On Friday, August 22nd, 1986, the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series (now Xfinity Series) began the 23rd race of 31 for their 1986 schedule. Going into the event, reigning series champion Jack Ingram was one of the favorites, holding a commanding 358-point lead over runner-up Larry Pearson. However, another potential victor was future NASCAR Hall of famer Dale Jarrett, who had just taken his first Grand National victory the week before in convincing fashion, as he led every lap on the way to the win.
Series regular Brett Bodine took the green flag from the pole position and would pull away throughout the opening laps. However, back in the pack, other drivers would not have such smooth sailing. One of these drivers was none other than Ingram, as he fell off the pace not long after the start and would be forced to make an unscheduled pit stop thanks to both a cut tire and a loose suspension part, putting him out of contention for the remainder of the night. The loose part would be found on the track, drawing the first caution flag of the race.
The race resumed with Bodine still in the top spot, continuing to hold off second-place Morgan Shepherd. However, not long after the restart, the race’s first crash would occur as LD Ottinger lost the nose of his Pontiac underneath Brad Teague, sending Teague into a spin with both drivers slamming into the outside wall. Teague would be able to continue in the event, though Ottinger would have too much damage to do the same, exiting after just 30 laps.
Not long after the green flag came out once again, Cup Series regular Dale Earnhardt would be forced to pit after cutting down a tire, but would be lucky enough to avoid any further damage to his car and only lost two laps after the unscheduled stop. However, another competitor would not be so fortunate.
Larry Pearson, searching for an opportunity to make up part of the massive points gap, suffered a transmission failure and was forced to go to the garage. Although Pearson would be able to return later on, he would finish 55 laps down, being unable to capitalize on the suspension issues that had befallen Ingram earlier.
Following a caution near the halfway point of the race due to an accident between Jimmys as Jimmy Hensley and Jimmy Lawson got together in turn four, Bodine gave up the lead for the first time all night, coming to pit road along with most of the frontrunners. Teague, who had recovered from his previous spin, stayed out to take the top spot ahead. His lead would be short-lived, however, as a crash right after the restart by John Linville prompted Teague to head down pit road, giving the lead to Shepherd.
With just 75 laps to go, Earnhardt had put himself in position to get back in contention for the win, bumping Shepherd a couple of times before getting by to get back on the lead lap. This back-and-forth battle caused Shepherd to fall into the clutches of Bodine, who quickly maneuvered by to regain the lead with 65 laps remaining.
As Bodine built his advantage up to over four and a half seconds, the final caution of the night came out for debris with 29 laps to go. At the same time, and likely what caused the debris, Shepherd would be forced out of the race after running in the top-five throughout the race because of a broken rear end mount. With no other cars heading down pit road, Bodine retained the lead and restarted ahead of Jarrett. However, it wouldn’t take long for Earnhardt to begin slicing his way through the pack.
In the closing laps, Bodine attempted to widen the gap once again, but would struggle to do so as Earnhardt climbed into second position past Darrell Waltrip with a handful of laps to go. Earnhardt would close the deficit to 1.3 seconds, but would run out of laps as Bodine took the checkered flag for his first Grand National victory of the 1986 campaign. Earnhardt came in second with Waltrip taking third, followed by Jarrett in fourth and future Hall of Famer Davey Allison rounding out the top five. Only seven cars would be able to finish on the lead lap.
Bodine claimed another win later in the year to take the runner-up spot in the point standings, as Ingram’s struggles would continue down the stretch, collapsing from an over 350 point lead to third in the final standings, thanks in large part to a two-race suspension after intentionally wrecking fellow driver Ronnie Pressley in a late model race, along with his involvement in a post-race fight the same day resulting in his arrest. (This might be the subject of a future article on its own.)
This implosion allowed Larry Pearson to recover from his transmission woes from this race and go on to claim the first of back-to-back championships by a scant seven points over Bodine. Pearson remained a Grand National series mainstay for several years, competing full time through 1996 and scoring a total of 15 wins. Bodine left full-time competition in the series after 1987 to compete in the Cup Series, making 480 starts in total as he raced full-time until the end of the 2002 season.