IROC - A Test of Talent (Part 2: A New Era, 1984-1989) #BlogPost

It’s 1984. Richard Petty won his 200th NASCAR Winston Cup Race, Niki Lauda beat Alan Prost by Half a Point for the Formula 1 World Championship, Stefan Bellof was dominating the World Sportscar Championship, and Cale Yarborough had just won the Daytona 500.

IROC - A Test of Talent (Part 2: A New Era, 1984-1989) #BlogPost

It’s 1984. Richard Petty won his 200th NASCAR Winston Cup Race, Niki Lauda beat Alan Prost by Half a Point for the Formula 1 World Championship, Stefan Bellof was dominating the World Sportscar Championship, and Cale Yarborough had just won the Daytona 500. IROC had been on a 3 year hiatus from it’s first years because of lack of funding. The series had not been able to find a car manufacturer to supply a car after Chevy could no longer fund and supply Second-Generation Camaros to race. In 1984, IROC presented a solution that could fund the cars that could help rebirth the series. A production car.

For the 1985 model year Chevy would release a higher trim Camaro. The new car would sit above the Z28 and would be fitted with upgraded suspension, lowered ride height, new shocks, larger sway bars, and a Tuned Port Injection system. It would be called the IROC-Z. Chevy cut a deal with IROC to race the cars in Late-1984, and the series would be reborn. IROC just need their drivers back. Former IROC drivers Cale Yarborough, Niel Bonnett, Darrell Waltrip, Gordon Johncock, Benny Parsons, Johnny Rutherford, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jacky Ickx, and Tom Sneva would return to the Camaros. 2-Time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Derek Bell, CART Driver Danny Ongais, and 1980 NASCAR Champion Dale Earnhardt would all join IROC for IROC VIII.

IROC - A Test of Talent (Part 2: A New Era, 1984-1989) #BlogPost

IROC also picked up a title sponsor for 1984, Budweiser would also help secure the funding for the series. IROC’s Schedule also changed. Michigan would begin and end the season, with the CART Road Course at Cleveland and the Superspeedway at Talladega in between. The new car proved to be a great addition to the series. The cars had more drag and downforce to help the quality of racing improve. At Michigan, Emerson Fittipaldi started on pole, but Dale Earnhardt took the lead on Lap 1. He led for 4 laps until Danny Ongais took the lead. He and Gordon Johncock battled lap after lap, which brought Niel Bonnett into the picture, who took the lead from Johncock late into the race. Benny Parsons took 2nd with only a few laps to go. Parsons tried to chase down Bonnett, but it was too late. Bonnett took victory by 3 Car Lengths.

At Cleveland, Cale Yarborough had the lead on the start, but was immediately passed by Tom Sneva. Sneva pulled away, but it hurt his tires. With 12 Laps to go of the 30 Lap race, Sneva was feeling pressure from Yarborough again. Yarborough and Sneva pushed their cars to the limit. With 6 Laps to go, Svena and Yarborough were going through one of the chicanes late in the lap, Svena dipped his right rear tire over the edge of the track. It cut his tire down and launched him sideways, Yarborough made it by, and Svena dropped to 11th in the final results. Yarborough made it by and led the final 6 Laps to win.

At Talladega, the 12 cars would attack the 2.66 mile track for the first time. The cars had a lot of drag, allowing all of the cars to run flat out all the way around the track. Coming out of Turn 4 on the first lap, Niel Bonnett made a move inside of Derek Bell, but Benny Parsons made the move faster. Bonnett and Parsons made contact and Bonnett’s car taped the left rear of Bell’s car. Bell slid towards the top of the track and slammed into the wall, while Bonnett slid towards the grass and went into the air, but didn’t hit the wall. Bell slid towards the bottom of the track and hit the wall again. Bell hopped out of the car, but was out of the race. IROC stopped the race and allowed Bell and Bonnett to get backup cars out. The rest of the race was pretty tame. Benny Parsons led 33 Laps, Tom Svena led 1, while Johnny Rutherford held the lead with 3 to go. Darrell Waltrip slingshotted by on the back straight and took the lead. Cale Yarborough rode behind Waltrip for the last 3 Laps. Off the final corner, Yarborough tried to take the lead, but Waltrip was ready, he squeezed Yarborough to the bottom of the track. Waltrip and Yarborough beat and banged as they came to the stripe, with Waltrip taking the victory by 8 inches.

