Racing History's Memory Lane

| April 07, 2005

The Budweiser rocket car broke the speed of sound at Edwards Air Force Base with the help of four Navy Sidewinder missiles.

It all began with a bright orange 1969 Dodge Daytona.

In 1983, that racecar was the first one ever donated to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum, which sits next to the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Today the Hall is packed with must-see memorabilia for race fans.

Valued at $185,000, the No. 71 Dodge belonged to Bobby Issac. It won the 1970 Winston Cup championship and set 28 records – including a closed course speed mark of 201.104 miles per hour.

“Basically, you could say this is the car that got things started,” says Jim Freeman, executive director of the IMHoF. “And you couldn’t find a better cornerstone to the hall of fame than this. From our standpoint, it’s the most historically significant item we have.”

The hall opened to the public in April of 1983, and 20 years later it has established itself as an integral part of the motorsports world.

Freeman estimates the museum has $8 million worth of memorabilia – both donated and on permanent display – running the gamut from stock cars to Indy cars to go-karts and quarter midgets – even things that fly and float.

For stock car buffs, the Bill France Sr. Building of the IMHoF represents the entire history of the sport.

“Here we have mostly stock cars,” Freeman said. “NASCAR has several different divisions, and in here we represent all of them. We have at least one vehicle from every division, plus ARCA, USAC and short track cars.”

One of the most popular items is the Ford Thunderbird Bill Elliott drove to a 212.808 mph qualifying speed at Talladega Superspeedway, then drove to victory in a race two days later after making up two laps under green flag conditions.

It is still considered the world’s fastest stock car.

“This car ran down the field under green, which is unbelievable,” Freeman said. “Bill was running laps by himself at 205 mph, which you’ll never see again with the restrictor-plate rules. This car did all that in 1987 and has been at the hall of fame for a long time, but it’s still a big draw.”

In the same room with Elliott’s record-setter are several more history makers. The Pontiac Sunbird Shawna Robinson drove to victory in a NASCAR Touring Series event is there, as well as Jody Ridley’s Ford – a vehicle that won four NASCAR All-Pro championships.

Robinson’s car remains the only one driven by a woman to a checker in a NASCAR Touring race.
One display represents NASCAR’s first two-car team – the cars of Darrell Waltrip and Neil Bonnet that were owned by Junior Johnson. Freeman points out that Bonnett’s machine was illegal, but NASCAR officials never caught it.

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