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Earnhardt, Wrangler, Osterlund, Stacy, Childress, Johnson and NASCAR 1981


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#1 Jesper O. Hansen

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 13:50

Earnhardt, Wrangler, Osterlund, Stacy, Childress, Johnson and NASCAR 1981

Some time ago I did a seach about the early career of Dale Earnhardt Sr. including a search of his car owners during those formative years in the top-division Winston Cup Series.

During this research I found two differing stories about how Earnhardt ended up driving for driver/car-owner Richard Childress midway through that year. Although they split up during the following off-season, (they would of course re-unite in 1984) the seads were sown for one of the most succesfull partnerships in motor racing - period

The facts tell that Dale Earnhardt drove the first 16 races of the year for Rod Osterlund, then 4 for Jim "J.D." Stacy and the remaining 11 races replacing Richard Childress in Childress own team. All 31 races were with Wrangler as main sponsor.

Osterlund was apparently in financial troubles even before the season started, and had to sell midway through 1981. He didn't tell either driver or crew about the sale untill after the deal was done with new owner Jim Stacy.
The new relationship didn't work for Earnhardt and he made the switch to Richard Childress. Since the original Osterlund/Earnhardt deal was done over a hand-shake, Stacy didn't try to stop the defending Winston Cup champion in leaving his newly acquired team.

One version of how this last change happened has it that sponsor Wrangler intervened. Wrangler had the money that Childress never had had. Only demand for this sponsorship was that Childress left his own seat in favour of Earnhardt.

The other version has it that rival team owner Junior Johnson suggested Richard Childress to hire a dissatisfied Dale Earnhardt as driver and relinguish his own career in the process. The deal for Childress was not only the Wrangler sponsorship, but, via Junior Johnson, contacts within General Motors Racing department, engine deals with Johnson and so forth.

Two versions, but which one is right ...or is there a third, forth, ,?

At the end of the 1981 season the Richard Childress Racing team was still only a small player in big league NASCAR. Both Earnhardt and Childress agreed that either was ready for each other and Earnhardt would drive for the established Bud Moore-Ford team during the following two season, while still active (2004) Ricky Rudd would help build up the Childress team. This in turn would be the foundation of the future six championships won by Earnhardt and Childress as respectively driver and owner.

PS! I seached for, among others, Rod Osterlund and Dale Earnhardt on AltaVista and a few other combinations of the Earnhardt theme. In each case there were about 50-60 matches, but when I started to read the various items I quickly realised that there were only about 3 or 4 different sourses. 2 of these were, word-for-word, the same story repeatedly repeated, sometimes with an author credited, sometimes not. How sad is that!

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#2 theunions

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 16:37

From the UMI '81 Winston Cup Yearbook (actually not published until '98), Pocono Mountain Dew 500 writeup:

It was becoming clear that there was some shuffling in store at the new Jim Stacy team, where Marketing VP Joe Whitlock had been fired since Stacy took control of the former Rod Osterlund outfit. Whitlock had been credited with being the person who most helped to bring the Wrangler sponsorship, and now Stacy had dumped him. Immediately, Wrangler hired him to continue with the promotional and public relations activities he had been handling with driver Dale Earnhardt. Three days after Whitlock's dismissal, public relations manager Judy Tucker resigned in protest. Many garage prowlers were of the opinion that the firing of Whitlock, an extremely close friend and personal confidant of Earnhardt, would be the trigger to the team's unraveling.


One race later at the Talladega 500:

All was clearly not well in the J.D. Stacy team. With just one strong motor for the Talladega race, Earnhardt found himself at odds with everything, and it didn't help that he hadn't received a single paycheck since Stacy had bought the team from Rod Osterlund. The garage area was awash with rumors that Dale was switching teams - forthwith - and taking Wrangler with him.



One race later at the Michigan Champion Spark Plug 400:

The Talladega meeting had been a brief one. Dale Earnhardt told car owner Jim Stacy that he wished it could be different, but he would not be driving Stacy's car any longer. The Talladega race was the last race in which Dale would drive a Stacy Racing Wrangler Pontiac.

With that, Earnhardt exited the mammoth track, and by week's end, he and Wrangler had announced they would pair with Richard Childress for the remainder of the season.

Earnhardt's decision to move to the Childress team meant that Richard would exit the driver's seat after 12 years of competing as one of the most competitive, well-liked and respected independent drivers in the field. He had driven in 280 races and had won more that $800,000 in his scrappy battle to be a weekly contender.

