By Tim Packman, Guest Contributor
MOORESVILLE, N.C. â The big news after the 1990 Daytona 500 was Derrike Copeâs last-lap upset of Dale Earnhardt. However, there were other interesting storylines leading up to the race.
When 61 cars showed up to claim 42 starting positions, that put a major significance on qualifying and the Duels to see who made the show. The big hype leading up to the race was the addition of a green and yellow No. 46 City Chevrolet car and a black and white No. 51 Chevrolet.
They were not part of the starting field but did start the race gaining no points or purse money. Why? Well, there was this little movie starring some guy named Tom Cruise and a tall Aussie woman Nicole Kidman.
âDays of Thunderâ was the first major-scale NASCAR-related movie and NASCAR, teams and fans were involved. The actual drivers of the movie cars were Bobby Hamilton and Tommy Ellis and it seemed most of Hollywood was on hand.
The movie was released that same year and, to this day, people are still quoting fictional drivers Cole Trickle, Rowdy Burns and crew chief Harry Hogge from their classic one liners.
When the actual starting line-up was set for the real stars in the cars after Thursdayâs Duels, there were 19 drivers who found themselves free for the weekend.
Failing to make the show were notable drivers such as Chad Little, JD McDuffie and Charlie Glotzbach, to name a few. Four future stars of the sport were making their very first Daytona 500 start.
Jimmy Spencer, Hut Stricklin, Jimmy Horton and a short-track ace from Edgerton, WI named Rich Bickle. Of the four, Bickle probably has the most interesting tale to tell of how his self-named team made the race.
The 6â 5â Green Bay Packer-loving driver had won all kinds of races and championships in his native area. He rolled into Daytona already winning three, of his five, Snowball Derby races.
But now, now he was hauling an Oldsmobile from the cold Midwest to the sunny South to try his hand at making the Great American Race. They had the car, the crew and desire to compete. There was just one slight problem for Bickle and team â they didnât have an engine.
âWe had a Buick race car and we turned it into an Oldsmobile in the offseasonâ Bickle recalled. âMy regular engine builder, Carl Wagner, didnât build superspeedway motors. So, we headed to Daytona and said weâd figure it out when we go there.
âAfter asking almost every single team, we found the last motor available. The guy who sold it to us, Mike Fryer, told us it was down 25 mph, which is just a little more than three MPH off the pace.
âSo, we bought it, put it in and hit the track. The first outing was a total disaster.â
Bickle could clean up on the short tracks but had very little knowledge of superspeedway racing and the needed aerodynamics to succeed. It showed in the first practice when his speeds were at the bottom of the chart and way off the pace.
After coming in, the team discovered the crush panels were blown in. So, they went to a master car builder and got his opinion.
âI found Robert Gee in the garage and asked if he could look at my car,â Bickle said. âHe came over and told us our car looked like a turtle and was too fat to go fast.
âWe started banging fenders in making all kinds of change to get it faster. Jim Doyle, the car owner, was so mad he actually walked away because he couldnât stand to see what all were doing to the car.â
Changes were made, they get in some more practice with better results, did qualifying and then got ready for their Duel 125 on Thursday. Bickle hooked up with the last person he though would help, fellow Wisconsin native Alan Kulwicki.
âIn 1989, he and I were in the Slinger Nationals at Slinger Super Speedway back home,â Bickle said. âDuring the heats, Alan was holding me up as I tried to get around him. He was a pretty big deal by then, but I was faster than him and I didnât like it.
âSo, I not-so-nicely told him this was my track now and he had better get out of my way. He wasnât too happy about that, at all.
âLater that same year, we qualified for the Cup race at Charlotte and guess who we were parked right next to in the garage? Yep, Alan. He wouldnât even acknowledge me, look my way or nothing.â
Fast forward to the 1990 Daytona 500 and Bickle is racing in the Duel 125 to try and make the show. He gets hooked up with Kulwicki and they start helping each other.
So much to the point, Bickle picked up a stunning eight MPH and Kulwicki four MPH.
âI was hanging on for dear life in that car once we started drafting together,â Bickle said. âI would look back and literally see my right-rear tires smoking through the turns because I was so sideways.
âAlan and I go through the pack, I finish 15th and make the Daytona 500 on my first attempt with a pounded-up car with a slow motor. Unbelievable.
âAfterwards, Alan comes up to me like Charlotte never happened and told me what a good job I did and we need to work together in the 500. I couldnât really talk because my butt was still puckered up so tight from the race.â
Fences were mended and Bickle and Kulwicki became friends. Bickle started 28th and finished 29th, five laps down. He bested Richard Petty, who had mechanical problems and whom he would later go on to drive for. He also finished ahead of AJ Foyt, who got out of the car mid-race after saying exhaust fumes were making him too sick to drive.
âYou know, making that race in 1990 was so special because all we went through to get there and all that happened when got there,â Bickle reflected. âIn 1976, I sat in the grandstands for the Daytona 500 with my mom and dad.
âI remember telling them while sitting there, that one day I was going to drive in this race. And, I did.â