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NASCAR's 10 Greatest Bodystyles

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Mr. Belvedere

10. Richard Petty – 1964 Plymouth Belvedere
Back when stockcars essentially were stock cars, Petty’s ’64 Plymouth was significant for a number of reasons. First of all, look at it: clean and simple lines, looks as right dominating Daytona as it would Pomona … or Ponderosa — a perfect combination of accidental aerodynamics and the debut of Pachyderm Power under the bonnet. The 426 Hemi debuted at the 1964 Daytona 500, and when placed in the pointy Plymouth, it was game over, lights out, thanks for playing, as Petty drove to a one-lap victory over Paul Goldsmith in a Hemi Plymouth Belvedere. Note those 405 horsepower stickers on the hood. Yeah. Right. 405. At what, 3,500 rpm? Child please.

by Vito Pugliese

50 Shades of Gray

9. Buddy Baker – 1977-1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme
The late 1970s and early ’80s were sad times for the auto industry on a number of levels. Smog-controlled engines, the advent of catalytic converters and poor quality control, as well as something known as “velour.” Such were the designs of these machines. There were a few notable exceptions: Smokey & The Bandit Trans Ams, Dodge’s Little Red Express Truck and this beast, Buddy Baker’s No. 28 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. Nicknamed the Gray Ghost by its ability to stealthily blend into the racing surface due to its color scheme and the glare produced by the sun-lit overcast conditions. Baker dominated Speedweeks in 1980, including taking the pole at 194.009 mph. What about this car screams mid-190s? Well, it still owns the record for the fastest Daytona 500, and therefore deserves some love here.

by Vito Pugliese

It’s NOT The Catalina Wine Mixer!

8. Fireball Roberts – 1962 Pontiac Catalina
In the early 1960s, NASCAR was coming of age. Moving from bullrings and dirt tracks to full-fledged, high-banked superspeedways used as the model for the majority of the tracks on the circuit today, the cars and safety equipment were not quite keeping up with the technology and horsepower. Banjo Matthews’ 1962 Pontiacs prepared by the legendary Smokey Yunick were among the best of that early breed, replete with his trademark black and gold paint scheme. Fireball Roberts swept both Daytona races that season, wearing a t-shirt and a polo helmet. Roberts' nickname was the result of his being able to throw a baseball, but would tragically come to fruition in 1964, after a horrific fiery wreck resulting from a split gas tank at Charlotte. He would succumb to his injuries six weeks later in July 1964 before the Daytona Firecracker race he won just two years prior.

by Vito Pugliese

Silver Fox Box

7. David Pearson – 1976 Mercury Montego
Some cars look fast standing still, some are fast at speed, and some look like there’s no way it could be fast, — yet is very, very fast. David Pearson’s 1976 Mercury Montego, with its flat front end, was the cousin to Starsky and Hutch’s iconic sled, with which he drove to a 10-win season in 30 stars. He won the Daytona 500 after getting together with Richard Petty on the final lap, and limping across the finish line because he kept his engine running, while Petty stalled his. Of note: That Daytona 500 was Pearson’s only superspeedway win that year; Buddy Baker, Cale Yarborough and Dave Marcis won the remaining events at Daytona and Talladega.

by Vito Pugliese

Give Me A Dew!

6. Darrell Waltrip – 1981-82 Buick Regal
1981 was the first year for the downsized cars, running on a 110” wheelbase. After a decade of running at 115” in big slabs of blubber, the new cars were trim, lean, mean and almost exclusively Buicks due to its more aerodynamic nose (compared to the squared off Grand Prix and Ford Thunderbird). Dodge was an afterthought with the Mirada by this time, so it was up to Darrell Waltrip to establish the new era with the assistance of team owner Junior Johnson in their Mountain Dew machine. And that they did. Waltrip won 12 of 31 races that year= en route to his first championship. He’d win 12 races again a year later in the same car, forever banishing the myth of green racecars being bad luck.

