The 1986 Miller High Life 400 was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing event that was held on February 23, 1986, at Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway in the American community of Richmond, Virginia.
Almost the entire grid was born in the United States of America; Canadian-born Trevor Boys was the only foreigner on the starting grid. Individual winnings for this event ranged from the winner's share of $37,880 ($82,763.32 when adjusted for inflation) to the last-place finishers' share of $2,515 ($5,494.98 when adjusted for inflation); the total prize purse of this event stood at $225,435 ($492,548.78 when adjusted for inflation).
In 1953, Richmond International Raceway began hosting the Grand National Series with Lee Petty winning that first race in Richmond. The original track was paved in 1968. In 1988, the track was re-designed into its present D-shaped configuration
The name for the raceway complex was "Strawberry Hill" until the Virginia State Fairgrounds site was bought out in 1999 and renamed the "Richmond International Raceway". The Strawberry Hill Races, which are a series of steeplechase horse races were formerly held the third Saturday of April at the Richmond Raceway Complex. In 2001, the races were moved to Colonial Downs in New Kent County, Virginia's first Thoroughbred racetrack.
There were 35 drivers who originally qualified for this race; only 31 of them were able to qualify in compliance with NASCAR's then-current rules and regulations. The drivers who failed to qualify were: Johnathan Lee Edwards, Alan Kulwicki, Ronnie Thomas and Eddie Bierschwale. Bierschwale would later be scouted into a temporary ride so that he would make the field after all. His last-place finisher on the second lap of this 400-lap racing event was a minor setback in his NASCAR career. Kyle Petty would defeat Joe Ruttman in his 1986 Ford Thunderbird under the final caution flag of the race in front of twenty-five thousand avid stock car racing fans. Dale Earnhardt managed to dominate the middle section of the race by leading for a duration of 128 laps. Petty's first victory would further propagate the winning attitude that his father Richard first inspired approximately 27 years prior to this event.
After the race, Earnhardt had to pay a $3,000 fine ($6,554.64 when adjusted for inflation) plus a $10,000 security bond for an incident involving himself and the back end of Darrell Waltrip's vehicle ($21,848.82 when adjusted for inflation). It did not help matters that Earnhardt's neck was snapped and his vision was temporarily blurred as a result of this incident. The three crew chiefs that helped their drivers into achieving remarkable finishes were Leonard Wood, Larry McReynolds and Kirk Shelmerdine. These three crew chiefs were the shining examples of "old school" NASCAR. Even though Shelmerdine failed to get Earnhardt into winner's circle during this event; his precedent for getting him into four Winston Cup championships would help Earnhardt become a threat to his racing competition on any given weekend.
Geoffrey Bodine would lead the championship standings for 1986 after this race with a 332 points with Darrell Waltrip only two points behind him. While Bill Elliott hovered just below the top-ten championship points earners, Benny Parsons had eliminated all of his chances of clinching the title after this race was over.
As NASCAR became more modern, more teams started to adjust to the concept of front-wheel drive vehicles going in excess of 200 miles per hour (320 km/h) and realize the possibility of having to make fewer pit stops due to the lighter weight of the FWD machines. All experiments with front-wheel drive eventually failed; causing NASCAR to go back to a cast-iron eight-cylinder rear-wheel drive engine.
The rear-wheel drive vehicle with a carburetor and manual transmission were beginning to decline in sales at typical American car dealerships in favor of vehicles that have a front-wheel drive, fuel injection and/or automatic transmission. Reasons for this included fuel economy, competitive pricing incentives to purchase newer vehicles and rising gas prices. Gas prices had already hit $0.96/gallon ($0.24/litre) by February 1986 and would steadily rise to $1.29/gallon ($0.33/litre) by February 1997, causing an overall decline in demand for carburetor-powered vehicles in addition to rear-wheel drive vehicles. While rising gas prices did not affect the 1986 Miller High Life 400, it would become partially responsible for the hikes in ticket prices that still haunts NASCAR fans today. American highways and roadways began filling up with newer vehicles; causing the older vehicles which inhabited the glorious speedways during NASCAR's first 36 years of operation to fill up landfill sites that would otherwise be filled with normal garbage.
Kyle Petty's Ford vehicle would become one of the last vehicles to reign during an era of rear-wheel drive vehicles. This race quickly became one of the most thrilling races since Richmond International Speedway stopped having dirt track races back in 1971. Like the 1983 Carolina 500 held at Rockingham Speedway just three years prior to this event in Rockingham, North Carolina, this race was considered to be the "last of the great races" for the old-school traditionalist NASCAR fans.
The entrance of females as official stock car owners also caused the "traditionalist" era of NASCAR to gradually peel away. While female drivers like Janet Guthrie would become a part of the traditional NASCAR crowd, female vehicle owners were few and far between until Helen Rae Smith offered out her car especially for Dave Marcis due to his racing expertise and relative level of success in the NASCAR Cup Series. Her vehicle was used from 1984 to 1988; when it was quietly retired into the Barkdoll Racing team name.Start: Geoffrey Bodine was leading the racing grid as the green flag was waved
Lap 2: Eddie Bierschwale wrecked his vehicle's engine to become the last-place finisher
Lap 17: Ricky Rudd and Phil Parsons managed to wreck their vehicle around the same time
Lap 29: Harry Gant managed to overheat his vehicle
Lap 60: Dave Marcis took over the lead from Geoffrey Bodine
Lap 72: Jimmy Means took over the lead from Dave Marcis
Lap 75: Dale Earnhardt took over the lead from Jimmy Means
Lap 88: Kirk Bryant had a terminal crash
Lap 203: Rusty Wallace took over the lead from Dale Earnhardt
Lap 204: Dale Earnhardt took over the lead from Rusty Wallace
Lap 273: Kyle Petty took over the lead from Dale Earnhardt
Lap 274: Dale Earnhardt took over the lead from Kyle Petty
Lap 279: Trevor Boys had a terminal crash
Lap 313: Problems with the vehicle's head gasket caused Michael Waltrip's day at the track to end prematurely
Lap 322: Darrell Waltrip took over the lead from Dale Earnhardt
Lap 323: Joe Ruttman took over the lead from Darrell Waltrip
Lap 344: Dale Earnhardt took over the lead from Joe Ruttman
Lap 397: Geoffrey Bodine had a terminal crash
Lap 398: Kyle Petty took over the lead from Dale Earnhardt; Darrell Waltrip had a terminal crash
Finish: Kyle Petty was officially declared the winner of the event
* Driver failed to finish race
† signifies that the driver is known to be deceased