The beginning of the 2008 Sprint Cup season is now less than a month away, but the recent news that Morgan-McClure Motorsports is shutting its doors made me stop looking forward to the new season and think back to some of the great days of the sport.
Now let me clear up what I mean by saying “great days,” as I became a big NASCAR fan in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
The first race I ever attended was at Darlington in 1983 and the face value of my ticket was only $15. After witnessing all the hard racin’ and wreckin’ at Darlington, I began to look at the Cup schedule for a venue that I could call my home track. Bristol fit that description, but you have to remember it was definitely not the Bristol that we know today.
Bristol was nothing more than a day trip back then with about the same amount of parking that is now around the track. The big difference was that a sellout consisted of around 55,000, which is 100,000 less than we will see in March.
The track had that downhome feel to it with so many of the local businesses being able to afford to be part of a racing weekend at the track.
It was on one of those early Bristol trips that I discovered that nearby Abingdon, Va., was home to Morgan-McClure Motorsports. Back then there were several one-car teams, so Morgan-McClure was not an oddity because it only fielded one team.
What made Morgan-McClure an oddity was its location in Abingdon. North Carolina had a monopoly on race teams back then, much the way it does now. That didn’t stop Larry McClure’s team from being competitive as it landed a big sponsor in Kodak in 1988 and from that point on the team began to grow into a highly competitive organization that became a threat to win on race day.
Ernie Irvan took over the wheel of McClure’s Chevy in 1990 and claimed the team’s signature win in the 1991 Daytona 500. Irvan moved on and was replaced by Sterling Marlin, who added to the team’s success by winning the Daytona 500 back to back in 1994-95.
That was definitely the high water mark for Morgan-McClure as the series had moved into the multi-team era which was slowing making one-car operations like Morgan-McClure nothing more that a memory. Kodak stayed with the team and McClure built what was then a state-of-the-art facility off I-81 in Abingdon, but that wasn’t enough to stay up with the multicar operations.
Marlin soon left as did longtime crew chief Tony Glover, who was the man that kept the organization headed in the right direction. Drivers and crew chiefs started to come and go, which began the downward spiral for the once proud organization.
Kodak eventually moved on, which left McClure struggling to find sponsors willing to put up the kind of money to stay competitive. The last couple of seasons much of the money used to get the team to the track each week came from McClure’s own pocket.
Finally, McClure had no choice but to lock the doors and in the process end a great chapter in the sport when a single-car operation could unload at any track and end up in victory lane. It was indeed a special time in the sport that unfortunately we will never see again.