The decision hadn't been an easy one for RC, as he is known throughout the garage. He is first, and foremost, a race car driver, but he had to take a long, hard look at the future. The Wrangler sponsorship was strong money, Earnhardt was the defending champion with many, many wins left in him, and Childress was struggling to keep his head above water. After long and involved conversations with several power brokers within the sport, he made the decision to step out of the car.



I don't recall having heard of Junior being involved beyond the mere advisory level before.

And whatever happened to Stacy? Or Osterlund for that matter, after he briefly resurfaced with the Heinz car in the late 80's-early '90's?

#3 Don Capps

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 16:50

A rather involved, convoluted situation -- especially for a defending champion.

Junior Johnson and his GM connections were a factor in the deal that landed Earnhardt in the Childress car for the remainder of the the 1981 season. Although Earnhardt moved on after the 1981 season, when the situation changed for 1984, he was back with Childress and stayed there for the rest of his career.

Yes, the Wrangler money made a big difference to Richard Childress and to RCR. Childress was smart enough to see where his future was and made the adjustments to his operations and essentially waited until Earnhardt came back.

The whole business with Osterlund and Stacy as well as Junior Johnson and a few others who were entrants or factors in the series -- Bobby Allison and Bud Moore among others -- at this time is a little too involved to trust my often failing memory, but a fascinating story in itself. Lots of changes were happening and how they were dealt with and the consequences is a good story.

#4 ensign14

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 17:18

Incidentally, Childress tried to get the number 2 that Stacy had been using so that the Wrangler merchandise would not be immediately out of date; Stacy refused. Had he not done so Dale would have been associated with a different number.

Childress idolised Junior and adopted the number 3 when he could in tribute to JJ (although he used other numbers as well).

#5 John B

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 20:26

In 1982 there were something like 7 cars at Daytona with Stacy's name on the side: Joe Ruttman, Benny Parsons, Terry Labonte, Dave Marcis, ROn Bouchard and a couple others. Ruttman ran the blue and yellow #2 Buick and was very competitve in some races at the end of 1981 and early 1982. He had a serious heartbreak at Richmond, dominating the event before blowing a tire seconds before a rainstorm ended the event (Marcis took the win, never having been close to the lead all day), and never was ultimately never able to win a Cup event, unless his "field filler" ride this year experiences a miracle. Tim Richmond took over that ride at some point and won both Riverside races.

In the Stock Car Racing magazine about Daytona 1982, there's a full-page shot of all the Stacy cars lined up in the garage area.


In the meantime Ricky Rudd scored Childress his first two wins in 1983, with sponsor Piedmont Airlines, which moved to Terry Labonte's title effort in 1984 after Earnhardt/Wrangler returned to Childress. Odd to associate DE with Ford for those years....

#6 Jim Thurman

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 23:07

I've seen interviews with both Junior Johnson and Richard Childress and both tell the story mentioned in Jesper's post of Johnson suggesting Childress quit driving and put Earnhardt in his car.

Of course when dealing with this, one has to consider Bill France Jr.'s driver placement program. However, Junior Johnson's nature is such that I believe if this was just a tale concocted by NASCAR...Junior would not go along with it, no matter the amount of reward involved :D

J.D. Stacy and someone not previously mentioned in this thread - Warner Hodgdon, are interesting sidebars to the early 1980's NASCAR scene. It was once joked that Stacy would own all the cars and Hodgdon all the tracks :D (Mark Martin is another driver that drove a Stacy entry - albeit briefly).

Living where I've lived, and my background, I know that Rod Osterlund started out as a part owner a Stock Car at the 1/3 mile paved San Jose Speedway in the mid-1970's (and folks, while it was NASCAR sanctioned, the Early Model class on the Central California NASCAR circuit of the time were close to "stock" with very tight rules). Dave Byrd, who was just starting out himself and went on to become an outstanding short track racer on both and pavement, drove for him. Originally Byrd and a fellow named Foote shared the car, but Osterlund bought out his partner's share and Byrd became the full time driver.

Osterlund was listed as from Los Banos, California - and anyone familiar with the rural Merced County farming community of roughly 10,000 population around the time we're discussing, realizes what an unlikely home for a national level racing team it was. I always assumed him to be involved in the ag business or ranching. When he first hit the Grand National circuit, he had a series of drivers, one being Marv Acton (a buddy of Richard Brooks, also out of Porterville) and then settled on Roland Wlodyka, a driver who had raced Super Modifieds at San Jose Speedway. The first telecast I remember seeing after Osterlund had hired Earnhardt, Wlodyka was the crew chief, a role he continued on in with other teams after being replaced by "Suitcase" Jake Elder at Osterlund Racing.

