The End of the Upset
Alex FL Racing Fan
Tuesday March 14 2017, 2:38 PM

I was listening to a fascinating interview with Ervin Brooks, and it got me thinking about things.  If you don’t know, Ervin Brooks is the son of Earl Brooks, who raced in the Cup Series in the 1960s and 1970s.

There are 186 NASCAR Strictly Stock/Grand National/Winston Cup Grand National/… race winners.  Of those 186, 86 won 2 or fewer races.  Of those 86, 62 only won once, and there are hundreds more who finished in the top-3 or top-5 without winning one.  Some of these performances are upsets, and others aren’t.

What is an upset, anyway?

əpˈset/: an unexpected result or situation, especially in a sports competition.

This is, anyway, the sporting definition.  So, while sometimes a driver’s performance might be unexpected, it’s not necessarily all that special.  Sorry, Chris Buescher, but I can’t count your win, impressive as the strategy was, as an upset.  How am I defining upset in racing?

əpˈset/: When a team exceeds expectations and performs better than they should, especially when victorious

In team sports, an upset requires a win because there are only two teams competing at any one time; in racing, an upset could be a top-5 or, for exceptionally bad teams, a top-10.  By using this definition, we eliminate three factors: rain shortened races, fuel mileage races, and restrictor plate races.

On paper, Alexander Rossi winning the Indianapolis 500 was surprising, but fuel mileage races aren’t on raw speed.  Trevor Bayne winning the Daytona 500 was surprising, but most any competent organization can score a top-10 or top-5 in those races.  Parlaying good strategy and rain forecasting is deserving of a win, but again not anything special about a combo of car, driver, and team.  Even a bizarre case like 11 cars crashing in front of James Buescher isn’t all that special because, before that madness, he was going to finish only in 12th until then.  West coast races are hard to judge because most of those winners were good drivers who just were unfortunate to only win a single race that also counted for (then) Grand National points.

I’m talking about the UNEXPECTED.  The car that typically fails to qualifying suddenly finishes in the top-10 or top-5 without the aid of cautions, plates, or rain.  Let’s examine the list of drivers who only won a single Cup race and cross out the ones who didn’t have some kind of luck on their side.

What does it all mean?  Well, we will see that there were few upsets there.  Many drivers were driving for top teams; some were rain or fuel races; many were at big tracks; many were disappointing that it was their only win; several were West series races or won by road ringers on a road course.  Left as full upsets were Johnny Allen, Johnny Benson, Bob Burdick, Joe Eubanks, Larry Frank, Jim Hurtubise, Harold Kite, Paul Lewis, Johnny Mantz, Jody Ridley, Leon Sales, Wendell Scott, Regan Smith, and Lake Speed.  Jody Ridley could be argued as a last man standing case, but the important factor is that all won on raw speed.

In my memory banks (the 1990s, to tell you my age), there were times where drivers like Dick Trickle, Hut Stricklin, and Steve Grissom could go out on the track, start well, lead 20-60% of the race, and finish in the top-5 WITHOUT fuel, rain, or plates being involved.  Drivers like Johnny Allen, Larry Frank, James Hylton, and Lake Speed could do it and even win on raw speed.  The days of Alan Kulwicki taking a non-factory car to 2 wins, let alone the title, on raw speed are gone. 

On Sunday, there is zero, and I mean ZERO, chance that Michael McDowell, Jeffrey Earnhardt, or Cole Whitt leads 100+ laps and gets a top-5.  There’s zero chance of them legitimately making a green flag pass for the lead, let alone leading a sizeable chunk of the race and getting a top-5 on speed.  And you can guarantee 25+ cars running at the finish.

And that is why so many people, in spite of modern racing where 20-35 cars are on the lead lap at the end, say racing was more competitive 20, 30, even 60 years ago.  Because it was and wasn't.

Unless something changes, the era of the upset is dead.

Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton   4 months ago
For what it's worth, I was at Richmond for a Hylton win and at Darlington as the Olds rep for Speed's win and trapped in the Dover infield for the Ridley win - however most of the racing fraternity refers to that one as the Junie Donlavey win.
Tim Leeming
@tim-leeming   4 months ago
Great read Alex!!! Good job.
Dennis  Garrett
@dennis-garrett   4 months ago
Dave, How big was Kyle Petty's upset Richmond win in 1986? How about the Junie Donlavey's NASCAR WINSTON WEST win ? Dennis Garrett Richmond,Va.
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton   4 months ago
Dennis, I don't think Kyle's Richmond win was as much an upset as it was an end of the race surprise. You'll have to give me a refresher on Junie's Winston West win, because I don't remember.
Dennis  Garrett
@dennis-garrett   4 months ago
Dave, 1989 July 17: Chad Little (90) Ford Thunderbird driver celebrates winning the Motorcraft 500 NASCAR Winston West Series race on Evergreen Speedway at the Snohomish County Fairgrounds in Monroe, Washington. http://www.racingphotoarchives.com/classic/2013/07/17/evergreen-speedway-1989-chad-little/ http://racing-reference.info/race/1989_Motorcraft_500/P Chad Little won the Winston West Race driving an #90  Red Baron Frozen Pizza sponsor Ford? Was Junie Donlavey or his pitcrew involved in winning this race? Dennis Garrett Richmond,VA.
Alex FL Racing Fan
@alex-fl-racing-fan   4 months ago
I wouldn't call it much of an upset at all.  A Cup program with its superior budget winning a West race in the late 1980s is not too special.
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton   4 months ago
Dennis, I'm guessing since Chad was driving Cup for Junie in 1989 that it may have been the Richmond car. Guessing, though. That race was HUGE. Chad had won previously drivng for George Jefferson, who also owned the Ford Derrike Cope had driven to the win previously in the same race. It was a big, big deal to win that event - whether for a Cup owner or  West owner. That Evergreen race was a really big deal.
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton   4 months ago
Dennis... it was definitely Junie's car that Chad Little drove to the 1989 Evergreen Speedway win. I looked randomly at some of the tape. In the post race winner's interview in the tent, Chad clearly states it was Junie's car. I watched one pit stop. I didn't see Junie or crew that I recognized. Not sure if Junie was there or not or who was pitting Chad. The race was rained out on Sunday and held on Monday. A much bigger Monday crowd than we see today at Cup races that are rained out. Here is the tape. Let me know if you see or hear Junie's name. RR member, Scott Baker may know who pitted Junie's car. Winning the 500 at Evergreen was ALWAYS a BIG deal, regardless the driver,  car or owner. That race was HUGE.
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton   4 months ago
One year after his Evergreen win in Junie's car in a Seattle Times interview at the same race, the ungrateful Little dissed on driving for Junie and living in Richmond: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19900715&slug=1082175
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton   4 months ago
Chad Little, enroute to victory, leads the July 17, 1989 Motorcraft 500 NASCAR Winston West race at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington driving Junie Donlavey's #90 Red Baron Frozen Pizza Ford.
chadlittle1.PNG
Cup regular Bill Elliott (right) started on the pole in the Harry Melling #9 Motorcraft Ford, but blew a head gasket and finished 25th. Cup regular, Derrike Cope (left) - a season away from his Daytona 500 win - finished 4th in the #09 Midgley Racing Chevy.
chadlittle2.PNG
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton   4 months ago
I would definitely disagree with Alex's assertion that a Cup car winning a late 80s Winston West race at Evergreen was no big deal. It was a HUGE deal... always... for anyone to win that special race at the track that David Pearson in 1980 nicknamed the "Superspeedway of the West." I'm probably partial because I sponsored the winning car there with 7-Eleven for Derrike Cope in 1985 and my west coast car owner, George Jefferson won the race both before and after that with his brother Harry Jefferson and later Chad Little at the wheel. Bob Beadle, who owned Aircraft Standards in Seattle, really brought the place that seated over 15,000 to prominence. Bob was a lynchpin for NASCAR on the west coast. Alex, here's a good little background on Evergreen in a 2008 Everett, Washington story about Bob and a track that has a very special place in NASCAR history.

Beadle helped Evergreen earn its reputation


Fri Apr 11th, 2008 9:14am


Scott Whitmore Herald writer




Monroe — It took just a few laps for two-time NASCAR Cup series champion David Pearson to realize Evergreen Speedway was something special. The year was 1980 and Pearson had been invited by Evergreen’s promoter, Bob Beadle, to drive in a NASCAR Winston West Series race. Beadle was also a car owner in the West Series and he had met Pearson through a fellow owner. “He didn’t race for very long,” Mickey Beadle, Bob’s son and successor as promoter at the Monroe track, said. “But it was cool. He was the first superstar to come out here for us.” Pearson liked the way the track was laid out, and when he said it “raced like a superspeedway,” the slogan still used by Evergreen Speedway — The Superspeedway of the West — was born. After spending most of the past 30 years overseeing Evergreen Speedway, Mickey Beadle recently decided to sell the company his father and uncle helped start in 1978 to manage operations at the speedway. “Evergreen was one of the first tracks I was associated with,” said NASCAR chief executive Brian France, who served as the West Series director early in his career. “The Beadles were dominant players in racing for many years … they were good for NASCAR.” Sitting in his speedway office surrounded by racing memorabilia and photos, Beadle reflected on the connection between NASCAR and the track in Monroe.



