Reliving NASCAR History: Morgan-McClure Motorsports' No. 4 Rides Again

Lee FraserCorrespondent IAugust 22, 2009

After the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying at Bristol on Friday, the fans were talking about one thing.

Brad Keselowski.

The rumors were pouring out of the garage area that Keselowski was moving onto Penske Racing in 2010.

But that's not what I was concerned about.

I was concerned more about something smallerto most fansand not considered by many as significant. But to older generation NASCAR fans, this was a huge story.

Scott Wimmer was able to qualify the legendary No. 4 Morgan-McClure Motorsports Chevrolet into Saturday night's Sharpie 500.

What a smile was on my face. The fans in Bristol cheered long and loud when Wimmer finished his lap.

But why? Who cares about a small team like Morgan-McClure Motorsports?

The reason is, this was one of NASCAR's greatest teams in the 1990s.

Morgan-McClure Motorsports started fielding a NASCAR Winston Cup team in 1983. Tim Morgan and Larry McClure both shared a love of racing, and a partnership began.

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In 1986, another partnership began. Kodak Film was looking for a unique way to promote their product. It found this in NASCAR, and in 1986, it jumped aboard the No. 4 Oldsmobile driven by Rick Wilson.

Wilson drove the No. 4 car for four seasons, and he had some sub-par success. He accumulated 17 top 10 finishes and four top five finishes in four seasons.

But Morgan and McClure wanted more.

So in 1990, they hired veteran Phil Parsons to drive their car. Parsons was only in the driver's seat for three races when Morgan-McClure made the move that put them over the top.

After running the first three races of 1990 for limited funded with Junie Donleavyand crashing out of two of themunknown California driver Ernie Irvan was ready to take a chance and made the switch to the Morgan-McClure team.

He was hired for the fourth race of the season at the Atlanta Motor Speedway and finished third. Irvan then had a few poor finishes but great starting positions, including two poles in the next nine races.

After finishing second at Michigan, Irvan and the No. 4 team were ready to win.

They finally did at the Busch 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. They finished up 1990 strong, but no one could've guessed what was in store in 1991.

Right out of the hauler, the No. 4 team was fast coming into the Daytona 500. It qualifyed second and was running strong all weekend long. And it showed that in the 500 after Irvan went onto win the "Great American Race."

The team finished up 1991 fifth in points, and Morgan-McClure Motorsports was now a powerful force on the Winston Cup circuit.

After finishing 11th in the standings in 1992 and accumulating three more wins, it looked like Morgan-McClure was ready to bounce back in 1993.

That didn't happen, and Irvan left the team after the 21st race of the season to move on to the No. 28 Ford for Robert Yates Racing after Davey Allison perished.

Morgan-McClure was left in open waters without a paddle.

The team managed to salvage the rest of the eight races in 1993 with three different drivers, and no one knew what to make of the team for 1994.

In 1994, it hired second-generation hot-footed Tennessean Sterling Marlin to pilot the No. 4 Chevy.

Marlin had just gotten off three pretty decent seasons with Junior Johnson's team, but luck never quite dealt Marlin a good enough hand to taste victory lane. Marlin was in his 18th season, and many doubted if he would ever see the checkered flag first.

In speedweeks in 1994 at Daytona, Morgan-McClure was again fast off the truck. It qualifyed fourth, and Marlin and the team were optimistic for a good finish in the 500 to start their tenure together.

Marlin went on to win the Daytona 500.

After so many years of watching his father, Coo-Coo, and missing it himself, Marlin got the first win for the family name in the biggest race of any driver's career.

Morgan-McClure was quickly establishing itself as a powerhouse superspeedway team.

Marlin finished 1994 sitting in 14th in the standings, and he finished out the season on fire though he didn't win again after Daytona.

Then, 1995 was probably the best year this team had ever had.

It came to the Daytona 500 running strong again, and it started third. It repeated the same scenario as the year before by winning the Daytona 500, and it carried that momentum for the rest of the season.

The team only finished out of the top 20 three times in 31 races that year.

It won the spring Darlington race, as well as the fall Talladega race in 1995, and it soared to a strong third-place points finish in 1995.

Marlin again came back in 1996 and had another strong season.

He won the spring Talladega race and the Pepsi 400 in July at Daytona, finishing 8th in the season standings.

But 1997 was a disaster for the team and Marlin. Essentially, 1997 was as bad as '95 and '96 were great.

Marlin's time with the team seemed to be up.

After finishing in the top 10 32 times in the last two seasons, Marlin only finished in the top 10 six times, and he ended the year a dismal 25th in the standings.

Marlin was not re-signed for 1998, and the team hired Bobby Hamilton to drive for that season.

A new driver proved to be the trick.

Hamilton gave the team its final win to date, at Martinsville, and he finished 10th in the points.

The next season was pretty good as well, and though the team didn't win, it finished 13th in the points at the end of 1999.

As NASCAR headed into the next century, it was showing that multi-car teams were persevering, and the "little guys" were getting hurt.

Morgan-McClure was no different, as 2000 proved especially awful.

Hamilton was back, but he only finished in the top 10 twice, and for the first time since 1987, the team did not have a top five finish.

It finished an embarrassing 30th in the standings at the end of the season, and changes were in the works for 2001.

The team's driver lineup was made up of four drivers for 2001. It started with former open-wheeler Robby Gordon, who was let go after just five races. It then hired Kevin Lepage for the following 21 races, and he gave them their best finish of the year, 11th place at Texas.

Then it was Bobby Hamilton, Jr.'s turn behind the wheel, and Rich Bickle also got hired for Martinsville.

The No. 4 car didn't have a top 10 finish all year, which was a first in the team's history.

In 2002, it hired veteran Mike Skinner, and the team looked a little better.

Skinner finished sixth at the fall Rockingham race, its only top 10 of the season, and finished 31st in the standings.

But 2003 was when the team really started to fall off.

Skinner was fired after the 14th race of the season, and five more drivers made up the rest of the year.

Sponsor Kodak then announced that 2003 would be the last of its support of the No. 4 team.

From 2004-07, the team had a number of sponsors and nine drivers.

After 2007, the once-powerful team announced it would close its doors for good and would not return for 2008.

It didn't.

In my previous visits to Daytona, I always looked for the famous No. 4 car. I remembered it being so great there when I was a young boy. I watched qualifying and kept waiting to see the car come off of turn four.

It never did, and I was heartbroken.

The team didn't run a single race in 2008, though it hung on to the No. 4.

But in 2009, there was some rumblings that the team would come back.

It attempted the spring Talladega race with driver Eric McClure, and it just barely missed the show.

After that, it looked like that the comeback would be short-lived

Until Bristol.

It announced earlier that Wimmer would go behind the wheel of No. 4 and attempt another comeback.

Tears came to my eyes when Wimmer made it in for Saturday night's Sharpie 500.

So tonight, when you look down the ticker and see 4-Wimmer, don't think of it as just another little race team. 

Morgan-McClure Motorsports is much more than that.

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