The finish, which came in McFadden’s 7th series start, was his first since July 1, 1989 during the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, 74 races previous, when his #24 Alliance Training Centers Pontiac was eliminated in a first-lap crash.
McFadden had been active in NASCAR since 1982. He raced in two of the first three current-day XFINITY Series races that year, running next-to-last at Daytona and Bristol, then made his Cup debut during the same Bristol weekend, coming home 24th in a field of 30 in the #86 Setzer Well Company Buick. The Cup car was one of the last fielded by Will Cronrkrite, who also gave Dale Earnhardt one of his first Cup Series rides in 1978. In late 1982, McFadden fielded his own Cup car, a #45 Buick, and made three starts in the ’83 season, plus both Charlotte races in the second-tier series. He then branched out into ARCA in 1985, running exclusively on the speedways at Daytona, Talladega, and Atlanta, and in 1988 picked up his first Top 10 with a 9th in Alabama. That same year, Alliance Training Centers signed as his biggest sponsor. Following a pair of Cup races in 1989, including the previously-mentioned last-place run at Daytona, McFadden was absent from NASCAR and ARCA until 1992.
While the 1992 season is best remembered for its historic finale at Atlanta - where Alan Kulwicki edged race winner Bill Elliott for the championship, Richard Petty made his final start, and Jeff Gordon made his first – there were ironically several races where NASCAR struggled to fill the fields. Of the 29 races run that year, six sent just one car home while another five had just enough cars to fill the field. There was also a small rookie crop that season where newcomers Jimmy Hensley, Andy Belmont, Dave Mader III, and Bob Schacht all ran partial schedules.
Just as in 2004 and 2009, the opportunity was there for new teams and drivers to fill the fields. Some of these drivers were series veterans. D.K. Ulrich, Charlie Glotzbach, Clay Young, Mike Potter, and Jimmy Horton all returned to Cup to make their first starts in a year or more. Ulrich’s race at Dover was the 273rd and final of his career. Young’s return at Talladega was his first start since 1986. The 54-year-old Glotzbach hadn’t won since 1971, but made seven starts for Junie Donlavey with a season-best 16th at Michigan. Other drivers made their series debuts with lightly-regarded teams. IndyCar driver Stan Fox made his debut at Michigan, as did Busch Series part-timer Jeff McClure. Modified star Jeff Fuller made his first Cup start that year at Richmond, eight full years before he went for Winston Cup Rookie of the Year.
Owner-driver Jimmy Means saw an opportunity. Means was one of 58 drivers who arrived in Florida to attempt the Daytona 500, and one of the 16 sent home. For just over three seasons, Means had sponsorship from Alka-Seltzer, but a change of management at the company ended the relationship following the ’91 season. While missing a share of the 500 purse proved costly to his team, Means was still prepared to run his unsponsored #52 in what would be his final full season as a driver. But when the entry list for the second round at Rockingham fell short of a full 40-car field, Means decided to enter his backup car in the race. A number change to “53” was accomplished by taking the upper half of a second “2” sticker and applying it upside-down over the “2” (see photo). Means tabbed McFadden, a native of his team’s headquarters in Forest City, North Carolina, to drive (Incidentally, Broadway Motors, which sponsored Means' Cup car in the early 1980s, also backed McFadden's Busch entry in 1982).
While Means’ #52 would run the full race, the #53 would be a “start-and-park” entry, or what Means called a “grocery getter.” In the past, I had originally believed Means entered “start-and-park” cars to fund a switch from Pontiac to Ford, which he accomplished that November in the Atlanta finale. But during an interview for my upcoming book on J.D. McDuffie, Means confirmed these short fields were the true reason: “Nah, we didn't get any manufacturer support back then. We switched from Pontiac to Ford because we couldn't keep up with Pontiac, and that was a good move because Ford was a superior race car to the Pontiac in '92.” I also asked Means if he’d worked with McFadden in the past. “No, just guys I called and said 'why don't you come over and start and park this car?' We didn't have to - like I said - we didn't have to be impressive, we just had to make it around the race track.” That day, McFadden made it around the track exactly eight times before retiring with valve issues. Means came home 33rd.
Finishing 39th that day was fellow owner-driver Dave Marcis, who drew the first caution with a blown engine on his #71 Abilene Boots Chevrolet. Marcis was also having sponsor issues as Big Apple Markets, which joined Marcis Auto Racing in 1990, would only sponsor him for three more races. 38th went to rookie contender Andy Belmont, who missed the field for the Daytona 500, then made his 3rd Cup start in the #59 Slick 50 Ford. 37th went to Dale Jarrett in the second-ever race for Joe Gibbs Racing, the camshaft to blame for a Lap 73 exit in the #18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Dick Trickle, who broke the water pump on the Stavola Brothers’ #8 Snickers Ford. Trickle, who drove to a surprising 5th in Daytona that year for RahMoc Enterprises, would go on to score two more Top Fives in the next four races.
Means’ #53 Pontiac ran another six times in 1992 (seven including a “did not start” in the Winston Open) with McFadden splitting time with ARCA driver Graham Taylor, whose twin last-place finishes at Dover were his first Cup starts. McFadden finished 37th of 39 in the spring race at Darlington, last at Talladega, last in the rain-shortened Southern 500 at Darlington, then rounded out the year last in the October return to Rockingham. By that race, Means had entered even more cars: “And I can't remember what year it was, but it was at Rockingham last race of the year I had four cars in that race, and I think I was the first person to have 1 car then four cars in a race, but it was all - the other 3 were start and park and I raced, it was all totally - winner coming home I think it was $4,000 to start, $5,000 to start.” The results credit Means with three entries in the race: Means himself in the #52 (finishing 26th), McFadden in the #53 (40th and last), and Mike Potter in the #77 (39th).
The October 25, 1992 race at Rockingham turned out to be McFadden’s 11th and final Cup start. He entered one more race, the 1993 spring event at Darlington, but that time ended up the only driver sent home. At season’s end, he locked-up the LASTCAR Cup Series title with four last-place finishes.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #53 in a Cup Series race since June 17, 1990, when Jerry O’Neil’s Aroneck Racing Oldsmobile suffered a crank failure after 22 laps of the Miller Genuine Draft 500 at Pocono. It was also the number’s first last-place finish in a Cup race at Rockingham. As of this writing, #53 has the 10th-longest streak without a Cup Series finish, dating back to June 13, 1993 at Pocono, when Means Racing last entered its second team with Graham Taylor, who “quit” after 3 laps of the Champion Spark Plug 500.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #53-John McFadden / 8 laps / valve
39) #71-Dave Marcis / 22 laps / engine
38) #59-Andy Belmont / 27 laps / engine
37) #18-Dale Jarrett / 73 laps / camshaft
36) #8-Dick Trickle / 113 laps / water pump