On This Date in 1989: Days of Thunder invades the Autoworks 500

November 5, 2017

Seth and Sutton Sharp

The hype surrounding Days of Thunder invaded Phoenix International Raceway in 1989 as car-owner Rick Hendrick fielded six cars for the Autoworks 500.

Hendrick, who owned the cars of Ken Schrader, Darrell Waltrip and Geoff Bodine, expanded his operations to gain footage for the movie. Greg Sacks (No. 46) and Tommy Ellis (No. 18) were driving cars equipped with cameras, while Bobby Hamilton’s No. 51 car did not. The three additional cars in Hendrick’s stable were scheduled to be used in a mock race featuring Tom Cruise driving the No. 46 car, but since the cars were at the track Hendrick allowed the three to attempt to qualify for the event.

Hamilton, who was making his Winston Cup Series debut quickly drew praise from Hendrick. “Bobby Hamilton is a good young driver with a bright future in Winston Cup racing. He wants to do well and he wants to learn and that’s all you can ask for.”

Hendrick said that the purpose of Hamilton’s car in the race was so that the other camera cars could pick up footage of the No. 51 during the event. “I think we’ll just keep him on the lead lap and if he’s got a shot to go for the victory at the end, we’ll go for it. His main mission will be to stay out of trouble and finish.”

Qualifying worked out well for Hendrick, as Schrader put his No. 25 on the pole. Hamilton qualified fifth, Sacks was 30th and Ellis failed to qualify for the event.

Before the race, Hendrick talked about the difficulties of fielding six teams on one race weekend. “We’ve got 120 of our people here working on these six teams out here this week. We brought in the entire crew of our sports car team out of Indianapolis and some of the other guys who usually work in NASCAR engine shops.”

As for the race, Hamilton took the lead on lap-50 during the first round of pit-stops. He regained the lead on lap-81 under caution, and led the field back to the green flag before handing the lead over to his teammate Bodine.

Overall, Hamilton led five laps before taking his car to the garage after 215 laps. He finished 32nd. Sacks finished 38th as the No. 46 car only made it 160 laps but the camera captured footage that was used in the movie, which was released the following year.

Updated: May 16, 2018 — 10:34 pm

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