Tuesday, November 28, 2017

TRIBUTE: Bud Moore Engineering’s twelve last-place finishes tell the story of one of NASCAR’s most celebrated single-car operations

A decorated Army veteran who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. A Hall of Fame crew chief and car owner with 958 combined Cup starts and 63 wins over 37 seasons. Bud Moore filled every one of his 92 years with more stories than this or any other article can tell.

As the racing world mourns Moore’s passing on Monday, we at LASTCAR.info look back at the history of Bud Moore Engineering through the team’s last-place finishes, of which there were only twelve. Much like our feature on Robert Yates earlier this year, each finish tells the story of a single-car operation that was one of the strongest in the sport’s history, attracting some of NASCAR’s most famous drivers.

After years as a championship crew chief, Moore opened his team in 1961. Right away, he struck gold with Joe Weatherly, NASCAR’s “Clown Prince of Racing.” Active in Cup since 1951, Weatherly put Moore’s #8 Pontiac into victory lane in his very first attempt, taking the checkers in his qualifying race at Daytona in 1961. The pair would win 20 races together, claiming back-to-back Cup Series titles in 1962 and 1963. Their only last-place finish together came on August 14, 1963 at the Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds, where the duo were on their way to another strong weekend. Weatherly won the pole for the 200-lapper, led the opening 33 laps, then lost the engine while still out front. It was the fifth and final last-place run of Weatherly’s career. Tragically, he would lose his life just five months later in a crash during the race at Riverside. It was the first time NASCAR’s defending series champion lost his life the following year.

Moore’s next driver was Houston native Billy Wade, who like Kevin Harvick years later would find great success in the shadow of tragedy. Just weeks after Weatherly’s crash, Wade finished 10th in his own Daytona qualifier, then 6th in the Daytona 500. During the Northern Tour that summer, he would become the first driver in NASCAR history to score four consecutive Cup Series wins. Like Weatherly before him, Wade scored just one last-place finish in Moore’s equipment, though not for an incident on the track. It came at Martinsville on April 26, 1964, where his Mercury was entered in the Virginia 500. A dispute over the brake ducts on car #1 led to Moore withdrawing his entry. The withdrawal is recorded in the race results as a “did not start” with Wade classified last. Unbelievably, Wade would also lose his life months later in a testing crash at Daytona.

The Moore team would never again lose a driver, and the owner played a key role in improving safety in the sport. Weatherly’s accident was one of several which led to the institution of driver’s side window nets while Wade’s saw changes made to seat belts, specifically the “jockey strap” or “submarine belt” that goes between the driver’s legs. During this period, Moore changed his car number to the #15, which the team would run for the rest of its existence. The team’s driver in 1973 was another sterling talent, Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip was in just his second season then, and after fielding his own cars as a freshman, Moore was the first owner to hire him. With sponsorship from Sta-Power Industries, the pair finished 8th in their first race together, the 1973 Southern 500. Later that month came their only last-place run together, an engine problem after 75 laps at North Wilkesboro on September 23, 1973.

The next two last-place runs both came in 1981, the year NASCAR decreased the standard wheelbase of its cars. Driving the team’s downsized Melling Tool Ford Thunderbirds was 1973 series champion Benny Parsons. Parsons won three times that season, culminating with a 10th-place finish in points, but finished last in both Cup races at Dover. The first came on May 17, the same day that another World War II veteran turned NASCAR team owner, Junie Donlavey, scored his only Cup win after Jody Ridley took the checkers. Parsons’ short day came after a crash with Dave Marcis on Lap 2. Things went no better on September 20, when the Ford overheated after just 31 laps. To date, Parsons is one of only three drivers to sweep both Cup Series last-place finishes at Dover, joining Dick May (1975), Bruce Hill (1976), and Graham Taylor (1992).

On November 21, 1982, still another last-place finish by the Moore team took on added significance. That day’s running of the Winston Western 500 saw the first last-place finish of 31-year-old Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt, who wouldn’t win on a road course until 1995, started 7th in his #15 Wrangler Jeans Ford, but suffered an oil leak after just eight laps. “The Intimidator” would finish last just four more times in Cup – all in his iconic GM Goodwrench Chevrolet, and none after 1992. Ricky Rudd, who shared Earnhardt’s Wrangler sponsorship in 1984, picked up Moore’s next finish on June 17 of that year at Michigan. Just months earlier, Rudd had driven the same car to a gutsy win at Richmond with his swollen eyes taped open following his brutal wreck in the Busch Clash at Daytona.

