Many people were ready to write off Bill Elliott after he went winless from 1995 to 2000. But "Awesome Bill" proved he wasn't done yet by joining Ray Evernham and again finding a way to win races and stay among the front-runners. In this interview with Stock Car Racing, Elliott remembers his glory years and looks ahead to the day when he'll retire from the sport.
SCR: How much has NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing changed since the early days when you got started?
Elliott: Things have changed so much over the last number of years. The cars have changed and the people have changed. The times have changed. It is just part of the evolution of this sport. It's a lot more competitive. Aerodynamics plays a much bigger part in how we race now. A lot of things have changed, but that's just a part of growing this sport.
SCR: Without naming names, do you think a lot of the "young gun" drivers could have made it like you did when you first started racing?
Elliott: I can't really say. It's a different era now than when I started. There's emphasis on a lot of different aspects of racing now. You've got a lot more sponsor commitments and a lot more pressure. These new guys make it fun to go out there and race every week, and they're talented. They wouldn't be where they are today if they weren't good.
SCR: What's the greatest moment you experienced behind the wheel of a stock car? Was it the two Daytona 500 victories, the Winston Cup championship, or maybe the Winston Million bonus you grabbed at Darlington?
Elliott: It's hard to pick one. They all are special in their own way. The championship was obviously a big accomplishment, but winning the million was big for me, too. You can't really pick one because they were all special to me in their own unique way.
SCR: Do you feel like you've won everything there is to win at the Winston Cup level?
Elliott: I feel like I've had a good career. I've won a lot of races and I've said if it all ended today, I'd be happy with what I've accomplished in my career.
SCR: You've won 43 NASCAR Winston Cup races (through Martinsville). Is there one win or loss in particular that stands out in your mind?
Elliott: Not really. I don't really sit back and look at my career and judge it like that. You get so wrapped up in the week-to-week things that there's not really time to analyze it like that. I'm worried about where I'm racing next weekend, not what I did five years ago.
SCR: You won the Winston Cup championship in 1988. Did you ever dream a second title would prove to be so elusive?
Elliott: It's getting tougher and tougher to win championships. The competition is so much tougher than it was 10 years ago.
SCR: You won your first Winston Cup race in 1983, and went to victory lane all but one season over the next 11 years. How did you handle that notoriety and fame in the early days when you were simply trying to put food on the table and make ends meet with your race winnings?
Elliott: I'm not one who particularly likes the limelight. I've always said that there is a time and a place for everything. There's a time to work on the car, there's a time for the fans, and there's a time for the media. It all has its appropriate place in this sport.
Elliott sits in his car in...
Elliott sits in his car in 1983, his first full season with Harry Melling and a year in which he picked up his first Winston Cup victory.
SCR: Who are some of the lifelong friends you've made throughout your racing career?
Elliott: There are so many, in and out of the sport, it's hard to just name a few. I've met some great people along the way. You travel around the country a lot and get to know people in different areas. You get to be good friends with them and all of a sudden that snowballs into another friend and another friend. I still keep in touch with a lot of them.
SCR: After driving for legendary team owner Junior Johnson for three years, you started your own race team from scratch and went on a six-year winless streak. If you could go back and rewrite time, is that a decision that you would repeat?
Elliott: I don't know that I'd ever repeat it, but at that time it's what I thought needed to be done.
SCR: How hard was that losing skid on you personally? At any point in time did you feel like throwing in the towel because you didn't feel competitive?
Today Elliott has reason to...
Today Elliott has reason to smile as he's rediscovered his competitive ways.
Elliott: In this deal, you're going to ride the roller coaster up and down. I don't care who you are. Guys who have had the most successful years, and have had a very stable foundation, go through some tough times. I look back on my past years and I was stable in the '80s doing my own deal, but if I had to do that today I couldn't keep up. The '90s came along and when I went to drive for Junior Johnson, I walked into a great team the first year with (crew chief) Tim Brewer and all those guys. It was already an established deal and I won races and nearly won another championship. It's tough because you want to win every week. We as drivers wouldn't be out there every week if we didn't.
SCR: You've said one of the biggest breaks of your life came in 2001 when you got the chance to drive for Ray Evernham in Dodge's comeback to Winston Cup racing. Now that you've got two years and counting under your belt with that team, how rejuvenating has it been that you've bounced back into victory lane and championship contention?
Elliott: I don't think anybody can put it in perspective. I look back and I feel like I've had a second chance at life. Ray has been very supportive. Everyone always comments on what I said back at Pocono about me thinking Ray was crazy when he called me to come drive for him. But I'll tell you what, because of the struggles and trials and tribulations that I went through in the '90s, I'm glad I stuck with it.
SCR: When you broke the losing skid in 2001 at Miami, driving for Evernham, how much of a sense of relief did you feel in knowing that you'd silenced all the people who said you were just riding your career out and couldn't win?
Elliott: It was a huge relief. It was definitely a highlight for me and for our team. Ray and the guys had been working hard to get there, too, and it was a special feeling to be able to get back to victory lane for them and for Dodge.
SCR: Have you set a timeframe for retiring from Winston Cup racing and enjoying life a little, or are you going to stay in the sport as long as you remain competitive?
Elliott: I've said before that I'm on the shorter end of the stick than the longer end of the stick. The evolution clock is ticking along, and you're not going to do it forever. Nobody does anything forever. I just want to focus on the racing I have left and give Ray (Evernham) everything I can. Then there will be time to do other things.
SCR: In what way, shape or form do you plan to be involved in the sport once you do get out of the driver's seat?
Elliott: I don't know yet. I haven't really thought that far ahead. I'm sure I'll keep my hand in the sport somehow.
SCR: Whenever you do retire, the National Motorsports Press Association is going to name its Most Popular Driver award the "Bill Elliott Trophy" in your honor. That has to be something that means a great deal to you.
Elliott: It does, but it goes back to the fans. It would never have happened without them.
SCR: You've got a young son named Chase. Would you like to see him follow in your racing footsteps or perhaps have you been through enough wild rides that you might steer him in a different direction?
Elliott: It's up to him to decide. As long as he's happy, that's all that matters.
Elliott says his opportunity...
Elliott says his opportunity to drive for Ray Evernham was a "second chance at life" and a chance to show he can still mix it up.
SCR: What is the perfect day away from the track for Bill Elliott?
Elliott: I like to do a lot of things. I really like flying and I mess around with remote control helicopters. Believe it or not, I like to stick around the house and just do the normal everyday things.