No. 3 "Pass in the Grass" Car at Food Lion AutoFair
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The No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet Dale Earnhardt was driving 20 years ago when he performed the legendary "pass in the grass" will return to Lowe's Motor Speedway Sept. 13-16 for the Food Lion AutoFair.
The historic stock car will be among the featured attractions showcased in the spacious Food Lion Pavilion throughout the four-day automotive extravaganza.
During the 1987 NASCAR All-Star race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Earnhardt and Bill Elliott were locked in a heated battle for the $200,000 first-place prize. Seven laps from the finish an attempt by Earnhardt to squeeze Elliott into the frontstretch grass failed and, instead, sent Earnhardt careening into the grass.
Earnhardt, however, kept his car heading straight, plowing through 150 feet of grass, and returned to the track in a remarkable driving feat that kept him ahead of Elliott. The move was immediately dubbed "the pass in the grass," even though it actually wasn't a pass, and is one of the most famous moments in NASCAR history.
"The way the tri-oval is shaped at Charlotte you can give a guy the inside or not. If you want to cut the corner, you can," Elliott said in talking about the race 20 years later. "I had the run on him coming off four. I was already up to his left-rear wheel when he turned left to try to cut me off. Instead, it turned him into the grass. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, but from then on, he was ticked off because it looked like I was trying to spin him, which I wasn't."
Earnhardt went on to win the race and Richard Childress Racing eventually sold that particular No. 3 Chevrolet Monte Carlo to an ARCA team.
Bill Tower, a longtime General Motors engineer who now lives in Plant City, Fla., bought the car in 1990 with aspirations of racing it in vintage stock car events.
"I bought it in June of 1990 and in the vintage motorsports thing you have to document the car's history," Tower explained.
During his research, Tower quickly learned of the car's impressive championship pedigree, but it was several more years before he learned about its most famous moment.
"It was really exciting to learn about the history of the car," Tower said. "It's a superspeedway car that started out as a No. 11 Mountain Dew Buick. Junior Johnson had it built by Banjo Matthews in September of 1981 and the serial numbers are still there where Banjo stamped them.
"Darrell Waltrip won the first race they ran with the car and he went on to win Winston Cup championships in '81, '82 and '85," Tower continued. "Then, Junior decided to sell a bunch of his cars and Richard Childress bought two of them. Chevrolet was going to a different body style in 1986 called the aero-coupe. It had a big, slanted back window instead of the notch-back and this car was the first aero-coupe Childress built."
The revamped car was part of two more championships as Earnhardt earned titles in 1986 and '87, bringing its total to five.
It wasn't until 1996 that Tower learned his car was the one Earnhardt was driving in 1987 when he executed the "pass in the grass." "Will Lynn, who actually worked on the car for Childress, told me it was the car from that race. They have the photos from the winner's circle at Charlotte. The window net and a brace in the back window are a dead giveaway that this is the car."
Tower rarely shows the No. 3 Chevrolet, but says when he does it demonstrates the impact Earnhardt had on race fans.
"A lot of people actually start crying when they see it. They won't speak when they get around it-it's like a shrine to them," he said. "The car is really an eye opener because it brings out the true fans and shows what Dale was really all about."
Other attractions scheduled for the Sept. 13-16 Food Lion AutoFair include a trio of cars from Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s personal collection; TV host John Walsh's unique amphibious vehicle; Bumblebee and Ironhide from the hit movie "Transformers;" and two awesome Audis-the R8 supercar and the R10 diesel race car.
Food Lion AutoFair is the world's largest automotive extravaganza. The four-day event includes a car show featuring various makes and models from more than 50 clubs; more than 7,000 vendor spaces that offer a plethora of automotive parts and memorabilia and a car corral that features nearly 1,500 vehicles available for sale or trade.
Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For information, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205.