Remember when racing was more important than finishing the race? Remember when a local zero could climb the ladder to national hero? Remember when dedication and ingenuity meant more than sponsorship and money? Born in a haze of red dirt and Appalachian moonshine, the golden age of NASCAR was a time of tremendous ambition and personalities as outrageous as the cars that carried them. It was a tumultuous era that transformed hell-bent dreamers who were fighting for gas money into millionaire franchisees who piloted high dollar steeds on an international stage. Built by a storied fabricator, wheeled by a legendary driver and restored by a panoptic racer, this sinister Chevy Nova is a wistful throwback to simpler days and better times. Its 37 year legacy includes success that resonates from the beaches of Daytona all the way to the hills of Goodwood. And, for those who enjoy a rare blend of cultural and automotive history, it’s a one-of-a-kind original.
Dale Earnhardt was the last of a vanishing breed of NASCAR drivers who would stop at nothing to win a race. His sheer tenacity and innate skill were unique talents that resulted in a legacy as one of the most successful motorsports icons of all time. ‘The Intimidator’, as most of us knew him, officially began his NASCAR career in 1979 by winning the coveted Rookie of The Year award. In 1980, he became one of the only drivers to follow Rookie of The Year honors with a Winston Cup Championship. Over the next 21 years, he claimed roughly a third of the series’ cups, entered the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, basked in a hard-fought Daytona 500 victory and clinched four series titles in the International Race of Champions. And, after his tragic death in February of 2001, Dale was posthumously named NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, voted ESPN’s Best NASCAR Driver, and inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
Of course, we all know a great driver never realizes his full potential unless he partners with an excellent team. Enter metal perfectionist Robert Gee who, with the eventual help of Hendrick Motorsports, would become one of NASCAR’s most celebrated fabricators. Throughout the 80s, Dale Earnhardt, Robert Gee and Robert Gee Jr., founding members of Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, would seize multiple victories in NASCAR’s Sportsman division using the chassis you see here. Beginning life as a Robert Gee-built Pontiac Ventura, this rowdy racer made its series debut in old school Wrangler war paint and the classic “8” that’s a three-generation Earnhardt tradition. In 1984, after realizing the aerodynamic superiority of Chevrolet bodies, Dale and Robert Gee Jr. transformed the car into a Chevy Nova. And, at the 1986 Goody’s 300, it became the first black and silver, Goodwrench-branded race winner. After it’s tenure at DEI, the Nova found itself in a number of bare-knuckle brawls in Late Model and Super Stock events. Circa 1998, noted restorer Gene Felton located the car and commenced a thorough, ground up restoration. And recently, this storied winner, a 3-time Goodwood Festival of Speed participant, has appeared and competed in a wide variety of vintage and historic race events.
At RK Motors Charlotte we take pride in the fact that we’re a big part of a large group of gearheads who preserve and share special cars. And, thanks to 4-time International Motor Sports Association champ Gene Felton, this awesome piece of blue collar history doesn’t stop with its origins and accomplishments. Described as “the pro racer who accomplished the most with the least”, Gene has pretty much done it all. In addition to instructor duties, he’s raced everything from motorcycles to Winston Cup Legends cars on everything from dirt ovals to LeMans road courses. And, with 50 wins captured from 73 pole positions in 119 starts, he’s second only to Al Holbert for most victories in American professional road racing. Unfortunately, severe injuries forced the 2-time Hall of Famer to retire early. But it wasn’t long before he had founded the Historic Stock Car Racing Group and won nine class championships via 100 victories in cars he owned and restored.
In case you haven’t noticed, Gene knows his stuff. And almost every aspect of this Chevrolet is accurate and authentic to how it rolled off the track at the end of the 1986 Busch Grand National season. The car’s body reflects an era-correct paint scheme that’s a combination of recreated logos and NOS decals. At the front of that buttoned-down body, a mesh covered grille and aluminum-filled headlights frame a tucked, factory bumper and small chin spoiler. Behind that grille, a pinned hood and factory cowl lead a glass windshield, factory greenhouse trim and a glass backlite. Below that cowl, wind-cheating side panels frame familiar chrome wheels and 8.00/8.20-15 Goodyear Eagle D1150s between plexi B-pillar glass and traditional, side-exit exhaust. Behind those meats, a pinned decklid fans a traditional trunk spoiler above an equally tucked bumper. Inside the car, a correct Poppy interior anchors an authentic Richardson race seat between a simple steering wheel, a customized Hurst shifter and old school Simpson Race belts. In front of that seat, a primitive dash hangs a big memory tach and Auto Meter accessory gauges between a small mirror, Hutcherson-Pagan switches and a GM ignition box. And below that dash, a FIREBOTTLE suppression system rides just south of a Flame Out fire extinguisher.
Check this warrior’s barred and branded engine bay and you’ll find a 358 cubic inch small block V8 that was installed during the car’s 1998 restoration. At the top of the mean motor, a reusable filter element funnels wind into a 4-barrel carburetor that’s juiced by a Carter fuel pump. Below that carburetor, an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake rides between chrome Moroso breathers, tall Moroso valve covers and custom fabricated headers. Those headers snake around heavy duty Scott plug wires that are sparked by a GM branded coil and traditional points distributor. Cooling comes courtesy of a big aluminum radiator, which is equipped with a quick spinning puller fan. Braided hoses highlight a competition oil system. Modern power steering combines with ducted disc brakes to make attacking the curves as easy as storming the straightaways. And, if you toss the car on a lift, you’ll find a weight-conscious tube frame that’s fitted with a proven Borg Warner 4-speed, a beefy Ford rear end and fresh Bilstein shocks.
Naturally, Gene Felton spent a lot of time researching the history of this cool classic. During that process, he met original Dale Earnhardt Inc. crewmember Mike Herman Sr. Herman was happy to help assemble a long list of awesome provenance that includes:
* A signed book of his era-specific photographs of the car
* His 1986 Goodwrench-branded crew shirt
* Two signed certificates of authenticity for that shirt
* A copy of those certificates of authenticity
* A Dale Earnhardt scrap book
* A Dale Earnhardt book
* A Robert Gee business card
* Receipts from the engine build
* A dyno sheet
* Two display boards
* A National Auto Sport Association logbook
* A Sportscar Vintage Racing Association logbook
* A scrap book of the car’s history
* A picture of Gene with the car
RK Motors Charlotte is honored to be the custodian of this vital piece of racing history. Not only is it an accurate representation of what one of NASCAR’s biggest stars piloted to numerous victories, it’s also an iconic relic of the era that built Sprint Cup racing into a national pastime. What better way to honor the legacy of the ‘The Intimidator’ than driving around in a sinister stock car with his name on it?