When Bobby Hillin won the Talladega 500 (now the DieHard 500) on July 27, 1986, it was one of the greatest moments of his life.
Ten years later that win, his only victory in 309 career starts, has become a burden, a dead weight on the shoulders of the 32-year-old Texan.
"All in all, it was way too soon to win a race," said Hillin, who will be back at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend. "It had an overall negative effect, and until I win again, I can't fully enjoy that win.
"Jeff Gordon was only a month older than me (when he won his first Winston Cup race), but I think the circumstances were different. He had so much overall experience in overall racing, and he had some good guidance that helped him, and he was with a premier team."
Hillin began his Winston Cup career as a 17-year-old high school senior in 1982.
"Jeff has handled his success great, but I wasn't ready. I was too young," he said. "I don't think a certain age makes somebody too young. I just think the whole team was too young."
He stayed with the Stavola Brothers team for another four years, but a third-place finish during the 1988 season was the best he could muster during that period. Since 1990, there have been no top-fives.
"I think most people who have been through what I've been through would say, "Man, I'm out of here,'
" Hillin said. "But that's kind of what drives me, helps me want to get back to the front and be a contender."
After moving around from team to team in the early '90s, Hillin hooked up last May with Jasper Motorsports, getting a strong commitment from owners Doug Bawel, Mark Wallace and Mark Harrah. They've allowed him to become a fourth partner in the team.
"I'm more determined than ever," he said. "I have an undying determination to win again.
"I feel fortunate that with everything I've been through, I'm still in the sport. Had it gone perfect from Talladega on, I probably wouldn't be the person I am today."
Hillin, married and the father of two young children, says his attitude was instilled by his father, who once owned an Indy-car team and who helped his son get his career started.
"My father raised me that way, just basically to realize that anything I get is something I have to work hard for, and it won't be easy," he said. "If you quit, you won't get it."
So far, his days with the Jasper team have not been very much to build confidence. He has failed to qualify for five of the 17 Winston Cup events this season and is 39th in the season standings, with a best finish of 13th in June at Pocono.
"As a team," he said, "our goal right now is to get some top-five finishes. But my goal all along is to win a race this year.
"If I didn't believe I could still win, I wouldn't race again."
WHEN: 12:15 p.m., Sunday.
WHERE: Talladega Superspeedway, 2.66-mile banked tri-oval, Talladega, Ala.
TV: Ch. 10.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Sterling Marlin.
NOTE: The top four drivers in point standings _ Terry Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett _ have combined for 10 DNFs. Gordon has four. Ricky Rudd, fifth in point standings, has completed all 17 races.