Cheers To The Best Beer Cars!
So, a few weeks ago, Brad Keselowski, to no surprise, got active on twitter and posted a few pictures of a retro paint scheme he will be running at Michigan this year. It was a beautiful rendition, meaning an almost exact replica, of Rusty Wallace’s No. 2 Miller Genuine Draft ride from back in the early 1990’s. Man, Rusty had that car hooked up back then, and between the beginning of 1993 and the end of 1994, he and the “Briefcase” Buddy Parrot-led team were almost unbeatable, taking the checkered flag 18 times. They weren’t able to win the Championship in either of those seasons because while they were winning, they did not have the consistency of that pesky feller named Earnhardt who was busy winning Championships numbered six and seven.
I’ve gotten off track, kids. To get back on it, a friend sent me another picture a day or two after the 2012 Sprint Cup Champion posted pictures of the “Midnight” replica. (That’s what Rusty and the team named one of the more successful cars in the fleet. They had another they called “Captain” at one point, for Roger Penske. Along the same lines, and probably the subject of a later article, Davey Allison had one called “007” and Jeff Gordon once named a car “Booger.”) The picture said friend sent was another Miller car, but this one a white No. 2 car with a red number and stripe on the side, and Miller High Life on the hood. Three cheers to Brad and his team for doing these throwback paint schemes. I love them, and I think they make the old fan feel a little warm and fuzzy, and the new fan gets a glimpse of NASCAR past.
All of these retro paint schemes got me thinking about all of the beer-sponsored cars we have seen on the track through the years, and some of them stand out more than others. Here’s my list of the best, in no specific order:
Mark Martin, No. 6 Stroh's Light
This car was not flashy by any means. Straight blue paint with white decals for the most part, with red highlights. Mark drove this car to his first career win at Rockingham in October of 1989. He also took it for a wild ride earlier that season by sliding into a tire barrier at Sonoma. The car flipped onto its roof and Martin took a spirited jog back to the pit area while his car went on the hook. This car identifies with the beginning of a long and rewarding relationship between Jack Roush and Mark Martin, and helped bring what is now Roush-Fenway Racing to the top of the NASCAR world, and would vault drivers such as Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth to Championships.
There have been a lot of cars and drivers to “Grab Some Buds” including Geoff Bodine, Kasey Kahne, Ken Schrader, Kevin Harvick, Terry Labonte, Darrell Waltrip, Neil Bonnett, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The 1992 version, however, is one of my favorites, and it was because it was, as a fan, a thorn in my side. My first favorite driver was Davey Allison. I worked at a Texaco station back in 1989, so the fit was a natural one. I wanted that 1992 Championship for Davey, and Elliott put a big wrench in those plans by ripping off wins in four of the first five races. (Allison won the Daytona 500, and then Elliott took Richmond, Rockingham, Atlanta and Darlington.) Elliott and Allison were fierce competitors that season, but it wasn’t ugly. They were both Ford drivers. Turns out though that neither one would take the Championship that year. Elliott suffered mechanical woes in the last few races of the season before the final at Atlanta, which he won, and Allison suffered personal loss and physical pain as he lost his brother, Clifford, in a racing accident, and sustained injuries at multiple points throughout the season. He fought back though and going into the final race needed only a fifth place finish or better to clinch the title. It wasn’t to be, though, as he was involved in an accident late in the race, running exactly where he needed to be. It came down to Elliott and a pesky Alan Kulwicki who, while the other contenders were having various issues, chopped down a nearly impossible to overcome point deficit in his No. 7 Hooters Ford in the final six races of the season. I won’t go into how it ended. If you don’t know, go read about it. I think there are at least four different versions of the story of the Greatest Race Ever found here on these pages alone. Elliott and his No. 11 Junior Johnson-owned Budweiser car were a big part of it, as well as the entire 1992 season.
Before Rusty Wallace drove that Midnight car to so many wins for Roger Penske in the No. 2, Miller Genuine Draft was a sponsor for Rusty’s previous ride, the No. 27 Blue Max team. Car owner Raymond Beadle was better known for drag racing but came to try his hand at cars that turned. When he became available, Beadle snapped up that guy named Richmond, and put him in his car. That Old Milwaukee car was sharp. It was a rather deep red in color, with gold numbers and white outlines. It wasn’t just the car though. That driver was pretty sharp, too.
Now, before we get into this one, there have been a lot of Coors and Coors Light sponsored cars. I would have to say that Sterling Marlin drove the best version in that all silver body with the red highlights. I would say that, but I’d be wrong. Let’s play a little flashback. All the way back in 1996 in May, as we do every year, we ran the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. The trigger for something odd to happen occurred on a restart when Kyle Petty bumped Ted Musgrave. NASCAR deemed that action as too aggressive and penalized Petty and his team five laps for rough driving. Hogwash. Anyway, the penalty was increased by two more laps when car owner Felix Sabates went absolutely crazy face and took his anger out on a nearby official. So, nothing too odd has happened yet, correct? Well, let’s fast forward a week when the series went to Dover. Petty was the defending Champion of the race, but the spotlight was on him at Dover for other reasons. See, Felix Sabates, in his anger from the previous week, decided to make a statement. He felt that some other drivers, namely Dale Earnhardt, would not have been penalized for rough driving, and that NASCAR was playing favorites. This was Felix’s retaliation:
Felix had the crew at the shop paint the car not in it's usual red, yellow and blue, but black, white and silver. Petty started 15th that day, and look who was 14th. Well, Petty didn’t repeat as the race winner, and finished 18th after leading only two laps. It wasn’t Petty’s performance that folks remember from that day anyway.
From Martin’s Stroh’s Light car to Elliott’s bright red Bud Machine, there have been many beer sponsored cars. Let’s not for Wally Dallenbach, Jr. in the No. 16 Keystone Light, Cale Yarborough in the Busch No. 11, and now even America’s oldest brewery, Yuengling, is getting in on the action.
But, let it be known that, for me at least, that black Miller Genuine Draft car, whether it was the 1993 Pontiac Grand Prix or the 1994 Ford Thunderbird, that was the car, and to me will always be the best beer car, hands down and bottoms up, and I’ll look forward to seeing it on the track again in just a few months.