Bill Elliott (b. 1955)
With forty-four career wins by 2003 and the 1988 Winston Cup championship, Bill Elliott is one of the most successful and popular drivers in the history of NASCAR Winston Cup racing.
Bill Elliott was born on October 8, 1955, in Dawsonville. Growing up in a family passionate about stock car racing and in a community steeped in the wild and woolly traditions of moonshine running and stock car racing, Elliott developed an early interest in fast cars. With the help of his father, George, and brothers Ernie and Dan, Elliott began winning races in 1974 at the nearby Dixie Speedway in Woodstock.
In 1976 Elliott—with his father as car owner, Ernie as crew chief, and Dan as transmission builder—decided to try his luck on the Winston Cup tour. Despite sporadic success, the underfunded family operation struggled to make it in NASCAR's elite ranks. By late 1980 the family was prepared to pack their equipment and head back to Dawsonville.
Around that time the Elliott team caught the eye of Michigan tool manufacturer Harry Melling. With Melling as car owner, Coors Beer as sponsor, and the continuing expertise of his brothers, Elliott soon advanced his career as a Winston Cup driver. He won his first race on the road course at Riverside, California, and placed third in the points championship (based on finishes in individual races throughout the season) in 1983. He followed that success in 1984 with three victories and repeated his third-place points finish.
The second half of the 1980s saw Elliott achieve dominance in the Winston Cup series, earning him the nickname "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville." Elliott's eleven wins in the 1985 season remain a signature accomplishment. Elliott's reputation grew that year when he received a $1 million bonus (and the additional title of "Million Dollar Bill") for winning the Daytona 500, the Winston 500, and the Southern 500. Elliott continued his success with seventeen additional wins in the late 1980s.
Elliott left Melling in 1992 to drive for a team owned by NASCAR legend Junior Johnson. The Elliott/Johnson pairing got off to a promising start, winning four consecutive races in a single month. Although the team's fortunes declined, they entered the final race of the season in Atlanta in a tight battle for the Winston Cup championship with four other teams. Elliott won the race but lost the championship—by the closest margin (10 points) in Winston Cup history—to Alan Kulwicki.
In 1995 Elliott decided to set up his own team, with himself as owner and driver, under the sponsorship of the fast-food chain McDonald's. Although Elliott remained popular, the team's performance never matched the high standard he had set for himself. Indeed, the team won no races inits five-year existence. Elliott seemed destined to ride out his career in mediocre equipment near the rear of the pack.
When McDonald's left racing in 2000, however, Elliott landed one of the most prized cars in the Winston Cup garage, the new Dodge entry owned by Ray Evernham. The Evernham partnership rejuvenated Elliott's career and moved him back into the upper echelons of the sport. Elliott made a triumphant return to victory lane, once in 2001 and twice in 2002.
Even in the years Elliott struggled on the track, he remained popular with fans of the sport. He has won the National Motorsports Press Association's Most Popular Driver Award a record sixteen times. Elliott was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015, his first year of eligibility.