The next two finishes came with Brett Bodine in 1988, a season which began with another terrifying crash after his Crisco / Motorcraft Ford collided with a tumbling Richard Petty in the Daytona 500. Bodine finished last in the July 2 return to Daytona when he was collected in another six-car pileup off the fourth corner, this time eliminating Cale Yarborough and Alan Kulwicki. The second finish came November 6, when Kulwicki earned his first Cup win in the inaugural race at Phoenix. Bodine was out after 13 laps that day with a blown engine.

Geoffrey Bodine joined the Bud Moore team in 1992, replacing Morgan Shepherd as driver of the team’s red #15 Motorcraft Quality Parts Ford. The team scored back-to-back wins at Martinsville and North Wilkesboro that fall, the latter run without a single caution flag. It was a strong performance after a difficult Martinsville afternoon on April 26, where another engine failure stopped Bodine after 104 laps of the Hanes 500. The next year, Bodine would score Moore’s 63rd and final Cup Series win at Sonoma, doing so in dramatic style. With dirt and debris on the track, Bodine slipped around the road course in the final laps, holding off a determined Ernie Irvan and Ricky Rudd. At the time, Bodine had just completed the purchase of Alan Kulwicki Racing, and would begin his owner-driver effort soon after.

Moore very nearly won again at Sonoma three years later, when road racer Wally Dallenbach, Jr. came on board with sponsorship from Hayes Modems. Dallenbach finished 3rd that day, within shouting distance of Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin. The sponsorship from Hayes was an eleventh-hour deal prior to the Daytona 500, where Dallenbach overcame front valence damage to finish 6th. The team also had the benefit of owner-driver Jimmy “Smut” Means as the crew chief, Means joining the team after he closed his own Cup effort. As it turned out, Sonoma marked the 298th and final top-five finish for Moore. The pair also finished last for the penultimate time at Richmond on March 3, when crash damage ended their day 19 laps into the Pontiac Excitement 400. Following a 25th-place finish in the season standings, it was to be Moore’s final season as a full-time competitor.

After Dallenbach’s departure, Bud Moore Engineering made just seven more starts. With two DNQs and a withdrawal from the Brickyard 400, 1997 marked the first season without one of Moore’s car in the field since 1971. In 1998, the team acquired sponsorship from Rescue Engine Formula and, after a DNQ with Loy Allen, Jr. at Indianapolis, made two starts with Ted Musgrave at Michigan and Darlington. It was the second of these starts on September 6 that Moore picked up his twelfth and final last-place finish. Musgrave lined up 32nd for the Pepsi Southern 500, but dropped a cylinder at the end of a long green-flag run and pulled off the track.

The last Bud Moore car to qualify at Talladega, April 16, 2000.
PHOTO: Bryan Hallman
In 1999, Moore sold his team to Fenley Motorsports, and the renamed Fenley-Moore Motorsports eyed a return to Cup competition in 2000 with Derrike Cope. Still carrying Moore’s iconic #15, the team made its Cup debut at Charlotte on October 11, 1999, where Cope finished 35th. Then, although the team didn’t have one of Ford’s new 2000-model Tauruses at the time, Cope raced the car into the Daytona 500. Following a 19th-place finish with Cope at Atlanta, the team’s final green flag came at Talladega on April 16. That day, Ted Musgrave returned to drive a “throwback” scheme to the white-and-blue Ford that Bobby Allison steered to victory in the team’s lone Daytona 500 triumph in 1978. Musgrave was running in the lead pack when “The Big One” collected him in the final stages.

While the car number 15 has since bounced from team to team (at the end of 2017, it was the Chartered entry for Premium Motorsports), Bud Moore’s legacy will live on. Two of the last three "Throwback" weekends at Darlington saw the #15 decorated as one of Moore's cars. Through both good days and bad, the team’s endurance in changing sport played a critical role in NASCAR history.

*Legends of NASCAR – Billy Wade


Ralph Carpenter said...

Cheers to these guys who push the NASCAR sport to the next level. I really admire them for their courage. I hope that one day i will gather the courage to be on a race track one day. Meanwhile i will keep doing go carts hahaaha.

SelfMaster said...

Thank you!