Earnhardt shares Darlington scare

March 23, 1993|By Tom Higgins | Tom Higgins,Charlotte Observer

It took only a few words of warning from Dale Earnhardt to get Davy Jones' attention.

Prior to the International Race Of Champions series opener last month at Daytona, talk among drivers turned to the first-ever IROC event at Darlington Raceway, scheduled for Saturday.

Five-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Earnhardt told Jones that most of the tales about the old South Carolina track's treachery and toughness were true. Coming from a driver normally as dauntless as Earnhardt -- Darlington's leading active victor with seven major triumphs -- the affirmation proved plenty enough for Jones.

Last week Jones, an International Motor Sports Association road racing star who never has seen the 1.366-mile Darlington track, took an unprecedented step for an IROC participant. He rented the egg-shaped speedway. Jones also rented a NASCAR Grand National car from team owner Dick Moroso and had the Buick brought to Darlington, where he practiced privately.

"Earnhardt, a driver I consider the master, told me I needed to get as much practice at the place as possible," Jones said. "I took the advice seriously."

Speedway spokesman Russell Branham said Jones adapted well to the track notorious for its tight first and fourth turns. "Considering it was Davy's first time at Darlington, he was smooth and consistent," Branham said. "He turned best laps at around 152 mph."

Jones said he learned that Darlington will demand "using the brakes and lifting off the accelerator like never before" in an IROC event on an oval track. "It's going to be a new experience," he added.

Jones finished fourth at Daytona Feb. 12 as NASCAR's Bill Elliott won the race matching 12 drivers from various forms of auto racing in Dodge Daytonas prepared as identically as possible. Under IROC rules, which invert the starting order from the finish of the previous event, Elliott lines up last at Darlington while Jones has the ninth position.

Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., who wrecked at Daytona, is on the pole.

Jones and Unser are joined by four others without race experience at Darlington -- Juan Fangio II, Geoff Brabham, Jack Baldwin, Arie Luyendyk and Al Unser Sr. NASCAR's Ricky Rudd, Harry Gant, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki join Elliott in the field.

Earnhardt? He wasn't an IROC invitee this year, but Jones feels sure he'd have received advice anyway.

"All the NASCAR guys have been willing to explain different situations and answer our questions," Jones said.

The number of questions quite likely will increase when activity at the track begins Friday. The distance for the IROC race hadn't been determined yesterday. It will likely cover about 100 miles. Regardless, it starts Saturday at 11 a.m., the opener of a doubleheader with the Mark III Vans 200 for Grand National cars.

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