At Michigan, all Cale Yarborough had to do was either finish in front of Championship rival Niel Bonnett, or finish 3rd or better. Yarborough started in 2nd, but took the lead Darrell Waltrip on Lap 1, Yarborough led 49 out of the 50 laps in the race, but he didn’t lead the right one. On the last lap, Niel Bonnett passed Cale Yarborough on the inside going down the back straightaway. Yarborough was forced to go high into Turn 3, Tom Svena tried to make a move, but couldn’t get it done. Yarborough got the slipstream off Bonnett off Turn 4. Yarborough tried to get the draft, but still lost the race by only 3 feet. He might have lost the race, but Yarborough was the winner of IROC VIII.

IROC - A Test of Talent (Part 2: A New Era, 1984-1989) #BlogPost

IROC IX started with a shake up in the drivers of a schedule. IROC would add NASCAR driver Harry Gant, McLaren F1 Driver John Watson, CART driver Bobby Rahal, Trans-Am driver Tom Gloy and 1984 NASCAR Champion Terry Labonte. The schedule would have a shake-up. The season would start at Daytona, then travel to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and would travel to Talladega then Michigan to end the season.

At the first race in Daytona, Cale Yarborough led the first 4 Laps before A.J. Foyt took the lead from him. A.J. led a single file procession around Daytona for the next 35 Laps. When the White Flag came out, A.J. became defensive. Cale Yarborough had won the last 2 Daytona 500’s by making a “slingshot move.” He won draft up to the back bumper of the leader’s car, and make a move as late as he could without hitting the car in front. He attempted to do this on Foyt. He did it perfectly, but the taller spoiler on the IROC Camaro’s allowed for more sidedraft, which slowed down Yarborough’s car. The pair raced side-by-side into Turn 3. Tom Sneva feel in behind Yarborough as they came through the final corner. Sneva drafted up to Yarborough. He tapped his rear bumper. Yarborough’s car shot sideways, touching the left rear of Foyt. All 3 spun off the final corner. Darrell Waltrip weaved through the 3 spinning cars and came to the line to win the race. Sneva came spinning across the line 2nd, with Foyt 3rd and Yarborough 6th.

At Mid-Ohio, CART, WSC, and Formula 1 drivers dominated. Mario Andretti took off from the pole and led 27 out of the 29 Laps. Bobby Rahal started in the 4th spot, and worked his way up to Andretti. With 2 Laps to go, Rahal had caught Andretti. Somewhere late in the lap, Rahal made contact with Andretti, sending him off the track. Rahal led the last 2 Laps to take the victory by 2.4 seconds over John Watson. Andretti rounded out the Top 3.

When the IROC race was supposed to happen at Talladega, it was pouring rain. With the IROC race being a companion race to the NASCAR Winston Cup race that weekend, there was no time to have the race, so it was canceled. The series showed up at Michigan at August, and it was blue skies all weekend. To win the Championship, points leader Darrell Waltrip had to finish 3rd or better. If Harry Gant won the race, he and Darrell Waltrip would tie. Gant would win the Championship because he had more laps lead over the season. As Gant would have the same amount of wins, top 5’s, top 10’s, and same average finish. Darrell Waltrip started on pole and led the first 4 laps. Harry Gant took over the lead, but was passed by Terry Labonte with 14 Laps left. Labonte held the lead over Gant for the next 13 Laps. Off Turn 4 on the last lap, however, Gant made his move on the outside of Labonte. They touched off Turn 4 but Gant beat Labonte to the line by 4 feet . He took the win and the Championship of IROC IX.

IROC - A Test of Talent (Part 2: A New Era, 1984-1989) #BlogPost

IROC’s 10th Season started off with lots of optimism. Chevy’s IROC-Z Camaro sales were up and so was Budweiser’s sales. IROC’s attendance was up drastically, and more tracks wanted IROC as an event there. The driver lineup changed drastically for 1986. Bill Elliott, Al Unser, Cale Yarborough, Harry Gant, Bobby Rahal, Klaus Ludwig, Hans Stuck, Rick Mears, Darrell Waltrip, Hurley Haywood, Jochen Mass, and Al Unser Jr. would make up IROC’s 12 driver field for 1986. IROC’s schedule would see a small change, with Michigan being traded out for Watkins Glen.

Harry Gant started on pole, leading the first 30 laps. After 2 accidents, a 3 car accident on Lap 4 involving Mass, Unser Jr. and Rahal, and Rick Mears crashing on Lap 25, the field was bunched up again. Gant still led on the restart but was dethroned out of the lead when he had water pressure issues on Lap 30. Al Unser led the last 10 Laps and fended off Cale Yarborough to take victory. A race recap is available at the beginning of the Mid-Ohio race. The video timestamped. At Mid-Ohio, Al Unser Jr. started 2nd. He took the lead on the start and never looked back, taking the win by 2.7 seconds after leading every lap.

