During a recent conversation with an acquaintance, the topic shifted into the realm of NASCAR. Their argument? "It's not a sport. They all drive in circles." My argument? "There is more to it than that!"
After an extended period of arguing that delved into incessant "uh-uhs" and "uh-huhs," I asked this acquaintance if there was one positive thing they had to say about NASCAR. Their answer was simple: "Some of the cars look pretty awesome."
That got me to thinking. For many fans of NASCAR, myself included, one of the first things that draws us into the sport is how awesome some of the cars look. It may be a sponsor, or a body style, or even a paint scheme. Any way you look at it, NASCAR has some of the baddest looking hot rods in all of motorsports.
Here is a list of some of the best looking cars in NASCAR history.
Maybe I'm a little biased on this one because I used to drive a Monte Carlo that looked very similar.
Earnhardt piloted this Monte Carlo to his first championship in 1980 after clinching Rookie of the Year in 1979. A long way away from his signature No. 3 and his intimidating black-and-white colors, Earnhardt spent some time in a blue-and-yellow fire suit.
No matter what the paint scheme was or what car he drove, Earnhardt definitely made a name for himself early on. Still, that old Monte Carlo was a beast to be reckoned with.
Earnhardt's 1988 Monte Carlo was special as it marked the beginning of the association between Earnhardt and GM Goodwrench. This association would last until Earnhardt's passing in 2001.
1988 was also the beginning of the black-and-white No. 3 scheme, which is the scheme that is most commonly associated with Earnhardt to this day. It was with this Monte Carlo that Earnhardt became the "Intimidator."
Shifting gears a little bit here, let's look at Brad Keselowski's current Ford Fusion. Although my overall opinion of the new Gen-6 cars is "meh," Keselowski's Fusion seems to rise above the rest.
Keselowski's No. 2 Miller Lite Ford brings out the nostalgia in the longtime fan who remembers the Rusty Wallace mount from the late '90s. The dark blue and white coloring breaks away from recent years and seems to pay homage to Wallace's success and contributions to Penske Racing and NASCAR.
On top of that, the sleeker Fusion of 2013 as well as the all-white rims makes this Ford one of the baddest hot rods out there.
You are looking at one of the meanest, most brutal race cars in NASCAR history: Richard Petty's 1967 Plymouth Belvedere.
It was in this unassuming No. 43 Plymouth that Petty posted a record-setting 27 wins in a single season, including 10 straight. Among those wins was his only Southern 500 win. He would go on to claim the 1967 Grand National championship, his second title in a career where he would win seven of them.
Plymouth produced the Belvedere during an era when Detroit was cranking out some of America's best-known muscle cars. Unfortunately it was lost in the shuffle behind Ford's Torino Cobra and Chevrolet's Chevelle, among other cars.
Richard Petty was making the 1973 Dodge Charger cool before Michael Weston did on Burn Notice.
Although this wasn't one of Petty's championship-winning cars, he did win his fourth Daytona 500 with the Charger. The Petty blue-and-STP red only added to the viciousness that the Charger's aerodynamics conveyed.
On a side note: Petty's 1973 Charger was featured in the film The Last American Hero, a sports drama loosely based on Junior Johnson. Petty's No. 43 was driven by the film's antagonist Kyle Kingman. An excellent movie with plenty of old NASCAR footage from the '70s. Rent it today.
In another tie-in to The Last American Hero, here is Bobby Allison's 1973 Monte Carlo that was driven by the film's protagonist Junior Jackson, played by Jeff Bridges.
The first-generation Monte Carlos were established monsters of the race track, however Allison's red-and-gold Coke Machine only won two races and placed seventh in points that year.
Still, the car was pretty easy on the eyes, wasn't it?
One reason I listed this car was because of the nostalgic value it has. Once upon a time I was a dyed-in-the-wool Earnhardt fan who laughed at Gordon and his motley gang of Rainbow Warriors, but now I find myself looking back fondly on his run of dominance in the mid-to-late '90s.
From his first Cup start in 1992 until the checkered flag dropped on the last race of the 2000 season, Gordon's No. 24 had a rainbow-hued paint-scheme. Detractors may have snickered behind their hands, but there was no denying Gordon's success.
None of his seasons were as successful as his 1998 season, when he piloted his Chevy to 13 wins and his third Winston Cup championship.
Although Davey Allison passed away too soon, he still remains associated with one of the best looking iconic rides in NASCAR history. His No. 28 Texaco/Havoline Thunderbird remains one of the most recognized rides in the history of American motorsports even though it last took to the track in 2002 with Ricky Rudd.
Still, the black No. 28 Ford Allison piloted is thought of along the same lines as Dale Earnhardt's black No. 3 Chevrolet.
In the NASCAR world, no driver or team defines "old cool" like David Pearson and the Wood Brothers. Through much of the 1970s Pearson gave Richard Petty the fits while piloting the red-and-white No. 21. The Mercury Montego Pearson piloted in 1973, while not flashy, won 11 times and took eight poles.
The Wood Brothers have made it a tradition to honor the past by bringing back special paint schemes that are piloted by current driver Trevor Bayne. Bayne's 2011 Daytona 500-winning Fusion boasted a similar paint scheme to that donned by Pearson in the '70s.
Sometimes, simplicity is beautiful.
Although an intricate, 427 cubic inch-powered, pavement-pounding beast, Turner's Smokey Yunick-powered Chevelle was intimidating long before the days of Earnhardt and his fabled Chevy. Yunick was a simple man when it came to aesthetics, but when it came to speed and the need to win, he pulled no punches.
What's so unique about the 1967 Chevelle is that it never tasted victory in NASCAR. Although it recorded the pole at the 1967 Daytona 500, the engine let go with 100 laps to go. Later that year it won the pole at Atlanta but was destroyed in a spectacular accident.
However, it was only the first of Yunick's two Chevelles that became a legend in the sport. Yunick's second Chevelle failed to pass tech during 1968 Daytona Speedweeks and was disallowed, so after removing the gas tank Yunick drove the car back to his shop.
Some cars that were considered but ultimately fell short:
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s 2000 Monte Carlo
- Matt Kenseth's 2000 Ford Taurus
- Kenny Irwin, Jr.'s 1999 Ford Taurus
- Dale Earnhardt's 1995 Monte Carlo
- Davey Allison's 1987 Ford Thunderbird
- Jimmie Johnson's 2006 Monte Carlo
- Sam McQuagg's 1966 Dodge Charger
- Sterling Marlin's 2005 Dodge Charger
- Ryan Newman's 2009 Monte Carlo
- Tony Stewart's 2010 Monte Carlo