1986 Miller High Life 400

1986 Miller High Life 400
Race details[1][2]
Race 2 of 29 in the 1986 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season

Layout of Richmond International Speedway
Date February 23, 1986 (1986-February-23)
Official name Miller High Life 400
Location Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway, Richmond, Virginia
Course Permanent racing facility
0.542 mi (0.872 km)
Distance 400 laps, 300.0 mi (480.9 km)
Weather Cold with temperatures reaching up to 48 °F (9 °C); wind speeds up to 10.1 miles per hour (16.3 km/h)
Average speed 71.708 miles per hour (115.403 km/h)
Attendance 25,000[3]
Pole position
Driver Hendrick Motorsports
Most laps led
Driver Dale Earnhardt Richard Childress Racing
Laps 299
No. 7 Kyle Petty Wood Brothers Racing
Television in the United States
Network CBS
Announcers Ken Squier
Benny Parsons

The 1986 Miller High Life 400 was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing event that was held on February 23, 1986, at Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway in the American community of Richmond, Virginia.

Almost the entire grid was born in the United States of America; Canadian-born Trevor Boys was the only foreigner on the starting grid. Individual winnings for this event ranged from the winner's share of $37,880 ($81,912.34 when adjusted for inflation) to the last-place finishers' share of $2,515 ($5,438.48 when adjusted for inflation); the total prize purse of this event stood at $225,435 ($487,484.37 when adjusted for inflation).


In 1953, Richmond International Raceway began hosting the Grand National Series with Lee Petty winning that first race in Richmond.[4] The original track was paved in 1968.[5] In 1988, the track was re-designed into its present D-shaped configuration

The name for the raceway complex was "Strawberry Hill" until the Virginia State Fairgrounds site was bought out in 1999 and renamed the "Richmond International Raceway". The Strawberry Hill Races, which are a series of steeplechase horse races were formerly held the third Saturday of April at the Richmond Raceway Complex. In 2001, the races were moved to Colonial Downs in New Kent County, Virginia's first Thoroughbred racetrack.[6]


There were 35 drivers who originally qualified for this race; only 31 of them were able to qualify in compliance with NASCAR's then-current rules and regulations. The drivers who failed to qualify were: Johnathan Lee Edwards, Alan Kulwicki, Ronnie Thomas and Eddie Bierschwale. Bierschwale would later be scouted into a temporary ride so that he would make the field after all. His last-place finisher on the second lap of this 400-lap racing event was a minor setback in his NASCAR career.[3] Kyle Petty would defeat Joe Ruttman in his 1986 Ford Thunderbird under the final caution flag of the race in front of twenty-five thousand avid stock car racing fans. Dale Earnhardt managed to dominate the middle section of the race by leading for a duration of 128 laps.[3] Petty's first victory would further propagate the winning attitude that his father Richard first inspired approximately 27 years prior to this event.[7]

External video
The classic Earnhardt/Waltrip battle at the 1986 Miller High Life 400.

After the race, Earnhardt had to pay a $3,000 fine ($6,487.25 when adjusted for inflation) plus a $10,000 security bond for an incident involving himself and the back end of Darrell Waltrip's vehicle ($21,624.17 when adjusted for inflation). It did not help matters that Earnhardt's neck was snapped and his vision was temporarily blurred as a result of this incident.[8] The three crew chiefs that helped their drivers into achieving remarkable finishes were Leonard Wood, Larry McReynolds and Kirk Shelmerdine. These three crew chiefs were the shining examples of "old school" NASCAR. Even though Shelmerdine failed to get Earnhardt into winner's circle during this event; his precedent for getting him into four Winston Cup championships would help Earnhardt become a threat to his racing competition on any given weekend.[9]

Geoffrey Bodine would lead the championship standings for 1986 after this race with a 332 points with Darrell Waltrip only two points behind him. While Bill Elliott hovered just below the top-ten championship points earners, Benny Parsons had eliminated all of his chances of clinching the title after this race was over.[7]

End of traditionalism

As NASCAR became more modern, more teams started to adjust to the concept of front-wheel drive vehicles going in excess of 200 miles per hour (320 km/h) and realize the possibility of having to make fewer pit stops due to the lighter weight of the FWD machines. All experiments with front-wheel drive eventually failed; causing NASCAR to go back to a cast-iron eight-cylinder rear-wheel drive engine.

