27 Oct 1996: NASCAR driver Bobby Hamilton celebrates with Richard Petty after winning the Dura-Lube 500 at Phoenix Motor Speedway in Phoenix, Arizona. Credit: David Taylor/Getty Images Sport
As something a little different, I've decided to start a column for each week where we look back at a former driver who has retired, or no longer is with us, and their glory at the next track on the Sprint Cup schedule. With the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, I've decided to do a piece on Bobby Hamilton and his success at the desert track.
Bobby's first Cup Series start came at the track in the 1989 Autoworks 500. He qualified fith for the race in a car fielded by Rick Hendrick, but this was not the most surprising part of the story. The car was specially prepared by Hendrick Motorsports for the 1990 movie Days of Thunder, and was not intended to be competitive. Bobby led the race for two laps, but only managed a 32nd place finish due to a combination of mechanical issues, and the fact that shooting the movie took precedent over winning the race.
But it was that race that got Bobby noticed, and led to a regular ride in the Cup Series.
Fast forward seven years to 1996 and Bobby is driving for the legendary Petty Enterprises (PE). Bobby had yet to win a race in NASCAR's top division, and Petty Enterprises hadn't won since 1983 (fyi - when the King got his 199th and 200th wins in 1984 it was for Curb Motorsports). Bobby was having a above average season, but the fact that #43 hadn't seen victory lane in so long could not be denied. That changed at the 1996 Dura Lube 500.
Bobby started the race seventh and it wasn't long before he was battling the leaders for the top spot. With each pit stop though for the #43, they would find themselves behind due to strategy, but Bobby would not be discouraged. On lap 283 he took the lead for the final time, and so began the longest 10 laps of Bobby's career. Bobby would go on to talk about how he thought everything was going wrong with the car during that time from a miss in the motor, to a tire going down. But in the end, it all ended up being in the eventual winner's head. Bobby brought the #43 STP Pontiac home first that day for the first of his 4 wins in NASCAR's top series.
Bobby and PE would win one more time, at Rockingham in 1997, before parting ways at the end of the '97 season. Petty would win one more time since then with John Andretti at Martinsville in 1999. Bobby would also win at Martinsville,in 1998 with Morgan McClure in the iconic #4 Kodak Chevy, and again in 2001 at Talladega driving the #55 Chevrolet for Andy Petree. But Bobby's greatest success came in 2004 when he won the Craftsman Truck Series Championship in
his own entry.
Sadly, we lost Bobby in January of 2007 after a prolonged battle with cancer.