The Georgia Gang Were Kings Of The Beach

The Georgia Gang Returns

Bill Elliott and the Coors-Melling team rolled into Daytona ready to race in 1985. Photo courtesy the Ray Lamm collection

Nobody saw them coming.

The Elliott boys brought their Coors beer sponsored Ford Thunderbird to Daytona in 1985 down out of the mountains of Georgia, much as Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall had driven moonshine out of the hills.

The Melling team had worked very hard and very quietly at their little shop just north of Dawsonville all winter with one goal in mind.

To beat Waddell Wilson’s ass.

They had quietly done some testing at Talladega, and knew they had good horsepower.  They knew they had good cars.  Bill had worked hard on the bodies to get them right.  Brother Ernie Elliott, who built the engines, knew what he had under the hood.  Now it was time to let everyone else know.

When they unloaded their number 9 Ford at Daytona, most figured it would be another solid outing at best for the Georgia Gang.

Boy, were they surprised.

Elliott started off SpeedWeeks by sitting on the pole for the Daytona 500 with a speed of 205.114.  That was almost four miles an hour faster than the speed put up for the pole the year before by Cale Yarborough.

Yarborough’s car had been powered by a Waddell Wilson engine.

Everybody was chasing the Georgia Gang during the 1985 Daytona 500. Photo courtesy the Andy Towler collection

In Thursday’s qualifying race, Elliott nearly lapped the entire field en route to the victory.  In the 60-lap event, Elliott lapped all but five cars in the field, and bested second place Darrell Waltrip by 37 seconds.

One driver was quoted as saying “We haven’t got a chance in the 500.”

They were right.

When the green flag dropped, Elliott flexed his muscles by leading 136 of the 200 laps that made up the event.  His competitors, including Yarborough, pushed their cars hard to stay with the Coors Thunderbird.  For most, they pushed too hard, coming away with engine failure.

There was only one bump in the road for Elliott.  NASCAR held the Georgia driver in the pits during a green flag stop for around 45 seconds, claiming the team needed to fix a hole in the right front headlight cover.

Most observers figured that was the end of the fairy tale.

But Elliott thundered back, slicing through the field to retake the lead.  A late caution made the finish closer than it seemed, as Elliott outdistanced Lake Speed, the only other driver on the lead lap, by just under a second to win.

The Georgia Gang again ruled as the Kings of the Beach

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