|Darrell Waltrip's Car Collection - The Stash
Although it may look like a museum at first glance, it's not. Welcome to the personal car collection of one of stock car racing's greatest drivers.
It looks like a race shop with its spotless concrete floors and expanses of workspace, but it's not, although it used to be. It also looks a lot like a museum with rows of fantastically refurbished race cars from several different areas, but it's not that, either, although it may someday be. What it is, however, is the personal collection of one of NASCAR's most successful, and most famous, drivers ever to strap on a helmet.
Tucked away on a quiet, two-lane road near Lowe's Motor Speedway in Harrisburg, North Carolina, is one of Darrell Waltrip's former race shops, which he now uses as home base for various business interests and to house his car collection. And of course, since it's Waltrip's collection, you know every car comes with a great story. This collection isn't open to the public, but Waltrip graciously agreed to share a few of his favorites with us.
Here, in his words, are the stories behind the cars.
In the Beginning
The Mercury is special to me because it was my first Cup car back in 1972. I ran that car in five races and drove it until about the middle of 1973. Holman & Moody built the car, and Mario (Andretti) drove it to victory in the Daytona 500 before I bought it. It was a Fairlane then, but when I bought the car it was a '69 Mercury, and now it's a '71 Mercury.
I wrecked that car at Daytona in a Busch race in 1975. Jimmy Means spun out and I T-boned him. It just knocked the whole front end off of that car. We brought the car home and took everything off of it that was usable and parked it outside. It sat outside (renowned fabricator) Robert Gee's house, which was right across the road from the shop, until a hurricane blew a tree over on it. Robert wanted to throw the thing away since it was just trashed, but that was my first race car and I just couldn't do it.
I asked Mark Reno (a longtime crew chief in the Busch Series) if he would take it and put it back together in his spare time. He ended up buying an old Petty car and using sheet metal off of it. Leonard Wood helped me find an engine. Banjo Matthews put the snout on it. A lot of people were involved in getting it back together.
Back when I bought it from Holman & Moody, I paid $12,500 for the car, a spare engine and a few spare parts. The second time around I already owned the car, and it cost me well over a hundred grand to put it back together.
The Volkswagen Camaro:
We built that Camaro specifically for the Modified race at Daytona in 1978. They had been running the cars on the road course, but that year they were going to run the race on the big track. At the time, they were racing Pintos and such, and we figured nobody was going to have a really slick Daytona car. We checked the rule book and saw that a Camaro was legal, so we decided to build one.
So we began building this really nice Camaro according to the Modified rules. But pretty far into the construction we set the motor in it and found out that it sat higher than the tires. We were stuck on that one until Robert Gee, who was absolutely a genius when it came to building cars, called at 2 a.m. to tell me he had figured out the problem. He was following a Volkswagen down the road and noticing its fenders. He thought that might work, so he got a set of Volkswagen fenders from a junkyard and reworked them to make them fit that Camaro.
We won the race at Daytona because that car had such an aerodynamic advantage. But then when we came back with the same car in 1979, everybody had one just like it.
Lucky or Just Good Drivers?
The Nova was built in 1977 by Banjo Matthews. It started off as a Chevy Nova, which it is now, but is has also been a Pontiac LeMans and a Monte Carlo. In the '70s, I won a whole bunch of Late Model Sportsman races all over the Southeast in that car. I even won a race at Road Atlanta. Michael (Waltrip) won Dover in that car when it was a Monte Carlo. Terry Labonte won the Charlotte 400-mile Busch race in it, and Bill Elliott ran Second in a race at Charlotte. The amazing thing is this car was never wrecked. I bet there isn't another car anywhere that has had the number of different drivers win as many races as they have in that little Nova.
In 1998, I was struggling. I previously had to sell my team, I hadn't been running well, and I was really down. People were giving me grief about having to use provisionals and not running well, saying I was a has-been and over-the-hill. It was a really difficult time for me both emotionally and professionally because I never dreamed I'd be in a situation where I felt I needed to sell my team.
Steve Park got hurt and was out of the No. 1 DEI car for a while. Michael worked it out with Dale and me to drive the car while Park got better, and I had some great runs. I almost won at California and Pocono and just had a lot of fun with Earnhardt's team racing that car.
I told Michael one day that I hated I never got Dale to give me one of those cars. That was a really special time for me being part of that deal. So Michael, who owned the car at that time, went to the guys at DEI and talked to them, and they put that car back together. That's the chassis I nearly won California with. They painted it in the old colors, put my name on it, and even threw in the old setup book with all the setups at the tracks I ran and the results. It really surprised me when Michael gave it to me, so that car is really special in my collection.