As far as what he's up to now, I did a quick search and ran across a reference to a Rod and Diann Osterlund of Blairsden, California that donated items to local schools. Blairsden is in Plumas County, in rural Northeastern California, and an area with a development of large, estate style homes aimed to retirees. But, the clincher was the item mentioning the school also getting help from the Dale Earnhardt Foundation. There's our man.

So, someone should try and get in contact with him...

#7 theunions

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Posted 03 April 2004 - 02:17

Originally posted by Jim Thurman
As far as what he's up to now, I did a quick search and ran across a reference to a Rod and Diann Osterlund of Blairsden, California that donated items to local schools. Blairsden is in Plumas County, in rural Northeastern California, and an area with a development of large, estate style homes aimed to retirees. But, the clincher was the item mentioning the school also getting help from the Dale Earnhardt Foundation. There's our man.

So, someone should try and get in contact with him...


Are you volunteering, Jim? ;)

I'd also like to know whatever happened to Hodgdon, Acton and Wlodyka (or "Wolodyka," as Peter Golenbock butchered it).

#8 Jesper O. Hansen

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Posted 03 April 2004 - 23:08

As per usual on this Forum, when you ask a question, you'll get an answer ..and some more. Thank you all.

I get the idea thank a lot of people were indeed involved in the transactions that happened during the summer of 1981.

Here's a few other related stories I have found since I started this thread.

Junior Johnson considered signing Dale Earnhardt for 1981, but as the reigning champion Junior didn't even bother to try and negotiate a deal.

As previously stated Earnhardt returned to Richard Childress in 1984, but he had obviously been searching for other rides before ending up with Childress. At one point he asked Californian record producer and team owner Mike Curb about a seat for '84, but Curb had already signed Richard Petty at that point.
The Curb/Earnhardt relation went back to 1980, when Curb claims to have funded the Rod Osterlund team.

I have found a source telling that Rod Osterlund was in real estate as a building contractor in the early 1980's, but sky rocketing interest rates forced him to sell his race team.

Oh, by the way. That 1981 year book you're mentioning, theunions, do you have the exact title? Since it's only published in 1998 I would guess it was a part of 50 years of NASCAR, and that the '81 book is a part of a series ...or is it just me having a wet dream.

Jesper

#9 theunions

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Posted 04 April 2004 - 00:01

Originally posted by Jesper O. Hansen
The Curb/Earnhardt relation went back to 1980, when Curb claims to have funded the Rod Osterlund team.

Oh, by the way. That 1981 year book you're mentioning, theunions, do you have the exact title? Since it's only published in 1998 I would guess it was a part of 50 years of NASCAR, and that the '81 book is a part of a series ...or is it just me having a wet dream.


Curb was an occasional sponsor of the Osterlund #2 in 1980 (fenders would say "Mike Curb" - I think this was when he was running for Governor of California and before he founded Curb Records?) - other races the car appeared with no discernable sponsorship.

The book is simply "1981 Winston Cup Yearbook" by UMI Publications, which publishes annually but didn't start until the early '90's. Around '98 they began issuing 1-2 additional volumes each year, such as the 1981 edition, to fill in the gaps for the entire Winston Cup era. I'm not sure how far they've gotten.

#10 Jim Thurman

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Posted 04 April 2004 - 02:48

Originally posted by theunions


Are you volunteering, Jim? ;)

I'd also like to know whatever happened to Hodgdon, Acton and Wlodyka (or "Wolodyka," as Peter Golenbock butchered it).


Maybe, but it has to go at the end of the list for the time being ;)

It seems like Golenbock did a horrible job with all the Western drivers and builders. I won't even get into what he had for Ron Esau and Ron Eaton :rolleyes:

I guess it was important to make sure he didn't butcher Dave Fuge's name :lol:

#11 theunions

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Posted 04 April 2004 - 06:22

Originally posted by Jim Thurman
It seems like Golenbock did a horrible job with all the Western drivers and builders. I won't even get into what he had for Ron Esau and Ron Eaton :rolleyes:

I guess it was important to make sure he didn't butcher Dave Fuge's name :lol:


It's always annoyed me how Golenbock, who otherwise is a very good writer, screwed up so many well-documented proper names in so many of his stock car books, but when it came to his first love of baseball he had no problem getting someone as screw-uppable as "Graig Nettles" correct.

