Earnhardt’s first pole comes on road course

Friday, June 8, 1979 – It took Dale Earnhardt only 16 starts to win his first NASCAR premier series race. It didn’t take much longer for the future Hall of Famer to score his first pole. On a road course, at that. Earnhardt, 28, captured his first No. 1 starting position with a race record qualifying lap of 113.089 mph at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway. The pole came in his 24th start; it was his second appearance on the eight-turn course.

Second fastest in first round qualifying was road-racing ace Jimmy Insolo, a Winston West champion. Insolo had given Earnhardt lessons on getting around the road course during a test in January of ’79.

In addition to the No. 1 qualifying position, the pole also put Earnhardt in the following season’s Busch Clash, a non-points race for the previous year’s pole winners.

Earnhardt had made one start for team owner Rod Osterlund in 1978 before running fulltime with the organization in ’79. Earnhardt’s crew chief was Jake Elder.

Race day wasn’t as memorable for both front-row starters. Earnhardt lost a wheel just 12 laps into the race and had to battle back to finish 13th after an extended pit stop; Insolo, felled by engine trouble after 45 laps, wound up driving in relief for Richard Petty due to the intense heat.

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