The second half of the season started at Talladega. Rick Mears took the lead in Turn 1 and began to block both lanes of drivers. On Lap 8, Cale Yarborough, who had made his way up from 7th starting position, took the lead on the outside of Mears as they went through the 18-Degree banked Tri-Oval. Yarborough held off Harry Gant to take the victory.

At the final round in Watkins Glen, Yarborough went into the race with the points lead, but Al Unser was in 2nd. Bill Elliott, Al Unser Jr., Harry Gant, Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Rahal all had a shot at the Championship. Al Unser Sr. took the lead on the start from Yarborough. Unser pulled away, that is, until Lap 15. Unser spun in the final corner and hit the outside guardrail, destroying the rear end of his Camaro and knocking him out of the race and Championship hunt. 2nd place Bill Elliott then took over the Championship lead, but Al Unser Jr. overtook him a Lap later. Unser Jr. would win the Championship by 3 points. If Elliott won, he’d win the Championship by 5. The pair raced the last 14 Laps as their hardest. In the last corner of the last lap, Elliott tried to move Unser out of the way. Unser Jr. wasn’t phased, and came off the corner to take the win and the Championship by a car length. Watch the full race here.

IROC - A Test of Talent (Part 2: A New Era, 1984-1989) #BlogPost

IROC 1987 started out with the same Camaro’s, but a driver and schedule revamp was needed. Talladega was replaced with Michigan as Round 3. Near NASCAR Champion Geoffrey Bodine, 1986 NASCAR Champion Dale Earnhardt, 3 Time NASCAR Champion Darrell Waltrip, Fastest Man in NASCAR Bill Elliott, 1986 IROC Champion Al Unser Jr., 1986 Trans-Am Champion Wally Dallenbach Jr., Bobby Rahal, Mario Andretti, Derek Bell, Al Unser, IMSA GTO Champion Scott Pruett and Michael Andretti all made up the IROC XI field.

At Daytona, Michael Andretti and Bobby Rahal crashed for last position going into Turn 1 on the 1st lap. When the race got back going, Wally Dallenbach led for 4 Laps, before be dispersed by Bill Elliott. Al Unser spun from 3rd place on Lap 16, taking Scott Pruett, Mario Andretti and Wally with him. On the restart, Geoff Bodine made his move, taking the lead from Elliott and going on to beat Darrell Waltrip by a car length to win Round 1 of IROC XI.

At Mid-Ohio, Michael Andretti drew the pole position. He took off with the lead for the first 20 Laps of the race, but Bobby Rahal, who started 5th, took the lead with 9 Laps to Go, and hung on to win by 1.7 Seconds over Wally Dallenbach.

Al Unser drew pole for the 3rd Round at Michigan but was passed by Darrell Waltrip on the first lap. Waltrip had to fend off all competitors though. He ran side-by-side with Al Unser until Lap 4, then Dale Earnhardt and Al Unser Jr. tried to make their charge, but they were caught up battling themselves. Once Unser Jr. got by, he went after Waltrip, taking the lead on Lap 11. On Lap 12, Michael Andretti lost control in Turn 1, clipping Dale Earnhardt and sending him into the outside wall. Earnhardt was out of the race. What began was a sparing match between Unser Jr. and Waltrip. During the 50 Lap race, Unser led 26 Laps compared to Waltrip’s 24. However the duo swapped the lead 6 Times. Waltrip took the lead going into the final lap. But Unser planned for it. Going into Turn 3 on the last lap, he shot high of Waltrip. The pair ran of Turn 4 side-by-side. The momentum from the outside carried Unser around Waltrip. The pair ran side-by-side all the way to the line, with Unser beating out Waltrip by .03 of a second.

At the final round in Watkins Glen, Geoff Bodine had the Championship all but locked up. All he had to do was coast home in 5th or better. He decided he would do more than that. Bodine drew pole, and left the field in the dust, taking the victory by 2.02 seconds over Al Unser after leading every lap.

IROC - A Test of Talent (Part 2: A New Era, 1984-1989) #BlogPost

In 1988, IROC again decided to change the schedule. Instead of going to Mid-Ohio in June, they would go to Riverside, where IROC began, in mid-June. The driver line-up changed as well. Terry Labonte and Al Holbert would be added back to the series, while Chip Robinson, Chris Cord, and Roberto Guerrero would be added to the IROC XII lineup. To start off the season at Daytona, Bill Elliott qualified on pole and led every lap on his way to victory, beating Dale Earnhardt by a car length.

