As such, being the trading card collecting nut that I am, I built myself a large collection of auto racing-themed cards. Through that avenue (and many a book), I developed a healthy knowledge on the history of the sport. Unfortunately, as my interest in the sport waned, many of those cards were lost to the sands of time.
While sifting through the closet under the basement stairs last summer in a boredom-infused fit of cleaning, I came across one of those old binders and soon lost an hour or two flipping through the pages and reciting long-forgotten names. Nostalgia bit me hard.
Since that time, I've been slowly but surely rebuilding my NASCAR card collection and, this time, I am going the same route as I did with my Cubs collection - one card of every person to compete at NASCAR's highest level, or at least as many as I can find. Seeing as only a tiny portion of the sport's history since 1949 is covered by trading card manufacturer's, the great majority of racers have not been honored with their own 2x3 rectangle.
On the blogosphere, when it comes to NASCAR cards, Billy Kingsley of Cardboard History certainly ranks on the pole position. His collection of both cards and die-casts are without rival and, apparently, so too is his generosity. After making contact, he soon agreed to send me a few of his doubles..."a few."
All told, I ended up with a whole heckuva a lot of new wheel-men for my latest project, which covered a wide expanse of brands, eras and collecting niches:
He included a healthy selection of legendary names. You might know Donnie Allison for his involvement in one of the greatest finishes of all time, the 1979 Daytona 500, which ended in a brawl after the leaders wrecked on the final lap during NASCAR's live network debut. The Allisons are one of the most prominent families in auto racing and his nephew Davey was no slouch either; if not for his tragic death in a helicopter crash in 1992, he might be discussed as one of the best of the best.
This is both a wonderfully joyous and sobering shot of Davey with his son Robbie (who is now a racer himself) not long before the accident. Treasure life while you have it.
Meanwhile, Daytona 500 champ Tiny Lund (car #55) is another all-time great who's life was cut short, this time on the track while racing at Talladega in 1975. David Pearson has the second most wins in the history of the circuit with 105... which is still 95 short of Richard Petty's mind-boggling 200.
These well-respected names are more so known for their longevity than their performance on the track, but they were certainly no slouches either. Bailey, Marcis and Farmer were the Jamie Moyers of their sport, with their careers spanning several decades: Bailey - 1962-93, Marcis - 1968-2002 & Farmer 1953-today (!!!). While Farmer hasn't taken the wheel of a Cup car since 1975 and well into his 80's, he still competes as a weekend warrior on dirt tracks like Eldora Speedway, as this 2010 Press Pass single documents.
It's really quite difficult to wrap my mind around that one.
Speaking of being around for forever, there's a family name that is synonymous with the sport and has been represented on the track (on and off) by at least one member since the mid-50's: Earnhardt.
Even the most casual of sports fans are likely familiar with 7x series champion Dale, aka the Intimidator; however, it was his father Ralph who got the family going on the track, starting his first race in 1956. This particular card from Racing Champions came along with a die-cast model of one of Ralph's Fords, a common method of distribution for racing memorabilia.
Kerry, one of my personal favorites from my youth, is the first born son of Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr.'s half-brother. While he has experienced a good amount of success in the developmental ranks, he never quite put it together in the upper echelons. Meanwhile, his son Jeffrey has become the fourth generation Earnhardt to hit the track and is currently competing for Rookie of the Year honors in the Sprint Cup series with Go FAS Racing. Apparently, he's also an MMA fighter, as if turning laps at 200mph wasn't enough thrills for him.
NASCAR has long been a family-oriented sport and as is the case with Kerry/Jeffrey, many a driver I grew up watching has now seen their offspring come up from behind and join them. It's weird to feel old in my 20's, but watching the sons of drivers I grew up rooting for on the track certainly pushes that envelope.
Jeb - son of Ward, Ryan - son of Dave and Chase - son of Bill are all currently competing at the Cup level, while Steve, son of Rusty, is a full-time competitor in the Truck series and has one Cup start to his credit.
Time marches on.
Now, my love for auto racing was never just limited to stock car racing. During that same time, I fostered a strong interest in the most recognizable race in the world, the Indianapolis 500. This is an interest that never died, as I've made an annual pilgrimage to the qualifying sessions since 2003. True racers will compete in any vehicle that they can get behind and so, though their two entirely different forms of racing, there's quite a bit of overlap between NASCAR and Indy Car:
All of these men competed in each style of racing with various degrees of success. A.J. Foyt is an all-time great in both series, while the rest definitely had their stronger suits. Al Unser, Jr., a name synonymous with Indy, made a single, cameo appearance in the 1992 Daytona 500. Dario Franchitti (this might be my favorite card in the entire package, with the Borg Warner trophy looking on in the background as he shows off his 3 victor's rings in Victory Lane at Indy) briefly forayed into the NASCAR world before turning back to the Brickyard.
