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Watching Black Flags Matter: The Fastest Race In NASCAR History

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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The day was Saturday, May 10th, 1997. Mother’s Day weekend. It was somewhat of an anomaly as for a very long time, the NASCAR Cup Series were off on Mother’s Day weekend. But a series of showers on the original race date in April as well as the following Monday forced NASCAR to reschedule the event to the 10th race of the season.

The late John Andretti captured the pole for the race showed that his humble No. 98 Ford owned by NASCAR legend, Cale Yarborough, was pretty sporting on the big superspeedways. He and his team would go on to win the then-July Daytona race later in the year. However, the big story that weekend was the sheer dominance on superspeedways of Richard Childress Racing.

While 1997 is generally viewed as the beginning of Dale Earnhardt’s career slump (he hadn’t let a lap since the that season’s Daytona 500), his mastery on the restrictor plate races could not be denied nor matched by anyone except maybe his teammate in the No. 31 Lowe’s Chevy, Mike Skinner. When the black No. 3 finally captured the lead in the 1997 Winston 500, the fans let you know it.

While Earnhardt was generally considered a shoe-in in the ’90s at Talladega and showed that he and his teammates were serious threats that day, as the race wore on, other contenders started to show up out front including Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, and Stirling Marlin in the No. 4 Kodak machine. After the initial round of green flag pitstops, the top-5 managed to break away and form their own pack. Other drivers like Bill Elliott and Jimmy Spencer did eventually catch up, though. The lead changed constantly, threatening to shatter the record of 26-lead changes at Talladega set in the late 1980s. Despite the constant lead swapping, Dale Earnhardt proved that he was still the most dominant car in the race.

As the race continued onward, every lap was a green flag lap. There were no major accidents, only engine failures that did not bring out any cautions. Inside 50 laps to go, new contenders in Michael Waltrip who was sporting the Wood Brothers No. 21 and Terry Labonte in Hendrick Motorsports’ #5 were able to work their way to the front. The latter of those, Texas Terry, was able to work with his teammate, Jeff Gordon, and shuffle the younger Waltrip out of the lead group, taking over the second and third spots respectively. This took place just before the final cycle of green flag pitstops which saw Rusty Wallace miss his pit box, adding on a little extra “hurt” to his abysmal day. The crew went to work, removing the right rear tire as the official screamed at him to back up to avoid a 10-second penalty. Jeff Gordon was able to capture the lead off pit road. It wouldn’t last long, though, as Mark Martin with his Roush engine would recapture the lead fairly quickly.

With 10 laps left, Dale Earnhardt was able to shuffle Jeff Gordon out of order and regain the second spot. He just had nothing left for Martin’s No. 6 Valvoline Ford. With that, Mark Martin would win the fastest race in NASCAR history, his 20th career victory. With the race going caution free, the average speed of the race was just over 188mph. The race runtime was just under 2 hours and 40 minutes.

In The Stands

SiVlog1989 claims that this is bonified proof that races don’t need to be broken up into stages to be thrilling.

briantaylor9285 is right, those two things will probably never happen again in NASCAR history.

gooseflatwaterflowers dubs the race an instant classic. They also allude to an episode of the Dale Jr. Download where Larry Mac told the story that Dale Earnhardt wasn’t running the same aggressive shocks Mark Martin used in the spring.

newyorksoda states that being a fan of Black Flags Matter is like taking a history class on NASCAR lore.

AndyMarquis is just shocked that there’s a moment in NASCAR history that didn’t completely screw Mark Martin…

DanKindopp yearns for the old points system where a driver can get 5 bonus points for leading a lap.

OxKittyboi is just thrilled to go down this memory lane where drivers had respect and NASCAR was less about “sports entertainment”.

chade.7948 really liked pulling for Andretti’s No. 98 Ford.

It is very unlikely that the record this race sets will ever be broken. With the addition of stage cautions and a general lack of respect on the racetrack, a race can no longer go caution-free, which aided in the runtime of this race being so short. Still, it’s fun to look back on this very different time in the sport we all love.

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Picture of Cody Williams

Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
All Posts