If you’re a fan of Chevrolet race cars, then you need to visit the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, between now and January 4. 2019. The Museum’s Exhibit Hall has been transformed to feature a specially themed display – Louis to Le Mans.
For a roughly seven months, that theme focuses on Chevrolet racing history as the story of Chevrolet racing is told from the early days of Louis Chevrolet, through the AMA ban on racing, to Chevrolet Racing’s involvement in NASCAR. Since this is the Corvette museum, you can also see the Le Mans winning Corvettes. Significant stories are told through the display of various cars and artifacts, including engines from a C5-R, a fuel injection cutaway, to race suits and more.
1957 Chevrolet 150 “Black Widow”
Following a tragic accident at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) agreed to a ban on manufacturer participation in American automobile racing starting in 1957. However, much like the rule book in racing, it is often more important what is not said than what is. General Motors knew that racing was still an important factor in proving a vehicle’s value, so they hired Vince Piggins, former lead race-engineer for Hudson, to go to Atlanta, Georgia’s Nalley Chevrolet dealership and begin the Southern Engineering and Development Company, or SEDCO.
Piggins and his team brought in 1957 Chevrolet One-Fifty Utility Sedans with a custom specifications sheet signed off by Ed Cole which included a deleted heater, radio, and rear seat, as well as a 283 cubic-inch, fuel-injected, V8 engine developed by Smokey Yunick, and a 20-gallon fuel tank.
Built on March 1st, 1957, the Ram Jester was one of the earliest “Black Widows” produced by SEDCO and was used in both NASCAR racing and drag racing through the early 1960s. The “Black Widows” were so successful, with Buck Baker winning the 1957 National Championship in one, that they were a major factor in NASCAR’s decision to ban fuel-injected engines, a rule that was in place until 2011.
1983 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS “Pepsi Challenge”
In 1982, Chevrolet General Manager, Bob Stempel, visited Junior Johnson’s race shop and convinced Junior to remold the 1982 Buick NASCARs fielded by Darrell Waltrip into 1983 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS race cars. At the same time, GM relaxed the rules on advertising the performance abilities of “family” cars, leading to Chevrolet becoming one of the most successful brands in NASCAR history. This was an important step for Chevrolet, as they had no cars competing in the 1982 Daytona 500.
This all changed in 1983, as the Daytona 500 saw 14 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS NASCARs entered. One of them was this car, Darrell Waltrip’s “Pepsi Challenger.” A pre-race favorite to win, Waltrip spun out of control on lap 64, wrecking his car as he tried to avoid a slower car ahead of him.
Cale Yarborough would go on to win the race in his back up car, a 1983 Pontiac LeMans. Yarborough had wrecked his primary car, a Monte Carlo SS, just after setting a record speed of 205 miles per hour during qualifying.
1997 Monte Carlo NASCAR Chrome Car
In 1997 Darrell Waltrip decided he wanted to do something different with his Monte Carlo NASCAR and it became the first NASCAR to every be fully vinyl wrapped, but not just any vinyl wrap, chrome vinyl. NASCAR officials were not happy with Waltrip’s decision due to the fact that, as it drove alongside other cars on the track, it would reflect the color of the other car. This color changing made it difficult for the NASCAR officials to follow the car while it was on track.
It is no surprise that the first NASCAR vehicle to be vinyl wrapped was a Chevrolet Monte Carlo. It had been one of the most popular bodies used in NASCAR during its production. The year 1997 was a tough one in NASCAR for Darrell Waltrip. It was the first year he failed to qualify for a race in over 20 years, and it would be his last season as an owner/driver. However, it was a good year for Chevrolet Racing, as the Chevrolet Monte Carlo took First, Second, and Third at the Daytona 500.