Charlie Glotzbach, a four-time race winner in the Cup series, twice attempted to qualify at Indianapolis and twice failed (1969-70).
Meanwhile, both Steve Kinser and Scott Speed weren't particularly successful in either. Though they both tried their hand at Indy and NASCAR, their greatest exploits came in other avenues of racing, Kinser in sprint cars and Speed in the old Champ Car circuit. However, I think we can all agree that the latter has just about the best name ever for a race car driver, right?
LeeRoy Yarbrough is another guy who dipped his pen in both ink wells; however, the specific reason why I chose to highlight this card is because it is one that I had in my original, childhood collection. Like the Ralph Earnhardt earlier, this too was distributed with a die-cast model of the car it depicts. I remember wandering into Kaybee Toys in the Orland Park Mall way, way back when and excitedly picking out a stack of these Johnny Lightning "Stock Car Legends," a binge purchase funded by Christmas money and a clearance sale.
On that note, here are a couple of more cards that I know resided in that same childhood collection. While the drivers were nothing of note (although, Hank Parker, Jr. is the son of Bass Master Hank Parker), I know that I don't have to tell you guys that thumbing through cards that instantly transport you back to those days of innocence is always a treasured experience.
Welcome back home LeeRoy, Buckshot and Hank!
Similarly, while I didn't have the following cards specifically in my collection, they still bring back those same warm-fuzzies because they show drivers which I was attached to at that time:
Johnny Sauter was a hot-shot prospect who won the very first automobile race that I ever attended, the 2001 ASA Late Model series race at the old Chicago Motor Speedway in Cicero, IL (which is now a Walmart... sad face). As such, his name was immediately seared into my memory and, while he never ascended to his full potential in NASCAR, he was always a sentimental favorite.
As for Hermie Sadler, I always attached myself to the underdogs and independent drivers of the sport. Rooting for Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart was fine and dandy, but who doesn't love a good underdog story? Thus, I often found myself pulling for guys like Hermie, with their small, once-car operations, lack of corporate sponsorship or manufacturer backing, odds longer than the race distance itself.
Now, I could easily stretch this post at least twice as long as it's already gone; but, I think I'll cap it here with a couple of cards that depict a local hero:
The Chicagoland area isn't exactly a hotbed of NASCAR talent - there have been very few Windy City residents to compete in the upper ranks of stock car racing, let alone succeed in it. The man you see above, Tom Pistone is easily the cream of the crop when it comes to Chicagoans in NASCAR. In a career that spanned from 1955-68, "Tiger Tom" won two races along the way to go along with 53 top 10 finishes and 5 pole positions. Not too bad for a Yankee.
Amusingly, in 1960, he wore a life preserver and an oxygen tube in his car while racing at Daytona for fear of running into the lake in the middle of the speedway and drowning. This has never happened, of course. Also, his son Pete serves as the NASCAR analyst for many a local sports-talk station.
This card comes from the same set as the Tiny Lund we saw at the beginning of this post, the only set found in Billy's trade package that I wasn't, at least, somewhat aware of. Apparently they're from a product called "Masters of Racing," put out by TG Racing, Inc. between 1991-92. I might have to find myself a few more of these, both for their beautiful shots of super-vintage race cars and it's selection of more obscure subjects. Thanks for turning me on to these, Billy!
The cover card for MoR, which was apparently distributed as a boxed set, courtesy of the Trading Card Database
Well, I mean, thank you for all of the awesome cards in general, Billy! There was no way that I could show them all, but in the end, I ended up with an eye-popping 91 new drivers for my all-time NASCAR driver collection... ninety-freaking-one from a single trade package, which amounts to roughly 1/3 of my total accumulation thus far. There's no doubt about it, this was the most productive trade I have ever made since I started this here blog.
Even still, Mr. Kingsley didn't stop there. As you might know, his basketball collection is nothing to sneeze at either and, as a surprise, he also included a few new names for my Bulls All-Time Roster Collection, which I'll make sure to show off in the coming days.
Billy, thank you for your overwhelming generosity and for keeping my stock car collection well-stocked. I hope that my return package was at least half as intriguing as the one you sent my way. To borrow a popular racing cliche, blew my doors off!
(I know this is F1, but it's a damn good song and still fits the mood!)