move, Waltrip had to buy out the contract he signed with DiGard Racing. After several months of back-and-forth battles via the media, the issue was finally resolved with Waltrip reportedly paying DiGard $350,000, which opened the door for him to drive for Johnson. Ricky Rudd was hired to replace Waltrip at DiGard.

Waltrip felt as if he had been freed of a difficult situation and was a new man with a championship-caliber team. He and crew chief Tim Brewer quickly developed solid chemistry and were the team to beat throughout the 31-race Cup Series schedule.

Waltrip won six short track races, five superspeedway events and one road course race. The team’s Buick was strong everywhere it competed and was one step ahead of the Harry Ranier-owned Buick driven by Bobby Allison. At the end of the season, Waltrip bested Allison by 53 points for the Cup Series championship.

BRISTOL, TN — Early-1980s: Driving a Buick for car owner Junior Johnson with Mountain Dew sponsorship, Darrell Waltrip won every NASCAR Cup race staged at Bristol International Speedway during the 1981 and 1982 seasons. From 1981 through 1984, Waltrip won seven consecutive Cup races at the track. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives)

1981

PRESIDENT: RONALD REAGAN

NO. 1 AT THE BOX OFFICE: ABSENCE OF MALICE

MOVIES TO WATCH: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK AND BODY HEAT

NO. 1 SONG: “BETTE DAVIS EYES” BY KIM CARNES

GALLON OF GAS: $1.31

POP CULTURE: SANDRA DAY O’CONNOR BECAME THE FIRST FEMALE APPOINTED TO SERVE ON THE U.S. SUPREME COURT.

BEST DRIVER

Driving Junior Johnson’s No. 11 Buick, Darrell Waltrip recorded 12 NASCAR Cup Series victories and 25 top-10 finishes in 31 races. The native of Owensboro, Kentucky, enjoyed one of his best seasons in his first year with Johnson, who won 50 races before hanging up his helmet. Waltrip’s expertise as a driver coupled with Johnson’s experience both on and off the track made for a nearly unstoppable combination.

BEST RACE

On Aug. 2, 1981, Ron Bouchard, driver of the No. 47 Race Hill Farms Buick, was running third behind Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte on the final lap of the Talladega 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. While in Turn 3, Bouchard dropped low as Waltrip and Labonte battled for the victory. Bouchard ultimately stole the win by two feet as the trio reached the start-finish line. It was Bouchard’s lone victory of his seven-year Cup Series career.

TOP CARS

Darrell Waltrip’s No. 11 Junior Johnson and Associates Buick won 12 times and posted 25 top-10 results in 31 starts.

Driving the No. 28 Buick for Harry Ranier Racing, Bobby Allison visited Victory Lane five times with 26 top-10 finishes.

1981 Season Recap

DATE | LOCATION | WINNER

Jan. 11 | Riverside International Raceway | Bobby Allison

Feb. 15 | Daytona International Speedway | Richard Petty

Feb. 22 | Richmond Raceway | Darrell Waltrip

March 1 | Rockingham Speedway | Darrell Waltrip 

March 15 | Atlanta Motor Speedway | Cale Yarborough

March 29 | Bristol Motor Speedway | Darrell Waltrip

April 5 | North Wilkesboro Speedway | Richard Petty

April 12 | Darlington Raceway | Darrell Waltrip 

April 26 | Martinsville Speedway | Morgan Shepherd

May 3 | Talladega Superspeedway | Bobby Allison

May 9 | Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville | Benny Parsons

May 17 | Dover Motor Speedway | Jody Ridley

May 24 | Charlotte Motor Speedway | Bobby Allison 

June 7 | Texas World Speedway | Benny Parsons

June 14 | Riverside International Raceway | Darrell Waltrip

June 21 | Michigan International Speedway | Bobby Allison 

July 4 | Daytona International Speedway | Cale Yarborough

July 11 | Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville | Darrell Waltrip

July 26 | Pocono Raceway | Darrell Waltrip

Aug. 2 | Talladega Superspeedway | Ron Bouchard 

Aug. 16 | Michigan International Speedway | Richard Petty

Aug. 22 | Bristol Motor Speedway | Darrell Waltrip

Sept. 7 | Darlington Raceway | Neil Bonnett

Sept. 13 | Richmond Raceway | Benny Parsons

Sept. 20 | Dover Motor Speedway | Neil Bonnett

Sept. 27 | Martinsville Speedway | Darrell Waltrip

Oct. 4 | North Wilkesboro Speedway | Darrell Waltrip

Oct. 11 | Charlotte Motor Speedway | Darrell Waltrip

Nov. 1 | Rockingham Speedway | Darrell Waltrip

Nov. 8 | Atlanta Motor Speedway | Neil Bonnett

Nov. 22 | Riverside International Raceway | Bobby Allison

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