My Little NASCARs

I can't show all of these little cars. In the late '90s, I started trying to get all the special paint schemes driven by Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, and Darrell Waltrip. Jeff Gordon alone has now run fifty special paint schemes. I quit trying to get every one when I had forty of them. Still, that's 40 Jeff Gordon cars— too many to hold anybody's interest, even if I put them in a photo set. And I don't want to take all those pictures anyway.

Besides, these pages are supposed to be about my cars that have little stories attached— at least, as much as possible. "He drove this once and crashed" isn't much of a story. So instead of showing every single one, I've picked out just a few of my favorites, and will use this page to explain why they are.

Jeff Gordon's 1997 Chevy

From 1985 to 1997, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, then the title sponsor of NASCAR's premier "Winston Cup" circuit, offered an award of $1 million for any driver who won three of the four "crown jewel" races on the schedule. These were: The Daytona 500 (the richest race), The Winston 500 (the fastest race), The Coca-Cola 600 (the longest race), and The Southern 500 (the oldest race).

In the program's first year (1985) Bill Elliott captured the million-dollar bonus, and became known as "Million Dollar Bill." The prize then went unclaimed for the next twelve years. Then in 1997, Jeff Gordon won two of the races— but lost one. His last chance was at the Southern 500 at Darlington. If Gordon won the race, the million was his. And he was having an amazingly dominant year.

To boost diecast sales, Action Performance Companies (and NASCAR) broadcast a short TV special, and sold it on VHS. In it, Gordon shared his experiences as he prepared for the final competition.

At Darlington, Jeff Gordon prevailed over hard-charging Jeff Burton. The two cars touched coming around Turn 4 to take the white flag side-by-side, and Gordon continued to block Burton on the last lap, holding on to win his third of four consecutive Southern 500s, a record in NASCAR majors. A Brinks truck, spewing bags of Winston play money, led him around the ceremonial victory lap.

Jeff Gordon's 1998 No Bull Car

For the 50th anniversary of NASCAR in 1998, R.J. Reynolds decided to revamp the million dollar award program.

The Brickyard 400 race was added, and the new program was titled the No Bull 5. The drivers who finished in the top five positions of a No Bull race qualified themselves for the bonus at the next one. If one of those five drivers went on to win that next No Bull 5 race, he won a million dollar bonus.

During the No Bull 5 races, the eligible drivers raced with special paint jobs. The spoilers and roof numbers were painted day-glow orange, and a "$" was affixed to the passenger window along with a red dot on the windshield. This allowed fans to quickly identify and follow the progress of the five eligible drivers.

In the first year of the program, Jeff Gordon won two of the million-dollar events, on the way to his third Winston Cup Championship.

1996 Kyle Petty Protest Car

By lap 155 of the 1996 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, Kyle Petty's Pontiac Grand Prix was a lap down. On a post-caution restart, he tried to pass Ted Musgrave (who was also a lap down) and ended up wrecking Musgrave and setting off a multi-car wreck. Kyle made it through and got back on the lead lap, but despite his "honest mistake," NASCAR immediately ordered him to pit road to serve a five lap penalty for rough driving tactics.

On pit road, Kyle's car owner Felix Sabates launched into a tirade against NASCAR officials, which only resulted in an additional two lap penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The team was still holding a grudge because of an earlier race incident. I believe it was at Pocono the year before— Kyle had been leading Dale Earnhard, but Dale ran him down and knocked Kyle out of the way in a classic "bump-and-run" maneouvre, costing Kyle the win. But that was a typical "intimidating" move from the Man In Black.

Following the accident and seven-lap penalty at Charlotte, Petty said something to the effect of, "It would've been okay if I was driving a black car." Felix Sabates was so angry he sent his owner's credentials back to NASCAR and skipped the next two races. But not without leaving orders at the shop, which caused a little visual confusion the following week at Dover.

"The man said paint the car black," said Jon Sands, publicist for Sabates' team. "And our painter and body people worked overtime to convert the car from our normal red & yellow & blue, to jet black." Just trying to make a point.

The fine print above the CAT® decal reads: "Todo es justo en amor y carreras" (All's fair in love and racing). Also of note on this car is the Coors Light sponsorship. Since the late '90s, diecast car lines made for retail outlets (read: kids) have avoided alcohol and tobacco logos.

