Early Beginnings Edit
Irvan began his racing career in California at the age of nine driving go-carts, winning the California Championship at the age of 15. In '74, Irvan finished second in the country in his class at the national go-cart championship races. In 1975, Irvan moved up to stock cars at the age of 16 at Stockton 99 Speedway and was victorious in his first race on asphalt, a semi-main event. From then until 1981 Ernie raced every weekend at Madera, California and Stockton, California. He missed his high school graduation ceremony to race at Riverside, CA. During this time, he lost best friend Tim Williamson in a racing accident at Riverside, just months before he was slated to test in Winston Cup.
A New Life Edit
In 1982, Irvan left California with $700 in his pocket and everything he owned loaded into his pickup truck and a homemade trailer, and he headed east to North Carolina. Worried about running out of money, Irvan stopped in Las Vegas and managed to leave with an additional $200.
With his sights on Winston Cup, Irvan supported himself in Charlotte, North Carolina by welding grandstand seats at Charlotte Motor Speedway, unloaded Ken Schrader's moving van, built racecars, and took endless odd jobs. At the same time, he never missed a chance to talk, prod, wheedle, pester - whatever it took to get himself into a Winston Cup car. Meanwhile, he won nine races driving in the Late Model Series at Concord (NC) Speedway. Running a Firebird, Irvan won 2 races his first year and 11 races the next year.
Around this time, Irvan met a car-builder named Marc Reno, who partnered up in their racing ventures. Before long, Irvan made his Winston Cup debut on September 13th at Richmond (VA) Fairgrounds Raceway driving a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, #56. The car, built and prepared by Irvan and Reno, was sponsored by Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet. Irvan qualified 20th but, sidelined after only 35 laps due to an overheated engine, he finished 29th and won $860. Since the car pocketed so little money, Irvan's career looked like it was on the sidelines before he was spotted by long-time owner/driver D.K. Ulrich. Irvan made three starts in Ulrich's #6 car, finishing 15th at Martinsville, 22nd at North Wilkesboro Speedway, and 19th at Riverside. In October, Irvandrove the #56, again sponsored by Dale Earnhardt, in his first Winston Cup start at Charlotte, starting 36th, leading Lap 128, and finishing 8th..
In 1988, Irvan made a bid at NASCAR Rookie of the Year, driving Ulrich's #2 Kroger Chevrolets and Pontiacs. Irvan competed in 25 of the 29 Winston Cup Series events, but lost Rookie-of-the-Year honors to Ken Bouchard by three points (242-239) in the closest battle in Winston Cup history. Irvan's best finish of the year was 11th at Martinsville, VA in September. He finished 26th in the final points standings with winnings for the year totaling $96,370. 1989 was beter, as Irvan started 29 races in his first full year in the Winston Cup Series behind the wheel of Ulrich's U. S. Racing Pontiac. Irvan started 25th at Bristol in April and after only 38 laps, he caught leader Mark Martin. Irvan went on to lead 56 laps before being sidelined in an accident on lap 167. Irvan's sixth place finish at Martinsville in September gave him his best of four Top-10 finishes for the year. Irvan finished 22nd in final standings for the year with winnings totaling $155,239.
1990's Success Edit
After sponsorship problems plagued Ulrich's team, Irvan left to race for Junie Donlavey, who had procured a sponsorship program with True Cure. Unfortunately, True Cure failed to full its financial obligations, and after three races, Irvan was told he could seek other opportunities. He moved over to fill the vacancy left by Phil Parsons in Morgan-McClure Motorsports' #4 Kodak Oldsmobile. After starting 30th in his first race for the new team (Atlanta in March), Irvan charged to the front and grabbed a 3rd place finish - the first Top-5 of his career. The next race at Darlington Speedway, he came under controversy after being involved in an accident that nearly claimed the life of Neil Bonnett. Irvan responded by then grabbing his first Winston Cup pole position at Bristol in the spring. He won his first Winston Cup race in the Busch 500 at Bristol on August 25th. Ernie wrapped up the season with three poles, one victory, six Top-5's and 13 Top-10's, winning $535,280 and finishing 9th in the final standings.