At the time of Pearson’s visit, the National Stock Car Racing Association oversaw what was still very much a regional sport, born of moonshine runners in the Deep South. A year earlier, at the 1979 Daytona 500, the infield fight between Cale Yarborough and the Allison Brothers, David and Bobby, was televised live to a national audience — an event many consider to be the launch point of NASCAR’s steady rise in popularity throughout the 1980s and ’90s. “(The Beadles) were very helpful in NASCAR getting a presence in a market away from the South,” France said. “They played a role in getting the Northwest Tour started … we couldn’t operate a major NASCAR regional series without Evergreen on the schedule.” Evergreen Speedway hosted the inaugural race on the Northwest Tour in 1985, and that same year Bob and Mickey Beadle approached France with an ambitious plan. “They were pioneers,” France said of the Beadles’ proposal to put on a 500-lap race at Evergreen. “That long an event, that kind of money — they took a big leap of faith.” The first Washington 500, which Mickey Beadle called his favorite memory of the Monroe track, included three days of racing with both NASCAR touring series ­and Evergreen’s local drivers. “People said we couldn’t do it … it’d never been done.” Beadle said. “I went to Daytona and a couple other Cup tracks, saw what they did and how they did it, and put it all together here.” West Series driver Derrike Cope took the checkered flag in the first Washington 500. Cope, who would later win the 1990 Daytona 500, earned $17,305 — quite a sum at the time. The Washington 500 became a much-anticipated annual event, even more so after the purse climbed to $50,000 and the Beadles convinced some big NASCAR names to make the trip to Monroe. Legendary team owner Junior Johnson and superstar drivers like Bill Elliott — who Beadle called “the most amazing” racer he ever saw — Geoff Bodine, Sterling Marlin, Kenny Schrader and Davey Allison took time off from the Cup schedule to race at Evergreen in the late 1980s and early ’90s. “One year we followed the Firecracker 400 (in Daytona) and out of the top five drivers, three came to Evergreen the next week,” Beadle said. “You can’t ask for better than that — we had the best of the best.” In 1995, NASCAR contacted Mickey Beadle and offered to put Evergreen on the schedule for the inaugural season of its newest national series, the Craftsman Trucks. Beadle was given five minutes to decide. “There was no choice of dates or anything, just ‘Do you want one?’” Beadle said. “I couldn’t call anyone, get any advice or anything. So I said ‘yes.’” The truck series raced at Evergreen for five years, bringing more NASCAR notables to Monroe, including seven-time Daytona 500 winner Richard Petty, before the relationship ended after the race in 1999. Today, as the only NASCAR home track in the state of Washington, Evergreen Speedway’s local late-model drivers compete in the Whelen All-American Series. Local drivers compete for points on a standard scale, allowing for track, state and national champions to be crowned. Although NASCAR ended sponsorship of the Northwest Tour in 2006 for monetary reasons, France acknowledged the importance of local racing programs like Evergreen’s. “It’s the grass roots of what we do,” he said. “(Local racing) will always be important. It’s where our drivers come from and where our fans come from.”



Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton   3 months ago
A year before Derrike Cope's 1985 Washington 500 Winston West win in our 7-Eleven / George Jefferson Ford at Evergreen, I brought Jefferson and Derrike from Yakima, Washington to Richmond to try to qualify for the 1984 Wrangler 400 Cup race. I gave them $10,000 extra, promoter Paul Sawyer furnished motel rooms and Leo Mehl at Goodyear gave us our tires. The chassis was an old, used up former Elmo Langley one that was welded and pieced together. Cup director, Dick Beatty requested that the car not be brought to another Cup event other than Riverside, but he let it race. They made the field, as evidenced by the photo below of our #07 racing Bill Elliott. derrikewrangler.PNG
Alex FL Racing Fan
@alex-fl-racing-fan   3 months ago
Dave, You misinterpreted my statement.  By "no big deal," I meant more that a Cup team winning was "to be expected."  I love the links and articles you have been posting on this topic as I have learned a great deal from them.
Dennis  Garrett
@dennis-garrett   3 months ago
Dave, Thanks for the above racing history information, you're the best!! Dennis Garrett Richmond,VA.
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