Clint Bowyer's 2009 Chevy

For the 2009 season, Clint Bowyer drove Richard Chldress' #33 General Mills Chevrolet Impala. With associate sponsorship from Hamburger Helper, his pit crew was dubbed "The Helping Hands." In his first race in the car, the Daytona 500, Bowyer finished fourth. He continued to do well at the beginning of the year, and after 6 races, he was second in the overall standings.

Clint struggled in the middle of the season, barely missing NASCAR's playoffs, the Chase For The Championship. He ran well in the fall, though, with 5 top 10s in the last 11 races. Overall, Clint finished the 2009 Sprint Cup series in 15th place.

A Richard Childress Racing show car arrived at the local Walmart one day in late spring, and I took photos of Michael standing with it. To help foster his interest in the sport, I looked for a toy replica. The Cheerios car wasn't available at retail; the only diecast version was made for a Cheerios mail-in promotion. So I bought one off eBay, and of course, after I bought it, a mass-produced version did become available in 2010.

In 2011, the Cheerios team did fairly well, but again failed to make the championship Chase. Clint Bowyer moved on to drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, General Mills moved its sponsorship to Childress' #31 team, and the #33 effort was shut down.

Jeff Gordon's "Blacker"

Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 2411 was an R&D car called the "W Plus Coupe" in 1994. Due to its dark paint at the time, it was given the name "Blacker". In 1995, the #24 team began racing the car in competition, and it became one of Jeff Gordon's favorites. Over the next four years, "Blacker" scored 12 wins, six pole positions, and over 1.5 million dollars in winnings.

The paint, both on the real car and on this limited-edition diecast, is DuPont's Pure Fire Prizm "ChromaLusion" paint. It contains special mica crystals that cause the color to shift according to the light source and angle of perception. The special paint scheme was used for The Winston (all-star race) in 1998, in celebration of NASCAR's 50th anniversary.

The real Blacker is on display in the Hendrick Motorsports museum in Charlotte, NC.

Jeff Gordon's 1997 T-Rex

Jeff Gordon won The Winston in 1997, using a car named T-Rex that was wearing a special paint scheme to promote the movie Jurassic Park. Starting next-to-last in the all-star race, as soon as the green flag dropped, T-Rex stormed to the front. After blowing everyone else away and cruising to an easy win, Gordon said, "That thing could not have been any more perfect."

It was also so dominant that it was put through an extra-intense post-race technical inspection. Even though it passed, NASCAR officials told crew chief Ray Evernham to never bring it back to the track.

Mystery still surrounds the T-Rex project. Hendrick Motorsports' chassis manager Eddie Dickerson would only say, "We went through the rule book and wherever there was a real gray area or no specifics regarding certain components, we worked hard in that area with new things. There are no major changes you can make to components on these cars. So we worked hard in different little areas. It was a combination of things. We did not do anything illegal with the car."

Although the car carried "Jurassic Park" sponsorship, in reality it was named in honor of chassis designer and engineer Rex Stump, not the dinosaur flick. Rex Stump, head of Hendrick's R&D department, says that before the Coca-Cola 600 the following week, NASCAR inspectors came to the shop for a closer look at T-Rex. "We asked them to tell us what was wrong with it. Maybe that was a mistake, because they spent a good bit of time really looking at the car. Then they went back and wrote a whole bunch of new rules that basically outlawed it."

T-Rex is also on display in the Hendrick museum. For more detail about this story, here's an article from

Jeff Gordon's 2008 CoT

What NASCAR called the "Car of Tomorrow" was introduced in early 2007. The CoT was boxier than the design it replaced, but cheaper, and more importantly, safer. Its aerodynamics were also supposed to make for better racing, but that's turned out to be a matter for debate.

One of the most noticeable differences from the older body style was the detached rear wing. These were units provided to the race teams by NASCAR. The drivers didn't like the wings, and they seemed to contribute to rollovers during a crash, so NASCAR went back to blade-type spoilers after two and a half seasons.

Ever since the CoT was first announced, I'd been waiting— with a major physical redesign in the works, I had to get a Jeff Gordon CoT. This little car is a "Raced" version representing the look of Jeff's 2008 car— tire-rubs, confetti and all— after he won his seventh Darlington race.

Dale Earnhardt's 1995 Silverwrench

You can't have a NASCAR page without some Dale Earnhardt. I think it's a law.

In 1995, Chevrolet introduced its all-new Monte Carlo to replace the aging Lumina in NASCAR competition. Many times I've read that Dale Earnhardt started the whole "special paint scheme" notion with this car. That's not quite true— special one-race paint jobs have been around for nearly as long as cars have been sponsored.

