Bouchard Stunned Racing World in 1981 Talladega 500
Winner of One of NASCAR’s Greatest Finishes Passes Away at Age 67
The 1981 talladega 500. It has always been known as a race with one of the most exciting finishes in the history of NASCAR that produced one of the biggest upset victories in the sport. As a result of that August 2nd day, the name of Ron Bouchard, who passed away recently at the age of 67, will forever be etched in the minds of motorsports fans everywhere.
Bouchard, a rookie that year who was competing in just his 11th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, swept past two future NASCAR Hall of Famers – Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte – in the final stretch of 1,250 feet to the finish line that memorable day. As the trio was coming through the tri-oval on the final lap, Waltrip, who was leading, chose to crowd Labonte near the outside retaining wall as he attempted a pass. Meanwhile, third-place runner Bouchard saw a chance at the low side.
The rest is history. The trio came across literally in a dead heat, and after reviewing video replays of the finish in slow motion, Bouchard had stunned the racing world with a “two-foot” victory – the only triumph of his career.
The extra distance to the start-finish line at Talladega Superspeedway, which is nearly 1,250 feet toward Turn 1 from the center of the tri-oval, is a path to continued or greater success. For Bouchard, it was the difference between having a NASCAR victory on his career ledger and never finding Gatorade Victory Lane at all.
“When we first went there, Buddy Baker told me that one of the differences at this track was that when you came off Turn 4, you had to remember that the start-finish line wasn’t in the tri-oval,” Bouchard said in the summer of 2013. “He actually went through the scenario with me where he said if, for some reason, I was third coming off Turn 4, I needed to wait until the second-place guy made his move then go the other way because, at that point, there was still plenty of time to draft by those guys at the line.
“When we came off Turn 4, I remembered what Buddy told me, and I waited. And, Terry jumped to the high side of Darrell (Waltrip). Then, the only thing Darrell was worried about was Terry, and I got a draft off the two of them. When I passed them, I remember thinking as we crossed the stripe, ‘I’ll be a son-of-a-gun if Baker didn’t talk about this very thing, and it happened just like he said.”
It’s only one of 93 chapters that have made Talladega what it is, and always will be – the fastest, most exciting race track in the world. Bouchard’s triumph in the No. 47 Race Hill Farm Buick led to him becoming that season’s Cup Series rookie of the year. His Talladega momentum carried him to the pole position the following week at Michigan. He went on to post 12 top-10 finishes in the 22 races that season. It was good enough to give him the Rookie of the Year Honor over the likes of notable drivers’ Morgan Shepherd, Tim Richmond and Joe Ruttman.
Bouchard, from Fitchburg, Mass, started 160 times through 1987 at stock-car racing’s major level, posting 19 top-five and 60 top-10 finishes. He was eighth in the 1982 points standings.