Racing History's Memory Lane
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.
“What they did was shave the distance between the top and bottom, and NASCAR never thought to look,” Freeman said. “You can look at the cars side by side and see the difference, but it wasn’t something you’d look for or notice during a normal inspection.”
Waltrip’s favorite ride – the Gatorade-sponsored “Big Bertha” that won 12 races – is nearby.
The Dale Earnhardt Gallery is a huge draw, featuring paintings and mementos from the “The Intimidator’s” career. Outside the gallery is a 1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo donated by Earnhardt himself. It has no sponsorship but sports a color scheme that was used when Wrangler became his first major corporate sponsor.
More history is housed in the UNOCAL 76 Building. Aside from Issac’s car, there is the machine driven by Fireball Roberts and prepared by Smokey Yunick – representing the work of two Hall of Fame inductees. The last car Bobby Allison won a race in is on display, as well as vehicles piloted by the likes of Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Tiny Lund and Buddy Baker. Indy cars, NASCAR Craftsman Trucks and various other four-wheel wonders are in the building, along with a special Alabama Gang area, which features cars driven by Bobby, Donnie and Davey Allison, Bonnett and Red Farmer.
The International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum also has much more to offer. There is an on-site library that houses $30,000 worth of motorsports literature. There are trophies, display cases, driving suits, a room dedicated to the Alabama Auto Racing Pioneers, an ARCA Hall of Champions and one display dedicated to the prestigious Driver of the Year Award.
Meet the Drivers
Hometown: Las Vegas
Drives the Rubbermaid-sponsored Ford for Roush Racing.
Already a multiple winner in NASCAR’s biggest league in just his third full season on the circuit, this young gun is quickly establishing a reputation as one of the “bad boys” of racing. His on-track – and off-track – altercations with Jimmy Spencer have become legendary, and Busch is finding other drivers take exception to his hard-charging style.
Still, there’s no denying the talents of the 25-year-old, who began racing Dwarf cars at the age of 14 in his hometown of Las Vegas. At the tender age of 17, he’d already claimed the Nevada Dwarf Car Championship.