In February 1991, Irvan out-raced a star-studded field and drove the Morgan-McClure Chevrolet to victory in the Daytona 500, the sport's most prestigious and then most lucrative race. Amazingly, four short years earlier, Irvan watched the 500 on a borrowed black and white TV while washing cars, one of several jobs he worked to support both his family and his struggling career. Irvan's next victory came later in the season at Watkins Glen International Raceway, despite the race being marred by the death of popular veteran J.D. McDuffie. Irvan's first three Winston Cup victories - on a short track, a super speedway, and on a road course - helped to underscore his versatility as a driver. Irvan ended the year with two victories, three second-place and four fourth-place finishes among his eleven Top-5 and nineteen Top-10 finishes in 29 starts. He finished the year 5th in Winston Cup driver standings and won $1,079,017. During this time, Irvan came under more controversy due to his aggressive driving style, earning him the nickname "Swerving Irvan" before he apologized due to his fellow driver's in a televised speech during the driver's meeting before a race that year.
Irvan's 1992 season included many highs but also some lows. Highs included Irvan's marriage to Kim Baker on November 21st, three more victories - Sonoma, CA in June; Daytona in July; and Talladega, AL in July - along with three more pole positions, nine Top-5's and eleven Top-10's, $996,885 in winnings, and points finish for the season of 11th. Unfortunately, the lows included a broken collarbone suffered in an accident during a Busch series race in March at Atlanta and twelve finishes of 24th or worse including seven DNF's.
Irvan continued his tenure with Morgan-McClure in 1993, adding poles at Dover, DE (June) and Daytona (July) and a victory at Talladega in May. In total, while driving for Morgan-McClure, Irvan obtained nine poles, seven wins and 51 Top-10 finishes in 105 starts. However, when friend Davey Allison died unexpectedly, Irvan wanted to take his place at Robert Yates Racing in the #28 Texaco/Havoline Ford. MMM didn't want him to, and the result was a nasty lawsuit. When Irvan was finally fired from the ride in the fall, he took over the car at Darlington (September) where he started 10th and finished 5th. Ernie's first victory with RYR came in his 4th start with the team when he won at Martinsville later that same month. Irvan dedicated his victory that day to Allison and then followed that victory two weeks later with one at Charlotte in which he led all but six laps. Ernie scored five front-row positions (including two poles) and two victories in his nine races that season with RYR. Ernie was ranked ninth in driver standings at the time of his departure from Morgan-McClure, but he rose to sixth in the final standings.
A Near-Tragedy Edit
In 1994, Irvan was a dominant contender for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Championship throughout the first 20 races of the season. Entering the GM Goodwrench Dealer 400 at Michigan in August, Ernie matched Dale Earnhardt win for win with three each, led in Top-5 finished and winnings and trailed Earnhardt by only 27 points after having led the standings for most of the season.
All of this came to an end in an instant during an early morning Saturday practice session at Michigan, and Irvan's fight for the title turned into a fight for his life. According to drivers on the track, a right front tire deflated, sending Irvan's car into the Turn Two wall at over 170 miles per hour.
Emergency workers at the track worked frantically to extricate him from the car, and he was immediately airlifted to Saint Joseph's Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI. Diagnosed with critical brain and lung injuries and given only a 10% chance of surviving the night, Irvan clung to life for the first two days and then rallied to begin a very long road to recovery. By early September, Irvan was listed in "fair" condition and was removed from ventilator support. A few weeks later he was deemed well enough to be transferred to the Charlotte Institute of Rehabilitation in Charlotte, and only a few short weeks following the transfer, Ernie appeared and addressed the fans at the Charlotte Motor Speedway at the start of the UAW-GM race.
Less than two months later, at the gala NASCAR Awards Banquet in New York, Irvan walked on stage at the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel's Grand Ballroom to receive the True Value Hard Charger Award. In spite of having missed 11 races at the end of the season due to his injuries, Ernie had still raced among the top five for more miles than any driver. In addition, Ernie tied Geoff Bodine for the most poles won during the season.
Bold text== Recovery ==
Throughout the first eight months of 1995, Irvan remained focused on returning to Winston Cup racing. He put himself through rigorous workouts to regain his physical strength; underwent extensive medical exams and additional procedures; patiently attempted to answer unanswerable questions; and survived microscopic scrutiny to prove that he was fit to drive a Winston Cup car. Finally, on September 16th, NASCAR cleared Irvan for competition.
After a rained-out qualifying eliminated him from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck field at Martinsville the week before, Irvan qualified his truck on the outside pole for the following weekend's event at North Wilkesboro on September 30th. Six laps after the green flag was dropped, Irvan was back in front, passing pole sitter Mike Skinner for the lead on Lap 6. Irvan led another 23 laps before mechanical problems sideline him. The very next day, October 1, he made his dramatic return to Winston Cup racing in the #88 Texaco-Havoline Ford of RYR. After starting in seventh position, he advanced to third by Lap 47 and took the lead on Lap 125. He held the lead for 31 laps and finished on the lead lap in sixth position.
