History has seen plenty of greats who call Georgia home – from famous comedians and actors, to accomplished musicians and athletes, even the 39th President of the United States – but in the upper echelons of stock car racing, there’s only one driver renowned for his Peach State roots: “Awesome Bill” from Dawsonville.
For that reason, it’s no surprise that Chris Dilbeck, a Hampton, Georgia native, wrapped his Super Late Model with a 1985 Bill Elliott scheme for Saturday's CARS Throwback 276 event at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC).
Elliott’s major feats from that decade, which started with winning the Winston Million Bonus and ended with a 1988 NASCAR Cup Series championship, is a slice of legacy any driver would want to emulate, regardless of their home state.
What might not be so obvious, is that Dilbeck’s tribute to Elliott has been 30 years in the making.
Before he could even walk, Dilbeck was already on his way to a lifetime of Elliott-inspired ambitions. At 22-months old, Dilbeck’s father brought him to Elliott’s race shop in Dawsonville and set him in the driver’s seat of what would eventually be a championship-winning car.
“It started with my dad in 1985, before I was born,” Dilbeck told Speed51.com. “My dad had always been into cars and had even done some drag racing, but he wasn’t drawn to NASCAR until he watched Bill un-lap himself at Talladega and win the race. With Bill being from Georgia and kind of having that Georgia connection, he became a fan.”
Dilbeck’s first-ever memory as a child was receiving a 1/64-scale die-cast of the iconic Coors-sponsored Ford Thunderbird he sat in as a baby. Dilbeck still holds on to the childhood keepsake gifted to him three decades ago.
“The first memory I ever had as a kid was a family friend of ours went to the Daytona 500 in 1988 and brought back a little Bill Elliott car,” Dilbeck recalled. “It had the gold wheels on it and was a very similar paint scheme to what we’re running this week.”
Growing up, Dilbeck’s baseball jersey always carried Elliott’s racing number on the back and when he started racing at 12 years old, the side of his cars adorned, of course, a nine. Dilbeck’s introduction to a NASCAR race is what ultimately what secured him as an Elliott fan.
“The very first NASCAR race I went to was in 1992,” Dilbeck said. “It was the race where Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki and Bill Elliott were all right there in the mix for the championship. It was Richard Petty’s last race and Jeff Gordon’s first race. It’s kind of an iconic race that solidified my following for Bill Elliott throughout the years.”
Dilbeck was eventually able to meet the retired NASCAR Hall of Famer and race against his son Chase, who now influences a new generation of drivers, just like his dad did in the century before him.
Come Saturday, Dilbeck will get to honor both Elliotts’ impact on the puzzle piece of America where he was born and raised.
“We’re kind of paying tribute to the Elliott’s and the attention they’ve brought to the state of Georgia with their success in NASCAR,” Dilbeck said. “It’s a tribute to the hometown guy making it happen on a national level.”
Dilbeck has already won one race this season at Hickory and hopes the Throwback 276 will be his second. If nothing else, the No. 9’s appearance on the track will be a blast from the past for Elliott fans in the stands this weekend, which is exactly the reaction Dilbeck is looking for.
“I’m hoping our car is fast enough that it will make people think about that old number nine Coors car that kicked everybody’s butt in the late 80’s," Dilbeck said. “Fingers crossed, hopefully it’s that good.”
-Story by: Melissa Strahley, Gulf Coast Editor
-Photo Credit: Chris Dilbeck