This Olds has been campaigned in vintage racing and does show some signs of track time, but is largely straight and clean. The interior space will only need updated safety equipment to return to competition; however, all components are currently present.
The heart of the car — the Banjo Matthews chassis — is complete, with lots of good racing components ready for their first shakedown and adjustments. While the Busch series of the time ran V6 engines, for vintage competition this racer has a fresh small-block Chevrolet race-prepared engine. The fresh Richmond 4-speed and clutch will serve the new owner well, putting power to the classic Goodyear Eagles. A perfect entry into vintage racing or a nice addition to any collection.
|Vehicle:||1988 Oldsmobile nascar racer|
|Original List Price:||$100,000|
|SCM Valuation:||Median to date, $27,820; high sale, $500,000 (all NASCAR)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$250-plus|
|Club Info:||Historic Grand National, SCTA|
|Alternatives:||Any NASCAR racer built by a team to race professionally|
This car, Lot 49, sold for $7,370, including buyer’s premium, at Motostalgia’s sale in Watkins Glen, NY, on September 10, 2016.
There are few vehicles on the planet more irrelevant than obsolete race cars. Most are born into this world as finely crafted, highly specialized machines at the very limit of competitiveness, ingenuity and human capability. But the cutting edge rarely stays sharp for very long.
Obsolescence doesn’t necessarily equate to insignificance, however, as many revered champions go on to live pampered lives in private collections and museum exhibitions. The best and most significant cars — think Le Mans heroes and Trans-Am icons piloted by the series legends — often appreciate over time, with the heft of their personal mythologies often transcending the significance of their lap times. For every prized stallion retired with distinction, however, hundreds of winless also-rans, like our Oldsmobile here, unremarkably outlast their relevance.
Anything from rule changes, lost sponsorships, technological innovations, or the simple, relentless onslaught of time can reduce cherished thoroughbreds to oversized paperweights overnight. Nowhere within the realm of racing is this more true than in the world of NASCAR.
Filling the paddock
If you visit the NASCAR website and take a look at the driver rosters, you’ll see a list of 49 Sprint Cup drivers and 51 XFINITY Series drivers. That’s 100 drivers, each in need of a car. Although there is some driver overlap between the series (78 distinct drivers, just to be exact), it’s worth noting that each series runs distinctly different cars. That being the case, we need a minimum of 100 cars for 100 drivers in order to kick off the season.
While some teams run lean, with only one or two cars per driver, many teams prep as many as four to six cars for a season. If we keep our numbers conservative at two cars per driver, our number of total cars now climbs to a minimum of 200 prepped and race-ready cars for any given year — the actual number is likely significantly higher.
Of the season’s survivors, some will be sold to smaller teams, some will be preserved under lights, and some will be scrapped. Some, however, will be retired, their value having been reduced, literally, to the sum of their parts. If the number of those cars represents a mere 5%–10% of the season’s competitors, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 20 cars are likely entering the consumer market each year.
If we consider the fact that NASCAR’s “Modern Era” began way back in 1972, or 44 years ago, it seems quite reasonable to assume that several hundred ex-racers are scattered around for purchase.
In fact, you might be surprised at just how easy it is to find an old race car for sale. Hendrick Motorsports has a “Certified Racecars” program that offers up retired cars complete with a tour and a personalized unveiling. Gene Felton Restorations specializes in stock car restorations, and had more than a dozen available for purchase last time I checked. Race-Cars.com had three times that amount. Availability is not an issue.
So, the real question is not “Can I buy one?” but “Why should I buy one?”
Many retired NASCAR roundy-rounders find themselves reduced to driving school and “NASCAR experience” mules, subjected to the tortures of wannabes like myself — those of us eaten up with both an abundance of bravado and shortage of ability.
I was 21 years old the first time I ever climbed through the window of a NASCAR race car. It was a fall morning at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and my old man sat two cars ahead of me. We had just completed the prerequisite “Richard Petty Driving Experience” classroom seminar, and all that stood between me and 30 glorious laps was a green flag and a trembling left leg, eager to dump the clutch and put those stickies to work.
The first thing that struck me after settling into the aluminum seat and cinching down my belts was the complexity of the cage. A NASCAR chassis is designed to protect its occupant from attacks from all angles because each racetrack (and driver) poses a unique threat.
Due to both NASCAR’s exacting standards to promote parity and each race team’s absolute dependency on consistency and interchangeability, NASCAR chassis builders are some of the best fabricators in all of racing. Precision and repeatability come at a hefty price, too, as new NASCAR chassis typically cost somewhere between $60,000 and $75,000 each. Sounds like a lot of money, right? Once I started preparing myself to exit turn four somewhere north of 140 miles per hour, it sounded like an absolute steal.
My dad and I led our class with the only average lap speeds north of 160 mph — with him besting me by some fraction of a thousandth of a mile an hour that’s not even worth mentioning, really. Anyway, only after I was handed my “official” participation certificate verifying my name and lap speed did I begin to appreciate how easily I went so fast. That’s what a good car will do for you. I’ve wanted one ever since.
So, what does one do with an old NASCAR racer with no historical significance? Well, the easy answer would be to take up vintage racing and make your best attempt at blowing the doors off the tea-and-biscuit crowd, but I honestly don’t have the time or resources to parade-lap around the local speedway. In fact, I’m more of a hot-rodder than racer at heart, but there is one place where those two passions merge for me — the salt.
Top speed or bust
Several years after our day on the Speedway, my dad and I visited the Bonneville Salt Flats for the first time. Lazing the days away under straw hats and high midday sun, we did what any first-timer at Speedweek does — we plotted. My dad babbled on about a tube-chassis for his ol’ Stude, and I ignored him while envisioning my Chevelle blazing across the landscape.
And then a streamliner began a tidy pirouette directly in front of us at over 300 mph. Suddenly, a stout roll cage moved to the top of the priorities list.
If you want to go fast — and I mean really fast — what else can you buy that’s more race-ready than a race car? Our Oldsmobile here was purchased for pennies on the dollar, and comes complete with professionally built chassis, small-block Chevy, 4-speed tranny, nine-inch rear-end, and everything in between.
I’d argue there’s no other vehicle on the market so ready to go so quickly so safely as a retired NASCAR race car. Cage? Done. Aero? Done. Are NASCAR racers designed to go left? Well, sure, but that’s easily remedied. Just ask Russ Wicks. He drove a NASCAR-spec Dodge Charger to a top speed of 249 mph on the salt several years ago. Why not us?
If you’re looking for an historic racer to impress your buddies over lattes, this isn’t the car for you. If you want something to beat on that will keep you about as safe as a race car can, then maybe you should take another look. Is it collectible? Not exactly. Is it floggable? Absolutely. With that in mind, I’d call this really well bought, and I hope it’s bound for the salt.