No. 9 is Special to the Elliott Family
By Ben White, special to ERH
For the majority of Bill Elliott’s NASCAR Cup series career, the No. 9 was proudly displayed on the door panels and tops of the Elliott Racing Fords, Melling Racing Fords and Evernham Motorsports Dodges dating back to his first start at Rockingham, N.C. on Feb. 29, 1976.
So how was the iconic number chosen by the Elliott family? One interesting story has been circulating for decades but actually isn’t correct.
Many have reasoned the No. 9 originated from the winding State Highway 9 that links Dawsonville to Dahlonega in the North Georgia Mountains. It’s a 13-mile stretch of asphalt believed to be the first paved road in the state that moonshiners bragged about negotiating from start to finish in only nine minutes.
Erving Elliott, Bill’s grandfather, helped build Highway 9. His father George Elliott was born on one end of it in Dawson County and was educated on the other end at North Georgia College in Dahlonega. George traveled Highway 9 throughout his life, prompting him to build his family businesses six and one-half miles from either end.
Before his death in September of 1998, George confirmed that something entirely different prompted sons Ernie, Dan and Bill to use No. 9 in NASCAR competition.
“The car number had nothing to do with the highway,” George said in the book, “Bill Elliott-Fastest Man Alive” written by Al Thomy in 1986. “The car number goes back to Jody and Biddle Ridley, who were two of the idols the boys had. Like the rest of us at the time, they were operating on a shoestring.
“When Ernie was working at the Speed Shop that we had, he and Biddle got together and used the No. 9 (on Ridley’s cars.) In the (Georgia short track) races Biddle and Bill ran, Bill used the No. 97. There were times he would use No. 98.”
The number’s origin with the Elliott’s actually came from a number used by a famous open-wheel driver at Indianapolis in the early 1960s.
“That’s where I got it,” Jody Ridley said in the book. “I was partial to the No. 98 because I really liked Parnelli Jones and his shiny blue and white racer. And because I used No. 98, my brother Biddle used No. 9. It all sort of went together.”
George Elliott used the No. 09 as a team owner in NASCAR Cup competition with Charles Barrett, Jody Ridley and A.J. Reno in 1973. He also used the No. 9 in 60 Cup events with Bill Elliott, Al Holbert and David Hobbs from 1976 to 1981. Thirty four of Bill’s 44-Cup wins came while using the No. 9 in Cup competition, including his last start at North Carolina Motor Speedway on Nov. 9, 2003.
In 2018, history is repeating itself in the Cup series once more, as an Elliott again gets behind the wheel of the No. 9. Bill’s son Chase Elliott has moved from another famous number – No. 24 – to the No. 9 for his third NASCAR Cup season aboard Hendrick Motorsports Camaros. The youngest Elliott started racing the No. 9 as early as age eight in go-karts and has won with it in various forms of grassroots racing along the way, including Bandeleros, Legends, Late Models, and ARCA, culminating with the 2014 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship aboard the No. 9.
I wasn’t sure I’d ever drive the ‘9’ again,” Chase said. “It’s a huge deal to my family and everyone back home (in Georgia), and I hope all of our fans will be pumped to see it back on the racetrack. There’s a legacy attached to that number, and I want to carry it on.”
The No. 9 carries a strong heritage and is a special number with great meaning to the Elliott family.