Maybe what causes folks to think Earnhardt started the trend was the publicity around it. At the end of 1994, Fred Wagenhals, the founder of Action Performance Companies and Racing Collectibles Club of America (RCCA), contacted Dale Earnhardt and car owner Richard Childress with a plan to sell more diecast cars. The next year marked 25 years of Winston's involvement in NASCAR— the silver anniversary— and R.J. Reynolds was coincidentally marketing a brand of cigarettes called Winston Select. Contracts were signed, and Dale drove this silver car for the renamed Winston Select all-star race in May of 1995. The diecast cars sold out within hours, and everyone suddenly realized how they could generate more revenue.

Earnhardt was the first driver to trademark his signature, while Childress registered the stylized numeral 3. So, even though they didn't invent the idea of special paint jobs, I guess this car symbolizes the beginning of drivers becoming their own brands.

In the mid-1990s, Action Performance Companies secured exclusive licensing contracts with NASCAR's hottest drivers, and became by far the largest diecast manufacturer. This merchandising became so lucrative that in 2005, Action was acquired by International Speedway Corp. That would be... NASCAR itself.

As for the 1995 Winston Select silver anniversary race— Dale Earnhardt crashed with Darrell Waltrip. Jeff Gordon won. But in 2013, declared Earnhardt's "Silverwrench" the number one special paint scheme in NASCAR history.

Dale Earnhardt's 1997 Daytona Crash Car

I like these battle-worn, "as raced" little cars. Here's the story behind this one:

In the 39th running of the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt was in a four-way battle for second place with eleven laps to go. Coming out of Turn 2, Jeff Gordon had the inside lane and crowded Earnhardt toward the outside wall. Earnhardt brushed the wall and came back to touch doors with Gordon. As the black GM Goodwrench Service machine slowed from the contact, a hard-charging Dale Jarrett clipped its bumper, sending Earnhardt's Monte Carlo into an airborne spinning roll.

Midway through his roller coaster ride, Earnhardt was tagged hard by the #28 Texaco-Havoline Ford of Ernie Irvan. The hood of Irvan's car flew into the backstretch grandstand and injured some fans, but the impact returned Earnhardt's car to an upright position as it spun into the grass infield.

"When I stopped, I looked at it and got in the ambulance and looked back over there and I said 'Man, the wheels ain't knocked off that car yet,'" Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt climbed out of the ambulance, shooed away the tow truck and workers, and slipped into his battered ride. Firing it up, he tore through Turns 3 and 4, helmetless, returning to the pits. There his crew repaired the car (somewhat) with a heavy use of hammers and tape, and Earnhardt finished the race, 5 laps down in 31st.

Earnhardt's Last Win

This is another "raced" version of a car, this one representing Dale Earnhardt's victory at Talladega on October 15, 2000. Besides the obvious tire-rub marks on the side, evident are the day-glo No Bull 5 markings, and the short-lived roof spoiler. The story of the race is a good one. Even though Earnhardt had won at Talladega nine times before, this one was especially impressive.

The race was intense, as restrictor plate races tended to be, with dozens of cars bunched together in a group that would quickly devolve into twin "freight trains" hurtling side by side, bumper to bumper, at 190 miles an hour.

Earnhardt spent most of the day driving in journeyman fashion, always somewhere in the middle of the pack. With only four laps left in the race, Earnhardt was mired in 18th place, surrounded by a sea of race cars.

Tom Jensen from tells what happened next better than I can:

"Suddenly, seeming out of nowhere, Earnhardt charged forward, parting the field like Moses parting the Red Sea, and with Kenny Wallace and Joe Nemechek behind him, Earnhardt charged forward in the closing laps. The Talladega grandstands exploded in a thunder of applause as Earnhardt methodically worked his way through the traffic.

"As the cars came to the white flag, RCR's Mike Skinner had the lead on the bottom lane, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. behind him. But up top, it was the elder Earnhardt, with Wallace pushing him for everything he was worth and Nemechek holding sway behind them.

"As they went around for the final time, Skinner's challenge faded and the top three pulled away. Earnhardt crossed the line the winner, claiming the $1 million Winston No Bull 5 bonus money in addition to his race earnings. It was a display of shock and awe perhaps never equaled in a Cup race, one that left the fans dazed and delighted in their disbelief. The noise from the grandstands was deafening as Earnhardt crossed the start-finish line.

"Afterwards, there was no way anyone could have known it would be Earnhardt's final visit to victory lane. Nor would anyone who witnessed it ever forget what they saw as The Intimidator worked his magic one last time."

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