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by Vito Pugliese

Awesome Bill from Dawsonville

5. Bill Elliott – 1983-86 Ford Thunderbird
At the dawn of the small-car era of the early 1980s, Ford was all but absent from circle track competition. Actually, outside of Bob Chandler’s “Big Foot” running amok in stadiums, Ford was all but absent from the motorsports map. When the new swoopy Thunderbird debuted in ’83 that all changed. Its debut didn’t go so hot, as it flew wildly threw the air at Daytona, nearly killing Ricky Rudd in the process. However, as Bill and Ernie Elliott began showing up with their Melling Racing Thunderbirds, the aero-wars began anew. Elliott’s ’85 T-bird was especially dominate, winning the Daytona 500, the first offering of the Winston Million and making up two laps to win at Talladega under green. That’s two laps. At Talladega. Under green flag competition. No Lucky Dog, no waive-around. Every fast car has its secret and theirs was no different; it was actually 9/10 scale in size, so it literally was cheating the wind. Elliott will likely forever hold the fastest lap in competition setting the record with a 212.809 mph.

by Vito Pugliese

The King’s Chariot

4. Richard Petty – 1972-74 Dodge Charger
Every driver has a car that defines him (or her) and his (or her) career. For Richard Petty and his 200 wins and seven titles, there are two cars: his ’67 Plymouth and the ’74 Dodge Charger pictured here. 31 wins and two titles (including two runner-up championship runs). How does that math work? It used to be you could run a model for four years in NASCAR, and with the garbage rolling out of Detroit back then (particularly for the post-musclecar era for mother Mopar), the best bet was sticking with a proven bullet. The third generation Charger would rule the roost in NASCAR until the 1977 season; in 1978, Petty’s Dodge Mangum produced the King’s first winless season. Petty often mentions the ’73 Charger as is favorite and most memorable car, but the ’74 is essentially the same car. Plus he had that awesome Fu Man Chu.

by Vito Pugliese

From Daytona to Bonneville

3. Bobby Isaac – 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona
Everybody loves the winged warriors, and Bobby Isaac’s No. 71 K&K Insurance 1969 Dodge Daytona is probably the most successful of the bunch. The Daytona was Dodge’s answer to the Ford Torino Talladega and Mercury Comet Cyclone. The standard Dodge Charger, while looking fast, was a turbulent turd at the big tracks, and the Charger 500 was a Band-Aid fix until the big guns arrived. Isaac won 11 races and the championship during the 1970 season, running the winged ’69 on the high banks and a regular ’70 Charger on the shorts. He would later take it to the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1971 to set several land speed records. The Daytona was also the reason Richard Petty defected to Ford (Chrysler wouldn’t let him drive one – he was a Plymouth man), and why Plymouth would later release the Superbird, to bring him back into the fold. A far cry from today, where they can’t even find an engine supplier to recruit a team they desperately needed. Ah, the good old days …

by Vito Pugliese

Always Bet on Black

2. Dale Earnhardt – 2000-01 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
By the time the late 1990s rolled around, downforce was the name of the game and Chevrolet was a little late to the part. While Jeff Gordon’s Monte Carlo was about the only Chevy to get a whiff of the ovid-shaped Taurus and its crushing downforce numbers, the design was getting a bit long in the tooth. And the General’s other soldier, the Pontiac Grand Prix, was starting to steal a bit of Chevy’s limelight on the intermediate tracks. Enter the Y2K MC SS. As Todd tells Jeremy upon unveiling his disturbing painting in “The Wedding Crashers,” “It’s both sexual and violent!” You may remember this iteration of the Intimidator’s chariot inching out a win over Bobby Labonte in an Atlanta photo finish, or slicing through the field at Talladega from 18th to the lead in the final four laps for what would be his final – and arguably greatest — win.


by Vito Pugliese

Thunderstruck

1. Mark Martin – 1992-95 Ford Thunderbird
The early 1990s will be remembered as the Golden Era of the Modern Era. During this period of the sport’s history, NASCAR managed to catch lightning in a bottle with the perfect balance of aerodynamics, horsepower, tires and innovation allowed within – or just outside — of the rules. The cars looked reasonably close to their production counterparts, and actually had to have the hood, rear deck lid and rearview mirror of their showroom cousins. Martin’s No. 6 Valvoline Roush Ford Thunderbird was probably the best looking racecar and paint scheme of this (or any) era. Try to freehand draw that No. 6 and not screw it up or have it look goofy. Ford dominated the first half of the 1992 season, while Alan Kulwicki and Bill Elliott battled down to the last lap to determine the championship in Atlanta. It was suddenly cool to run a Ford in Cup in the early to mid-’90s, even as Earnhardt and Gordon continued to compile wins and Cups. At least Ford had the good sense to not name the mythical winged creature after a dust-buster-ized minivan.

by Vito Pugliese