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Bowman Gray Stadium – Then and Now Part 3 – 1980s

Bowman Gray Stadium
 
 By James Stewart
 
 As the 1980’s came into Bowman Gray Stadium, the Pinto, Vega, and Gremlins were being phased out by Cavaliers, J2000s, Omnis, and Firenzas. The sportsman cars left the Chevelles and Novas for Malibus and Thunderbirds, while the Falcons still ran strong. The 1980 Winston 200 season opener was won by another modified legend and Hall of Famer, also winner of the 1977 race, Jerry Cook. Johnny Bryant won 5 races, but Ralph Brinkley broke a 3 year drought with his 4th BG championship.In 1980 the Winston 350 was shortened to 200 laps and won by Billy Middleton. On July 26 a race was won by a driver with a familiar last name…Gary Myers…son of 3 time champion from the 50’s, Billy Myers.
 
Bowman Gray StadiumThe 1981 season opened with Billy Middleton dominating the Winston 200. Ralph Brinkley won the the former Winston 350 and with his 5 wins leading all drivers, also captured his 5th BG championship. 1982 started out with Billy Middleton again winning the Winston 200. Paul Radford led with 8 wins, Philip Smith won the late season Winston 200, but when all was said and done, it was once again Ralph Brinkley winning his 3rd championship in a row and 6th overall! 1983 rolled in with Satch Worley winning the season opening 200. Philip Smith won the 2nd 200, but it would be Satch Worley with his season high 6 wins capturing his first BG championship.
 
1984 motored in with Satch Worley winning the first 3 races…he would only win once again all season. Al Hill won the 2nd 200, but Johnny Johnson won a season high 5 races and the 1984 championship. 1985 once again found Billy Middleton winning the 200 lap season opener with Ralph Brinkley winning the 2nd 200. Brent Elliott and Satch Worley would lead the way with 4 wins each, but it would be Worley taking home his 2nd title.
 
The 1986 season opening 200 was won by 84 champion Johnny Johnson, the 2nd 200 by Don Smith. Satch Worley and Ralph Brinkley each won a leading 3 races, but it would be Brinkley bouncing back with his record setting 7th championship! 1987 roared in with a 200 lap victory for Gary Myers who also won the 2nd 200 lapper that year. He also tied with Satch Worley for most wins, but Ralph Brinkley would win the 1987 championship for his 8th and final championship! 1988 began with Philip Smith winning the 200 lapper with Frank Fleming winning the 2nd one that year. Fleming would lead the way with 8 wins but it would be Philip Smith winning his first championship.
 
Bowman Gray Stadium1989 would bring an end to a decade of new faces in the winners circle. It also was almost the season that didn’t happen! The April 29 opener was rained out. On May 4 severe storms hit the Triad area and Bowman Gray Stadium was not spared. Tornadoes tore thru the area and uprooted trees, damaged the press box and concessions stands, damaged the field house and ripped up the pit area. Light poles were twisted and ripped from their moorings, the area was without power for a while. It would be 3 weeks before the season would open…with the first 3 weeks of races being run on Saturday afternoons as to be finished before dark because of the damage to the lights. It was definitely a different look with trees missing that had been there forever and a refurbished pit area, but Johnny Johnson must have liked the daytime racing as he won 3 of the first 4 races. He also won the 2nd 200 lapper. He would lead with 6 wins but Philip Smith captured his 2nd consecutive championship.
 
In 1989 NASCAR’s 4 cylinder Dash Series for 4 cylinder compact cars made it’s way to BG’s schedule. It was the 3rd highest series in NASCAR much as the Trucks are today. Female driver Shawna Robinson was one of the stars of the series, having recently become the first female to win a NASCAR touring race with a win at Asheville Speedway. A deal was made with Ralph Brinkley to drive his backup car in the modified race and Ralph would drive Shawna’s backup in the Dash race. Shawna qualified well and ran top 10 in a 100 lap race until near the end when she was spun out by another driver. Ralph fared much better as he qualified 2nd and won the 100 lap Dash race!!
 

The 70’s and 80’s were 2 exciting decades, but the 90’s and 2000’s were to be record setting and a dominance by 3 drivers. 1 driver has been mentioned, the other 2 had still never run a modified race. And when I say dominance…well you’ll just have to wait for Part 4 and 5 and the final articles of this series. 

Visit www.sportscarolinamonthly.com for extensive coverage of Bowman Gray Stadium racing all of the 2019 season!

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