Remembering the ‘Pass in the Grass’

Prior to the annual Sprint All Star Race, at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, we were treated to several video highlights of this famous race from the NASCAR themed television shows. Although we've seen these highlights many times over the years, we're still in awe struck wonder over this no holds barred, winner take all, unleashed display of motorsports fury. Needless to say, the one video highlight we see the most is the famed "Pass In The Grass."

In 1987, when the Sprint All Star Race was known as The Winston, Dale Earnhardt Sr, in his famed Wrangler Jeans Chevrolet, and Bill Elliott, driving his equally famous Coors Ford, were racing hard for the win during the final segment of the race. There was the inevitable contact that sent Earnhardt's car into the edge of the grassy infield. Using driving skills and a display of car control that is still amazing to this day, Earnhardt drove his car through the grass, returned to the asphalt and went on to win the race. The television cameras also captured some classic pit road confrontations and comments after the race had concluded.

While no one could possibly refute the driving skills Earnhardt displayed that day, there were many who, to this day, still points out that there was actually no pass made during that moment in racing history. That's actually true, but a special catch phrase was needed to name a video highlight that would forever be shown on television once a year. "Pass In The Grass" was very catchy.

To have called it "The Pass In The Grass That Didn't Actually Have A Pass" would have been lengthy, confusing and a genuine tongue twister for those in radio and television broadcast booths. To have called it "I Almost Lost My Ass In The Grass" would have never been accepted back in 1987. The truth be known, the politically incorrect factions, here in 2012, probably wouldn't be too thrilled either.

All that being taken into consideration, the 1987 "Pass In The Grass" wasn't the only amazing display of car control by Earnhardt that year. The second one came in June of that year at the California based Riverside International Raceway. I was there that day and personally decided to call Earnhardt's move "The Flirt In The Dirt."

As many old school "Left Coast" racing fans will recall, the Riverside road course had a series of S turns that appeared harmless to look at but were in fact extremely treacherous to handle in race traffic. This was an area of this track where it was very easy to lose control of a car and hit the wide dirt areas that bordered it. That dirt area was also notorious for causing cars to roll over.

On this day Earnhardt was caught off guard by a car in front of him that checked up while entering the S turns. He pulled to the right and literally drove through those S turns in a perfect straight line while passing the car in front of him. His left side tires were on the edge of the asphalt while the right side tires were running on the dirt. The rear end of his Chevrolet was bouncing around violently and greatly resembled a large bass desperately trying to wriggle free from a fisherman's hook. It was one of the most amazing displays of car control I've ever had the pleasure to witness.

However, "The Flirt In The Dirt" will probably never be compared to "The Pass In The Grass." That's because there doesn't seem to be any evidence that Earnhardt's driving display at Riverside was recorded on video tape. Also, no one was angry and wanted to raise hell with "The Intimidator" after the race.

But there were a lot of us in the grandstands who jumped to our feet and began cheering wildly after witnessing "The Flirt In The Dirt." that day. It will always remain as a fond memory of a middle aged racing fan.

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