The ‘young’ world of NASCAR collectibles

The wonderful world of NASCAR collectibles for all of its dimensions and dynamic is a relatively young one. Unlike baseball or football collectibles, which can be traced well back to the 19th century, the National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) is only as old as the 1940s, beginning with races in the Daytona Beach area.

Historians generally credit a race during the summer of 1949 at the fairgrounds in Charlotte, N.C., as the first true NASCAR race to be linked to the Winston Cup Series. Early in the 1950s the idea of racing “strictly stock,” full-sized American passenger cars began attracting powerful corporate sponsors such as Champion Sparkplugs and Pure Oil.

All of these factors, and more, combined to make NASCAR racing a celebrated event around the United States, and such events produced a world of collectibles. Generally speaking, that world includes everything from from infant clothing and collector plates to crew shirts and throw blankets. A collector can find a wristwatch that pays tribute to a favorite driver, or a similarly focused neon sign. There are decals, pins, and patches.
Much of the so-called older NASCAR material is paper-related, such as pocket schedules, types of posters, calendars, annual guides, and tickets. The serious collector might discover ticket stubs or programs from the pioneer Daytona 500 events, still around from the glory days of the 1950s. The treasures may include 1950 postcard featuring the legendary Fonty Flock or a 1950 program depicting the remarkable Lee Petty.

A real prize could be an aged metal NASCAR sign that once hung outside the racetrack during the 1950s. One such example was recently sold at a leading auction house in New York City.

But even if you “have only a dozen or so old racing postcards in a shoebox somewhere or a few lapel pins stuck in a back corner of a desk drawer,” note the editor of Racing Collector’s Price Guide, “you are a collector to some degree.” They note that since motor sports memorabilia collecting began, almost everything related to NASCAR has been collected, even items that are called “incidental collectibles.” These are defined as things not necessarily made to be collectible but that have been gathered up nevertheless.

Some of those ‘incidentals’ can be usual programs and postcards along with racer-worn apparel, parts of race cars including tires, signs, and of course autographs. Later on marketing experts expanded that world to include most everything from breakfast cereal to soft drinks.

As early as the 1960s Racing Pictorial Magazine began producing its own specialized postcards of notable drivers. They featured various NASCAR events and drivers within the pages of the publications. Today some of the vintage editions rich with NASCAR photographs are highly collectible.

Major auction houses such as Leland’s Auctions, offer higher level items such as a 1970s racing crew shirt from the Richard Petty racing team. Such shirts were distinctive with red and white stripes and blue background reminiscent of the American flag. A single name was embroidered in white thread on the front, along with an STP patch on the pocket. It has been reported that STP had to borrow such a crew shirt years later in an effort to re-create similar items for their 25th anniversary.

Rusty Wallace items from the 1980s, including everything from race-worn driver’s suit to the front bumper of one of his vehicles have also sold at major auctions. Wallace was the 1984 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year and later in the 1980s a champion of champions. The driver’s suit came with color patches from sponsors such as Winston, Kodiak, Pontiac, AC Spark Plugs, Mobile, Blue Max, and Good Year. It was offered with a reserve of $500.

By the 1990s the powers of marketing were making every effort to appeal to both the thirsty and hungry NASCAR fan. Manufacturers giants like Coca Cola and Pepsi to regional bottlers like Sun Drop were offering a cool soft drink to the crowds at racing events. Presently, a leading racing collectibles guide cites a green colored six-bottle series from Sun Drop which honors the late Dale Earnhardt as “the most coveted series of drink bottles” in the field of NASCAR collectibles.

Breakfast cereal boxes were even bigger during that grand decade. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes had boxes that paid tribute to Richard Petty, Terry Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, and their own cartoon-like character Corny in full racing uniform. Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes meanwhile included Tony the Tiger in NASCAR uniform, Bill Elliott, Earnhardt, and Labonte.

Jeff Gordon was featured more than once on Kellogg’s Mini-Wheats as were other great NASCAR drivers of the 1990s. Earnhardt and others made the top spot on boxes of Wheaties –the “Breakfast of Champions – and Mark Martin was featured on Winn-Dixie Corn Flakes at one time.
Today collectors still fancy those 1990s cereal boxes with NASCAR connections. Whether they are collected in folded form or unopened, condition is always very important. Milk and sugar stains are not acceptable.

Even Mattel’s Barbie got into the act during the 1990s with a dandy 50th anniversary NASCAR figure in full uniform with a boxed racing scene background. Elsewhere Toy Biz provided action figures of Bill Elliott, Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin and others in different sizes from 5 inches to 12 inches tall.

Additional NASCAR items from the 1990s often center on race-worn material or memorabilia. Items directly connected with the late Dale Earnhardt including helmets, signed programs, Goodyear Eagle racing tires, and even an Earnhardt signed baseball have all brought considerable premiums at shows, shops, and auctions.

Leland’s recently offered a program from the ill-fated race in February 2001 that resulted in the Earnhardt’s tragic death. The famed driver, along with Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, Bill Elliott, Sterling Martin, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Waltrip, and others had signed the Daytona 500 program in blue Sharpie during ceremonies before the memorable race.

Racing Collectibles Identification & Value Guide from the editors of Racing Collector’s Price Guide manage to list a very wide array of NASCAR collectibles for the fan and collector. Included are beanbag racers, cards, cereal boxes, clocks, comic books, decanters, figures, knives, porcelain cars, statues, steins, ornaments, medallions, and much more.

It seems the ‘young’ world of NASCAR collectibles has a nearly timeless future.

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Large pin back button from Brickyard 400 inaugural NASCAR race.

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Two Maxx race trading cards 1988.

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Dale Earhardt worn race helmet used during 2001 his final season. (Lelands’ Sports auction photo)

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Souvenir program from Rebel 500 at Darlington Raceway spring race 1980

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The 50th anniversary NASCAR advertising Barbie in full uniform, 1998

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1950’s NASCAR metal sign was hung outside emergency service at the track. (Lelands’ Sports auction photo)