When Bill Elliott collected a $1-million bonus in 1985 for winning superspeedway races at Daytona, Talladega and Darlington, he said, "Even if I win six million, I'll still do all the chassis work on my cars myself."
Last Nov. 15, he drove a Grand American car at Riverside that had been built and prepared by Ivan Baldwin of Modesto.
Less than a month later, Elliott hired Baldwin to do the chassis work on the Ford Thunderbirds he will drive on the Winston Cup circuit.
Last Monday, Elliott won the pole for Sunday's Daytona 500 with a remarkable qualifying speed of 210.364 m.p.h. It was more than 5 m.p.h. faster than his own track record.
Today, he is expected to dominate his heat in the twin 125-mile races that will establish the 42-car starting grid for Sunday's race.
For all this, Elliott gives much of the credit to Baldwin, 40, once the scourge of Southern California short tracks.
"What makes this year special is that we have much better organization," Elliott said. "Having Ivan watching over the chassis work frees me for administration duties and working with our sponsors."
Baldwin, who has been a race car builder in Modesto for most of the last 11 years, has moved his family to Dawsonville, Ga., about 75 miles north of Atlanta.
Baldwin and his wife, Arlene, were raised in the San Bernardino area, and lived in Highland when Ivan was known as Pigpen and was winning races at Speedway 605 in Irwindale and the Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino.
"We love it in Dawsonville," Baldwin said. "The first day we arrived we saw a house we liked and bought it the next day. The people, all 600 of them, are really friendly."
In Dawsonville, he will direct a crew of 12 on the six or so Thunderbirds that Elliott has ready for superspeedway, short track and road races.
"It's funny, how it happened," Baldwin said. "My wife and I were looking for something different to do. I was about fed up with building cars for guys who weren't taking racing seriously and I wanted to get out of that. Maybe out of racing altogether."
About that time, Butch Stevens, the jack man on Elliott's crew, called to ask if Elliott could rent Baldwin's Grand American Thunderbird to drive at Riverside the day before the Winston Western 500.
Stevens had worked for Baldwin a few years earlier in Modesto.
"I flew to Nashville and we put the deal together," Baldwin said. "It was the first time I'd really met Elliott."
In the race, Elliott appeared to have it won until the fuel pump broke.
"That was the best handling car I've ever been in," Elliott said after climbing out of the Thunderbird.
Shortly after that, Elliott called to ask Baldwin if he'd like to go to work for him.
"It took us four days to decide," Baldwin said. "I wouldn't have done it with any other team, but the Elliotts have the same professional approach to racing that I have.
"Most of the guys on the West Coast that I'd been working for treat racing as a hobby. I couldn't get any feedback from them, so every now and then I'd have to make a comeback and race myself to see how the new things were working."
Last year, after helping 58-year-old Hershel McGriff win the Winston West stock car championship, Baldwin went racing in the same T-Bird that Elliott drove at Riverside. In five races, he set fast time at all five, and won the Orange Show Stadium main event.
Jerry Baxter, who had worked with Baldwin the last six years, bought the car building business in Modesto and will also work with McGriff in defense of his championship.
"What helps me (in setting up chassis) is that I've driven so much, I can feel what the driver feels in the car," Baldwin said.
Before Baldwin moved to Modesto in 1975 to drive for Jack McCoy in the Winston West series, he had won the track championship at 605 for four straight years, and at the Orange Show Speedway once.
Baldwin's experience with setting up cars for short track races is expected to be a bonus for Elliott. Though one of the finest superspeedway and road course drivers on the NASCAR circuit, he has had his problems on short tracks. He has never won, for instance, at Bristol, Martinsville, North Wilkesboro or Richmond.
It was Elliott's inability to run well on the bullrings that allowed Darrell Waltrip to edge out of the 1985 Winston Cup championship, even though Elliott won a record 11 races and Waltrip won only 3.
"Ivan's experience on the short tracks out in California should make a big difference in our preparation," Elliott said.
HONORS--Cary Agajanian, president of the family owned Agajanian Enterprises, Inc., which operates Ascot Park, was named promoter of the year by Racing Promotion Monthly at a dinner here Wednesday night. Cary's father, the late J.C. Agajanian, won the same award from the 900-track organization in 1977. This year's Ascot season will open next week with a two-day World of Outlaws sprint car program.
MOTOCROSS--The Coors Supercross, featuring hometown favorites Rick Johnson, Ron Lechien, Broc Glover and Scott Burnworth, will be run Saturday night at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. . . . The Continental Motosport Club's Golden State Nationals will be at Sunrise Valley Park, near Adelanto, for racing Saturday and Sunday.
POWERBOATS--The Pacific Power Boat Racing Assn. will run its sixth annual Sweetheart race Saturday, Valentine's Day, starting at 10 a.m. at the Marina del Rey launch ramp. The Sweetheart Race, which signals the start of the offshore racing season, will have a short course of 65 miles and a long course of 129 miles. More than 30 boats will compete in eight categories. . . . Also scheduled this weekend are the second annual stock outboard Winter Nationals on Puddingstone Lake in San Dimas. Drivers will compete in 18 classes. Elimination heats and finals for all stock classes with fewer than 12 boats are scheduled for Friday, the rest of the program to run Saturday and Sunday.
NECROLOGY--Former driver Andy Linden, 64, who competed in seven Indianapolis 500s, died Monday in Gardena. Viewing will be held today from 12-9 at Halverson, Stone and Meyers, 1223 Craven St. in Torrance. Services will be Friday at 11 a.m.