Stock car racing has been around for a long time. Many of the cars that made the sport popular during its formative years have spent their later years in museums across America. Thankfully, those cars are still able to be viewed by the many fans who watch, follow, and remember the sport.
One such museum is the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum, located on the grounds of Talladega Speedway in Talladega, Alabama. There are a lot of famous stock cars on display in this museum, the most famous possibly being this 1977 Monte Carlo named Bertha. Long-time followers of NASCAR may remember this car, as it was driven by the one, and only, Darrell Waltrip, in the early part of his career when he was an up-and-coming driver. This race car was put in the museum in July 1989, after it was retired from racing.
There were a lot of these 1977 Monte Carlos raced by many teams during this period. They were big, bulky, not very aerodynamic, but tough as an Army tank. Arguably, this particular Monte was the most famous of all of them, but not everything about this car was known at the time.
Waltrip nonchalantly explains in an interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr., “We dropped a little lead every now and again,” he says. “But everybody did!” Darrell explained how this car was modified so that 75 to 100 pounds of lead shot could be poured into the frame rail so the car could make weight during tech inspection. Then, at a pre-determined time, Darrell could open a passage that would allow the lead shot to fall through a hole in the frame at one of the jack points for the chassis. The result was a lighter, faster car.
Darrell described how they almost got caught when the tech inspectors were tipped off about the shenanigans and were looking for a path for the shot to be evacuated. “When they put the jack on the jack pin to lift the car up,” he said. “They covered up the place where the shot would come out. They could look forever and they’d never find out where the shot was coming out!”
How Darrell Waltrip’s 1977 Monte Carlo Got The Name Bertha
During an interview with Speed Sport’s Ben White, Darrell gave some insight on how this 1977 Monte Carlo got the name Bertha. “It was one of the toughest cars I ever had,” he said. “No matter what happened to that car, it seemed like we could always fix it…and it came out better than it was before.”
It was painted in white, green, and orange, colors that were representative of the main sponsor of the DiGard racing team – Gatorade. This car treated its sponsors (and owners) well, winning 19 out of the 68 races it competed in, and winning over $700,000 in prize money. It also won two World 600s and two Rebel 500s.
Were Stock Cars Ever Really STOCK Cars?
The wheelbase of this racer was 116 inches on a chassis that was built by well-known race car builder Banjo Mathews. It was equipped with coil springs and Monroe shocks on each corner of the chassis. It sits on 8.00/8.20-15 Goodyear Eagle racing tires. Unlike the 170-horsepower 350 engines found in the factory-stock Monte Carlo, this car was powered by a Chevy 358 cubic-inch engine that was rated at 580 horsepower. The engine was built by the famed engine builder Robert Yates and was attached to a heavy-duty four-speed transmission with a Hurst shifter.
The gauge package on the dash panel is very spartan, with five toggle switches, one for the starter, ignition, the rear cooler, and two for accessories. Gauges consisted of the oil temp gauge, a tachometer, an oil pressure gauge, a water temperature gauge, and a fuel gauge. There were two more toggle switches for controlling the spare ignition and rev-limiter, which controlled the engine’s maximum RPM.
Unlike its much more comfortable factory siblings, Darrell sat on a form-fitted bucket seat and had a foam headrest during his time behind the wheel of Bertha. Behind the seat was a differential cooler, and beside that was a red lever connected to a dry, chemical fire extinguisher.
The rollbar setup was also very spartan, and it is amazing that more drivers were not killed in wrecks. Race car design and building techniques have come a long way since the days of this Monte Carlo. Even with the lack of modern technology, these cars tested both men and machines to the brink of breaking. They even broke the rule books on several occasions while doing it!
See Bertha At The International Motorsports Hall of Fame & Museum
If you’re ever traveling Interstate 20 between Atlanta, Georgia, and Birmingham, Alabama, exit at the sign pointing to the Talladega Speedway and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame to check out this famous Monte Carlo called Bertha.
Hours for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame are 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Sunday. Admission is $15 for adults and $7 for children under 12. There are also discounted rates for seniors and the military. The average Hall of Fame & Museum tour can take between 1 to 3 hours, depending on the amount of time spent with each attraction, and group tours of 25 or more may be scheduled by calling 256-362-5002.