The rear-wheel drive vehicle with a carburetor and manual transmission were beginning to decline in sales at typical American car dealerships in favor of vehicles that have a front-wheel drive, fuel injection and/or automatic transmission. Reasons for this included fuel economy, competitive pricing incentives to purchase newer vehicles and rising gas prices. Gas prices had already hit $0.96/gallon ($0.24/litre) by February 1986 and would steadily rise to $1.29/gallon ($0.33/litre) by February 1997, causing an overall decline in demand for carburetor-powered vehicles in addition to rear-wheel drive vehicles.[10] While rising gas prices did not affect the 1986 Miller High Life 400, it would become partially responsible for the hikes in ticket prices that still haunts NASCAR fans today.[11] American highways and roadways began filling up with newer vehicles; causing the older vehicles which inhabited the glorious speedways during NASCAR's first 36 years of operation to fill up landfill sites that would otherwise be filled with normal garbage.

Kyle Petty's Ford vehicle would become one of the last vehicles to reign during an era of rear-wheel drive vehicles.[3] This race quickly became one of the most thrilling races since Richmond International Speedway stopped having dirt track races back in 1971. Like the 1983 Carolina 500 held at Rockingham Speedway just three years prior to this event in Rockingham, North Carolina, this race was considered to be the "last of the great races" for the old-school traditionalist NASCAR fans.

The entrance of females as official stock car owners also caused the "traditionalist" era of NASCAR to gradually peel away. While female drivers like Janet Guthrie would become a part of the traditional NASCAR crowd, female vehicle owners were few and far between until Helen Rae Smith offered out her car especially for Dave Marcis due to his racing expertise and relative level of success in the NASCAR Cup Series.[12] Her vehicle was used from 1984 to 1988; when it was quietly retired into the Barkdoll Racing team name.[13]


Finishing order

  1. Kyle Petty (No. 7)
  2. Joe Ruttman (No. 26)
  3. Dale Earnhardt† (No. 3)
  4. Bobby Allison (No. 22)
  5. Darrell Waltrip* (No. 11)
  6. Bobby Hillin, Jr. (No. 8)
  7. Neil Bonnett† (No. 12)
  8. Geoffrey Bodine* (No. 5)
  9. Dave Marcis (No. 71)
  10. Rusty Wallace (No. 25)
  11. Jimmy Means (No. 52)
  12. Davey Allison† (No. 95)
  13. Doug Heveron (No. 64)
  14. Buddy Arrington (No. 67)
  15. Terry Labonte (No. 44)
  16. J.D. McDuffie† (No. 70)
  17. Lake Speed (No. 75)
  18. Ron Bouchard† (No. 98)
  19. Greg Sacks (No. 10)
  20. Richard Petty (No. 43)
  21. Bill Elliott (No. 9)
  22. Tim Richmond† (No. 25)
  23. Ken Schrader (No. 90)
  24. Tommy Ellis (No. 18)
  25. Michael Waltrip* (No. 23)
  26. Trevor Boys* (No. 6)
  27. Kirk Bryant* (No. 2)
  28. Harry Gant* (No. 33)
  29. Phil Parsons* (No. 17)
  30. Ricky Rudd* (No. 15)
  31. Eddie Bierschwale* (No. 48)

* Driver failed to finish race
† signifies that the driver is known to be deceased

Standings after the race

Pos Driver Points[3] Differential
1 Geoffrey Bodine 332 0
2 Darrell Waltrip 330 -2
3 Bobby Hillin, Jr. 315 -17
4 Dale Earnhardt 301 -31
5 Kyle Petty 295 -37
6 Terry Labonte 293 -39
7 Rusty Wallace 281 -51
8 Ron Bouchard 259 -73
9 Joe Ruttman 254 -78
10 Lake Speed 246 -86


  1. Weather information for the 1986 Miller High Life 400 at The Old Farmers' Almanac
  2. 1986 Miller High Life 400 racing information at Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 1986 Miller High Life 400 racing information at Racing Reference
  4. http://racing.ballparks.com/Richmond/index.htm "Richmond International Raceway has hosted the NASCAR Winston Cup Series since 1953. Lee Petty won the first race that year. "
  5. http://racing.ballparks.com/Richmond/index.htm "The original track was paved in 1968."
  6. Strawberry Hill Races Traditions
  7. 1 2 Results of the 1986 Miller High Life 400 at Race Database
  8. Enduring Performance: 1986 Miller High Life 400 at NASCAR.com
  9. Bonkowski, Jerry (April 13, 2004). "Shelmerdine doing 'what can't be done'". ESPN. Retrieved 2013-02-28.
  10. U.S. Retail Price of Gasoline at Energy Information Administration
  11. How Nascar Is Starting a Turnaround at Adage
  12. Helen Rae Making Her Mark in NASCAR at Daytona Beach Morning Journal
  13. NASCAR Cup Series statistics for Phil Barkdoll at Race Database
Preceded by
1986 Daytona 500
NASCAR Winston Cup Series Season
Succeeded by
1986 Goodwrench 500
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