Just as organizers had hoped, the series began to blossom under NASCAR's guidance.
"In 1976, we really started running a lot of good races," says Combs. "We ran Rockingham, Atlanta, Darlington, and Dover. We've been to Texas (World Speedway), Pocono, and most of your short tracks around, and the series really did well for a while."
Combs did quite well himself, winning the series championship in 1975, '76 and '77.
As the series progressed into the '80s, racing technology changed, but one of the most significant occurrences to happen in all of NASCAR came in the Dash Series. In 1980, Combs, who began racing in the series driving a Ford Pinto and then a Chevrolet Vega, made the switch to the Datsun 200 SX, marking the first time a foreign make ran a full season in a NASCAR series. Combs went on that season to become the first driver in the history of NASCAR to win a series championship in a foreign-made car.
The Iron Duke
However, a NASCAR rule change a couple of years later allowed the first production motor--the Pontiac Iron Duke--into the series and brought what Combs and his peers believe to be the first significant rise in costs. The four-cylinder engines prominent in the series up until then were costing teams in the neighborhood of $600; the Iron Duke increased the price of engine development to as much as $22,000, according to Combs.
"General Motors came in and gave probably five or six people a motor and everybody else had to buy everything, and it just really hurt the series," says Combs. "They got down to where they wouldn't have but 10 or 12 cars at the racetrack. It went from basically a hobby to a full-time job of maintaining your car, just night and day, trying to keep up with that Iron Duke motor to be competitive."
Prior to Pontiac entering the series, part of what made racing in the Dash Series unique in its early days, and set it apart from Winston Cup racing, was the limited amount of factory support, which required teams to become more innovative with their cars and engines. That innovation also seemed to disappear with the allowance of production parts into the series, according to Combs.
"I think we were more innovative, because the big boys like Junior Johnson were running a lot of factory stuff and basically not into innovation as much as we were," says Combs. "We were having to make all of our stuff, (because) we didn't have anything. We couldn't buy anything across the counter. I think that really helped us and helped the series and helped me in knowledge of racing."
Still, the introduction of Pontiac's Iron Duke engine did what many of the pioneers of the series hoped would never happen: It took the sport away from the salvage yards and put it into the hands of manufacturers, which drove up the cost of racing.