Biggest offense remains the repeated use of Texaco "Haviland" throughout Ernie Irvan's biography. :rolleyes:

#12 Jim Thurman

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Posted 05 April 2004 - 00:33

Originally posted by theunions


It's always annoyed me how Golenbock, who otherwise is a very good writer, screwed up so many well-documented proper names in so many of his stock car books, but when it came to his first love of baseball he had no problem getting someone as screw-uppable as "Graig Nettles" correct.

Biggest offense remains the repeated use of Texaco "Haviland" throughout Ernie Irvan's biography. :rolleyes:


It's what I call "stick & ball" syndrome. Most sportscasters, and many sportswriters, seem to have utter brain lock when it comes to motorsports. They can get difficult names for other sports right (save Tennis), yet when it comes to racing the old quote aimed at Terry Bradshaw applies : "...he couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the C and the A." The fact that racing is treated utterly different always annoys me...but I'm used to it.

At first I wondered if Golenbock was simply cashing in on the "sudden" popularity of NASCAR, but I heard him in interviews, and he comes across well versed and quite sincere. But, there is the matter of how the names wound up in print :rolleyes:

I've got a lot of birth and death dates for drivers that could be included in the NASCAR Encyclopedia (formerly The Stock Car Racing Encyclopedia), primarily Western drivers that had nothing listed for them. I took a quick look at it at the local book emporium, and noticed that some of the glaring errors from the first edition have been corrected (like Pedro Rodriguez dying in the German Grand Prix, etc.).

While it might be easier to contact Golenbock, I think I'll contact Greg Fielden about it ;)

In the Irvan bio, maybe he was referring to Texaco having a connection to aircraft company deHavilland? :lol:

#13 Racestats

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Posted 08 April 2004 - 18:55

A good trivia question connected to all of this: In what race did Richard Childress make his last start in a Cup car and who was the car owner? Most people will answer Talladega in 1981, since Earnhardt started driving the #3 in the next race at Michigan. As you can guess, that's not the right answer. ;)

#14 Jesper O. Hansen

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Posted 09 April 2004 - 05:57

The last Winston Cup race RC did as a driver was the Winston Western 500 at Riverside on November 22, 1981 - driving the #41 Junior Johnson-Buick.
Childress drove 5 laps before he quit!(?). Now, what is those five laps about. It doesn't sound like a happy retirement party after that race.

Since my last post I have checked up on the #3 Childress/Johnson issue. I turns out that Junior Johnson started 50 GN races bearing the #3, and winning 9 of his 50 career winnings with that number. Most of this happened betwin 1961 and 1964.

Jesper

#15 Don Capps

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Posted 09 April 2004 - 12:11

Originally posted by Jesper O. Hansen
It turns out that Junior Johnson started 50 GN races bearing the #3, and winning 9 of his 50 career winnings with that number. Most of this happened between 1961 and 1964.


If you missed the sight of Junior in the white No. 3 Ray Fox-Chevy Impala SS taking on the Fords and Mopars during the 1963 season, you certainly missed something special. Junior was simply remarkable in waging his lonely battle against overwhelming odds as what little support GM had been slipping under the table to Fox and several others completely vanished by mid-season. It was Great Stuff. It was not hard to be a Junior Johnson fan. Later on, I had a white 1963 Impala SS convertible with a 327 and called it, naturally, "Junior."

#16 Jesper O. Hansen

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Posted 10 April 2004 - 18:22

Originally posted by Don Capps


If you missed the sight of Junior in the white No. 3 Ray Fox-Chevy Impala SS taking on the Fords and Mopars during the 1963 season, you certainly missed something special. Junior was simply remarkable in waging his lonely battle against overwhelming odds as what little support GM had been slipping under the table to Fox and several others completely vanished by mid-season. It was Great Stuff. It was not hard to be a Junior Johnson fan. Later on, I had a white 1963 Impala SS convertible with a 327 and called it, naturally, "Junior."


I, for one, did, but he must have been quite a personality since his name is still revered all these decades later.

His biography is still on my want-list, for those very same reason, but also for what he did later. When Junior sold his NASCAR team during 1995, I knew my Earnhardt, Waltrip, Elliot, Pettys, Bodines and so on, while the world of car owners was still in the future.
I have a feeling that Junior's role as car owner was far greater than his driving career - just a hunch, based on stories like the Winston-to-NASCAR story or the Yellow Banana (recently found a picture of THAT car).

As far as I know, the man is still around - didn't he attend a NASCAR race last spring?

Jesper