Irvan capped his comeback with an outstanding performance at Phoenix. After being relegated to a last place start due to a wreck in practice, Irvan started his back-up car last in the 44-car field. He quickly moved through the field to seventh by Lap 75, then took the lead by taking on only two fresh tires during the first round of pit stops. Despite the fact that seven-time Winston Cup Champion Dale Earnhardt had four new tires, neither he nor anyone else could catch Irvan for the next 110 laps. Before he retired with engine failure on Lap 197 of the 312-lap race, Irvan led more laps than any driver.
Irvan finished the 1995 season with a solid super speedway performance. Starting 26th in the season ending race at Atlanta, Irvan had the #88 Texaco-Havoline Ford in fourth by the middle of the race and advanced to second before a late race pit stop relegated him to a seventh place finish. In only 3 starts, Irvan had 2 Top-10 finished and earned $54,875.
As promised, Irvan returned to the #28 Texaco-Havoline Ford in 1996 with the same crew on duty as he had the day of the Michigan accident. His comeback season got off to a great start when he earned a front row berth for the season opening Daytona 500 beside teammate Dale Jarrett. During Speed Week, Irvan captured a dramatic victory in the 125-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500. As the season progressed, Irvan won the pole position for the spring race at Talladega, then scored victories at New Hampshire and Richmond.
On his way to a Top-10 finish in the Winston Cup points standings, he collected 12 Top-5 and 16 Top-10 finishes, led 15 of the 31 events, and earned a career-best $1,670,113.
1997 marked his final season driving the RYR Texaco-Havoline Ford, Irvan notched his 15th career win. The dramatic victory came in June at Michigan Speedway, the track that nearly claimed his life three years earlier. Ernie ran up 5 Top-5 finishes, 13 Top-10's and 2 Pole positions and earned $1,614,281. Irvan finished 14th in the Winston Cup Points standings.
When It All Came to an End Edit
In 1998, Irvan joined MB2 Motorsports to drive the #36 Skittles Pontiac. During the year he scored 11 Top-10 finishes with three pole positions despite missing the final three races while recovering from injuries suffered at Talladega (October). Irvan finished the season 19th in the Winston Cup points standings, earning $1,476,141. The highlight of 1998 was the birth of his son, Jared, on February 9th.
Irvan continued driving the #36 for MB2 in 1999, but with a different sponsor. M&M Mars (parent corporation of Skittles) decided to emblazon the popular "M&M's" characters on the car. As a result, the "M&M's" Pontiac easily became the most recognizable and popular car on the Winston Cup circuit.
On August 20th, exactly 5 years after his near fatal accident there, Irvan crashed at Michigan while driving his own #84 Irvan-Simo Federated Auto Parts Pontiac in a practice session for the Busch Series race. Ernie was again airlifted from the track and was diagnosed with a mild head injury and a bruised lung as a result of the accident.
Irvan finished his Winston Cup career as a driver with 15 victories, 22 poles, 68 Top-5's, 124 Top-10's and over 11 million dollars in career earnings.
Afterwords, Irvan announced he was planning to start a Cup team with Mark Simo with sponsorship from Federated Auto Parts, but it never materialized. Perhaps the most moving part of his retirement was when after a fire in his house destroyed his trophies, he was presented with replicas of them. Irvan now serves an advocate for head-injury awareness.
|1994-1997||28||Texaco Havoline||Ford||Robert Yates Racing|
Winston Cup (15 career wins)Edit
- 1997 (1 win ) Miller 400 (Michigan)
- 1996 (2 wins) Jiffy Lube 300 (Loudon), Miller 400 (Richmond)
- 1994 (3 wins) Pontiac Excitement 400 (Richmond), Purolator 500 (Atlanta), Save Mart Supermarkets 300 (Sonoma)
- 1993 (3 wins) Winston 500 (Talladega), Goody's 500 (Martinsville), Mello Yello 500 (Charlotte)
- 1992 (3 wins) Save Mart 300K (Sonoma), Pepsi 400 (Daytona), DieHard 500 (Talladega)
- 1991 (2 wins) Daytona 500 (Daytona), Budweiser At The Glen (Watkins Glen)
- 1990 (1 win ) Busch 500 (Bristol)
Busch Series (3 career wins)Edit
- 1992 (2 wins) Fay's 150 (Watkins Glen), Fram Filter 500K (Talladega)
- 1991 (1 win ) AC-Delco 200 (Rockingham)