Thursday, April 21, 2016

2/23/86: Eddie Bierschwale gets Hylton’s ride, exits early at Richmond

SOURCE: NASCAR Winston Cup Scene
On Sunday, February 23, 1986, Eddie Bierschwale picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Miller High Life 400 at the Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway when his #48 Fleet Service Chevrolet lost the engine after 2 of the race’s 400 laps.

The finish, which came in Bierschwale’s 33rd series start, was his first in 20 races, dating back to May 19, 1985, when his #6 U.S. Racing Chevrolet lost an engine after 73 laps of the Budweiser 500 at Dover.

In the Bierschwale family’s hometown of San Antonio, Eddie’s father Donald was active in many circles: he was at one point a rodeo clown, a funeral director, owner of a limousine service, and served in the Army during the Korean War.  But he was perhaps most passionate about racing.  Eddie was raised around B-B Racing, a NASCAR team Donald co-founded with E.J. Burke, Jr. in 1971.  The team’s best performance came at Talladega on May 6, 1973, when fellow Texan driver Clarence Lovell finished 4th in a field of 60.  Tragically, Lovell was killed in a car accident just five days later.

On March 27, 1983, Eddie Bierschwale made his first Cup start in B-B Racing’s #03 Indian Hill Park Buick, which he drove to a 26th-place finish in the Coca-Cola 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.  In 1985, Bierschwale left the family team and signed with veteran owner-driver D.K. Ulrich at U.S. Racing for a full-season run.  After missing the opening two rounds at Daytona and Richmond, Bierschwale ran the rest of the season, earning a season-best 15th in the spring races at Atlanta and Bristol.  Saddled by 11 DNFs in those 26 starts, Bierschwale signed with C&M Motorsports, a new start-up team founded by Bobby Eller.

Eller brought a new sponsor into NASCAR: the Kodak Film Company, which in time would adorn the iconic Chevrolets of Morgan-McClure Motorsports.  Bierschwale arrived at the Daytona 500 with a butterscotch-colored Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2, but a 16th-place showing in the Twin 125s put him out of his second-straight 500.  An arrangement was then struck with another owner-driver, Henley Gray, whose driver Slick Johnson had raced their #54 Chevrolet into the 500 field.  Eller bought Johnson’s spot, and the #54 now carried the Kodak logos.  Bierschwale drove the car to a 31st-place finish after the engine let go at the halfway mark.

The next round of the 1986 schedule was Richmond.  Two years removed from its expansion to the three-quarter-mile oval of today, the Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway was a 0.542-mile bullring ringed by steel traffic barriers.  Here, Bierschwale and Eller again missed the field, and again had to buy their way into the field.  This time, the buyer was still another owner-driver, James Hylton, whose west coast driver Ron Esau put the #48 into the show.  With the driver change, Bierschwale would roll off 31st - shotgun on the field.

Missing the Richmond race along with Esau were owner-drivers Ronnie Thomas, Jonathan Lee Edwards, and Alan Kulwicki.  Kulwicki was finding his first full Winston Cup season a challenge.  Kulwicki had also missed the first two races of 1986, but could not afford to buy a spot in either, putting him in a deficit in the Rookie of the Year battle against Michael Waltrip.  Kulwicki would bounce back and claim the title from Waltrip, then hoist the Winston Cup in 1992.

Two laps into the opening green-flag run, Bierschwale pulled Hylton’s Chevrolet into the garage area.  He thus avoided involvement in two multi-car accidents that slowed the action and thinned the field in the opening 19 laps.  The next two retirees after Bierschwale were the #15 Wrangler Ford of Ricky Rudd and the #17 Skoal Oldsmobile of Phil Parsons, both eliminated on Lap 18 when 4th-place Darrell Waltrip spun into traffic coming off Turn 3, triggering a 13-car melee.  This caution resulted in two iconic NASCAR moments: Bill Elliott’s wrecked #9 Coors Ford straddling the guardrail and Dale Earnhardt leaning out the driver’s winder to wipe the windshield with his hand.  Harry Gant, who also suffered right-front damage to his #33 Skoal Bandit Chevrolet, later retired with overheating issues, leaving him 28th.

27th-place Kirk Bryant crunched the right-front and left-rear of his #2 Spectrum Furniture Pontiac in the first yellow of the day when he tangled with three other cars on Lap 9.  The 24-year-old Bryant, making his second of five career Cup starts, was clipped by the spinning Trevor Boys and pinched into the outside wall.

The race was capped with one of the most thrilling finishes in NASCAR history.  With two laps to go, race leaders Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip tangled in Turn 3, triggering a six-car pileup that also collected the 3rd and 4th-place cars of Geoffrey Bodine and Joe Ruttman.  Missing the wreck was Kyle Petty, who’d left Petty Enterprises to drive for the Wood Brothers.  Petty’s No. 7 7-11 Ford took the yellow and white flags together and claimed the win under caution.  It was not only Petty’s first Cup victory, making him the first third-generation driver to win at the same track as his father and grandfather, but the second and - to date - most recent Richmond victory for the Wood Brothers.

Bierschwale, meanwhile, parted with the struggling C&M Racing after Darlington and continued to driver for a number of different teams for the next two seasons, including Elmo Langley, Roger Hamby, Buddy Arrington, Corey Fillip, Ken Allen, George Smith, and Cup driver David Ragan’s father Ken.  Though he improved his career-best with Hamby, finishing 11th in the series’ return to Richmond in September 1986, he decided to return to his family’s team in 1988.

Strangely, Bierschwale’s connection with the Pettys continued through the close of his own career.  In 1989, B-B Racing earned its first top-ten finish since Lovell’s run at Talladega when the team sold Bierschwale’s Daytona 500 ride to Kyle Petty, who had failed to qualify after he wrecked out of his qualifying race.  Bierschwale then relieved an exhausted Richard Petty at Daytona in July 1992, parking his car to climb in Richard’s #43 before falling out himself.  Bierschwale’s 117th and final Cup start was also the last for “The King” - the season-ending Hooters 500 at Atlanta, where Bierschwale came home 19th in a field of 41.

*Bierschwale finished last just once more in his career, and in the same event as his first.  On June 5, 1988, Bierschwale’s #23 Wayne Paging Oldsmobile dropped a valve after 15 laps of the Budweiser 500 at Dover.
*This was the first last-place finish for the #48 in a Cup Series race since April 18, 1982, when Slick Johnson’s turn in Hylton’s #48 Palatine Auto Parts Pontiac ended with a broken valve after 8 laps of the Northwestern Bank 400 at North Wilkesboro.  The number would not finish last again until June 3, 1990, when Freddie Crawford’s lone Cup start ended when his Josiah Chevrolet, also fielded by Hylton, dropped a cylinder after 6 laps of the Budweiser 500 at Dover.

31) #48-Eddie Bierschwale / 2 laps / engine
30) #15-Ricky Rudd / 17 laps / crash
29) #17-Phil Parsons / 17 laps / crash
28) #33-Harry Gant / 29 laps / overheating
27) #2-Kirk Bryant / 88 laps / crash

1 comment:

binkerbo said...

Is the photo above from the race in question or just a random #48?