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IROC Has Its Stock in Bodine

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Times Staff Writer

Experience at racing on the high banks of a superspeedway paid off again Friday for NASCAR’s stock car drivers in the 11th Budweiser International Race of Champions.

Geoff Bodine led a 1-2-3-4 parade of Winston Cup drivers who will compete Sunday in the Daytona 500 as two accidents eliminated more than half the 12-car field.

Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Bill Elliott followed Bodine across the finish line in the 100-mile race at Daytona International Speedway, first of a four-race series. The first non-stock car finisher--and the only other driver to escape damage to his car--was Al Unser Jr., last year’s IROC champion.

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IROC President Les Richter, trying to keep enough cars on the track to make a television show today (Channel 7, 2 p.m.), had the wrecked cars patched and taped back together to rejoin the fray.

As it was, only seven cars were running at the end of the 32-minute race, and two of the drivers, Bobby Rahal and Mario Andretti, were more than 15 miles behind Bodine.

Cale Yarborough led a similar IROC parade of four stock car drivers a year ago at Talladega.

Bodine, the defending Daytona 500 champion, collected $7,000 but got a big jump on the $175,000 the series winner will receive. It was Bodine’s first IROC race.

Bodine took the lead on lap 20 when Earnhardt, the leader, moved high on the third turn. Bodine slipped between him and Elliott and led every remaining lap.

Rahal and Michael Andretti, who battled to the last race for the Indy car championship last year, were the first to drop out. Andretti, swerving to miss a slowing Derek Bell on the second lap, hit the outside retaining wall and rebounded into the path of Rahal.

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It was the third straight year Rahal had been involved in an IROC accident.

The crash put Andretti’s orange Chevy out of the race and sent Rahal’s purple machine to the pits for four new tires and an overhaul of its bodywork.

“I got in turn one and Bell did a big backoff, and that caught me off guard,” Michael said. “I swerved to miss him. It was probably my fault. I tried to turn right, and it wouldn’t turn. I went right into the wall.”

Michael’s father, Mario, was one of the victims of the second accident on lap 16, which was triggered by Al Unser’s spin between the first and second turns.

Unser, the 1985 Indy car champion who is without a ride for 1987, was running third, closely followed by his son, Al Jr., Mario and Bodine.

Little Al slipped past, but there was no place for Mario to go but to wallop the elder Unser’s car broadside.

“All I could see was Al crossed up,” Mario said. “I heard he had a tire go down. I was so close to him, the car was too long to go either way. I hit him square, then I got hit in the back.”

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Scott Pruett and Wally Dallenbach Jr., the two young sports car drivers in the race, were also involved. Pruett managed to avoid the spinning Unser but was hit by Dallenbach from the rear. This knocked Pruett into the wall, and he rebounded into the rear of Mario Andretti.

Bodine dove to the inside and barely avoided the accident.

Curiously, he credited debris from Unser’s car for helping him win.

“Something, a piece of sheet metal or something like that, apparently hit the nose of my car and lowered it about two inches,” Bodine said. “That must have changed the air flow because it made the car handle much better. Before the wreck, I had my hands full, but after the debris hit me, it worked great.”

Bell, the British citizen who saved IROC’s name as an international race by being the only foreign driver, was never a factor. He pedaled along far behind the others until the engine blew on his car and sent him to the sidelines.

Bell, the world endurance champion, was so far back that, when asked about the accident, he said: “I was halfway to Fort Lauderdale, so I couldn’t see a thing.”

Bell was a late arrival for practice because he was at Buckingham Palace last Thursday being installed into the M.B.E. (Members of the British Empire).

“The ceremony was very moving,” he said. “We wore top hats and tails, and then marched into this amazing ballroom. An orchestra was playing Viennese waltz music as we marched in to be honored.”

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The second IROC race will be June 6 at the Mid-Ohio road course. Michael Andretti will start on the pole and Bodine from the rear in an inverted start.

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