Riverside would be a much different environment than usual. The IROC race would be the 2nd to last major race ever held at Riverside. The NASCAR Winston Cup race was to be the last major race at Riverside International Raceway, ever. The birthplace of IROC would be demolished to build a shopping mall the next year. IROC made sure to put on a show for their last race there. Chip Robinson started 2nd, but took the lead from Roberto Guerrero on the start. Scott Pruett started in 5th, but moved up to 2nd on the start. He chased down Robinson for the next 20 laps. The two stayed with a second of each other, tip-toeing and drifting around the 2.54 Mile road course. Pruett got by with 10 laps to go, and held on to win by only 2 seconds. Here is a replay of the full race.

Roberto Guerrero again started on the pole at Michigan. The CART star led the first 4 laps, before being overtaken by Geoff Bodine. Bodine led the next 46 laps to take the victory by .7 of a second over a charging Dale Earnhardt. The 4th Round at Watkins Glen was Al Unser Jr’s play day. Unser took the lead from Geoff Bodine on the start, and led every lap on his way to his first win of the 1988 IROC Season and Second IROC Championship.

IROC - A Test of Talent (Part 2: A New Era, 1984-1989) #BlogPost

IROC’s last season of the 1980’s would go to a different venue for their second race. Nazareth Speedway would host the event. Roger Penske’s 5 Turn CART track in Pennsylvania would be the first ever IROC short track event ever. 3 new drivers would also be driving in IROC. Indy 500 Winner Danny Sullivan, NASCAR Champion Rusty Wallace and IMSA Champion Geoff Brabham. Richard Petty and A.J. Foyt would return to the series in 1989 as well.

At Daytona, Rick Mears started on pole, but was quickly passed by Richard Petty for the lead. The racing from then on became fast and wild. The lead changed 9 times between 5 other drivers. Rusty Wallace look the lead with 5 Laps to go and beat Terry Labonte by a car length to win the race.

At Round 2 in Nazareth, the CART and IndyCar drivers dominated. A.J. Foyt led the first 40 Laps of the 75 Lap race before Rusty Wallace overtook him. Only 4 Laps later Scott Pruett took the lead and he lead for the next 17 Laps. With only 14 Laps to go Danny Sullivan made his move, taking the lead and holding on for the victory over Pruett.

At Michigan, the NASCAR drivers came back. They finished 1-2-3-4. NASCAR driver Terry Labonte took the honor of leading the most laps, leading 33. Every NASCAR driver who entered in the event, besides Bill Elliott, led a lap. Geoff Brabham was the only non-NASCAR driver to lead a lap, with 4 Laps lead early in the event. The lead changed 9 times during the event, with Terry Labonte taking victory by only .47 seconds over Dale Earnhardt.

For the final round at Watkins Glen, all Terry Labonte had to do was finish 6th or better. He drew pole though, and he wanted to prove he deserved the Championship. He led the first 10 Laps, however Al Unser Jr. had other plans about Tabonte winning. Unser Jr. drove his way up from 4th starting position to take the lead on Lap 11. He led the rest of the event to take the win by 1.3 seconds over Scott Pruett. Labonte took the Championship by 12 points over Unser Jr., finishing 3rd at Watkins Glen.

IROC - A Test of Talent (Part 2: A New Era, 1984-1989) #BlogPost

1989 was the end of another era for IROC. Chevy decided against renewing their contract for 1990. The IROC-Z Camaro wouldn’t be produced for the 1991 model year. IROC needed a new manufacturer. Budweiser also didn’t renew their contract meaning IROC would need another title sponsor as well. They found both for 1990 and the best period of IROC racing began.

IROC - A Test of Talent (Part 2: A New Era, 1984-1989) #BlogPost

This is only Part 2 of 4 of an article series about the 32 Year History of the racing series IROC. I hope you enjoyed this second part of the series, and if you haven’t read the first part, click here. The next part will be covering the years from 1990-1995 with the Dodge Daytona. I hope you guys enjoyed this one and I will try to get at least 1 article a week out for this series!



In reply to by .... 3

This is cool, very good read!
Good job 😂

03/09/2017 - 16:06 |
4 | 0

These are amazing!

03/09/2017 - 10:00 |
4 | 0
Zach Kramp

Amazing post! I’m looking forward to part 3 I had no idea Chevy wasn’t the only manufacturer to make cars for IROC!

03/09/2017 - 13:02 |
4 | 0


03/09/2017 - 18:26 |
4 | 0

Never did like Iraq, I was always an Iran fan.
Wait are we talking about Camaros?
Oh yeah they all suck

03/09/2017 - 19:27 |
2 | 2

Great read!! Cheers

05/31/2017 - 15:35 |
0 | 0

Sponsored Posts