Lamley Daily: Dale Earnhardt’s 1977 Chevy Nova NASCAR Busch Series Race Car

Dale. The Man in Black. The Intimidator.

No matter if you’re a diehard NASCAR fan or have never seen a race in your life, you’re still probably familiar with the man behind the wheel of those iconic black and silver Goodwrench Chevrolets: Dale Earnhardt.

Dale spent over 20 successful years in the various NASCAR series before he was tragically killed in a last-lap wreck during the 2001 Daytona 500. It’s a moment that NASCAR fans will never forget and one that changed the sport forever — but the turn four tragedy also helped usher in a new era of safety measures like the wider use of the HANS device, safer barriers, and continued improvement in the overall design of the cars.

Even though Dale left us too soon, his career was packed full of memorable paint schemes. From his earlier blue and yellow Wrangler Jeans cars to his patriotic 1996 Atlanta Olympics Monte Carlo in red, white, and blue, to the bright orange Wheaties sponsored Monte Carlo he drove in the 1997 All Star Race — all great liveries. Out of all the different sponsors and color schemes he ran over his career, the most recognizably-Dale cars were those sinister black and silver Goodwrench Chevrolets.

Enter Earnhardt’s first ever Goodwrench sponsored car: a 1977 Pontiac Ventura (wait… Chevy Nova? More on that later).

That’s right – Dale’s first Goodwrench car was actually a 1977 Pontiac Ventura he raced in NASCAR’s Grand National Series. The Grand National Series was the OG Xfinity Series (the series just below the highest level of NASCAR racing, the Cup Series) and just like today, ran different bodies than the Cup series cars. Dale’s 1977 ride wore the body of a Pontiac Ventura that was initially sponsored by Wrangler, then after a change in sponsorship a few years later, became the first to sport Earnhardt’s iconic black and silver Goodwrench look.

But as we know, racing ain’t all about looking good – the car needs to be fast too. After a time running the Ventura body, Earnhardt found that it wasn’t as aerodynamically sound as he’d like, so Dale and his brother-in-law Robert Gee Jr, converted the body to a Chevy Nova.

The Intimidator standing in front of his newly-bodied Goodwrench Nova at Daytona. This photo also shows the sponsorship update between the new car and his old fire suit.
(vintage NASCAR photos courtesy of NASCAR archival footage online)

According to my online research, the car was converted over to a Nova in late 1985 or early 1986. This switchover happened just in time for another big change in the sport, which was Busch beer’s new sponsorship of the Grand National Series. The newly named Busch Grand National Series would run with a form of the Busch moniker from 1984 until 2007 – a very solid run in terms of sports sponsorships.

Dale utilized his new, slicker Nova body to score the first ever Busch Series win at Daytona – kind of a big deal. The car had a new sponsor, new look, and ran well, so what more could you ask for? Well, a diecast version of course! Thankfully Winner’s Circle has this one covered.

If you don’t collect NASCAR cars then you might not be familiar with diecast producer Winner’s Circle. They produced various NASCAR series cars from the mid 1990s to around 2010, and ended up getting dissolved into various mergers between Hasbro and Action Diecast. But during that time frame they made an absolute sh*tload of NASCAR castings. They produced old stock cars, Busch, Winston Cup, ARCA, IROC series cars – basically any and everything associated with NASCAR, they made it – including Dale’s Goodwrench Nova.

As far as the casting goes, it is nicely detailed and features a metal body over a plastic chassis. It rides on plastic steel-wheel style wheels wrapped in Goodyear white-letter tires. The scale Nova body hits all the points of the 1/1 car – extended front and rear bumpers detailed in silver, a silver cut roof line, and small things like hood-pins and other aero parts also received some extra detail.

While the interior may come off as “toyish” looking because it was cast in an all-over bright red, that’s to replicate the actual red interiors Dale ran on many of the Goodwrench cars. I personally love red interiors on a lot of different vehicles, but I have to say the Goodwrench cars wear them best. The interior is nicely cast, as is the detailed chassis.

The Nova has typical NASCAR sponsorship tampos stamped on it and they turned out pretty good, especially for the quantity and size of them. I count 20+ different sponsorship tampos on each side.

Given how absolutely rad this Nova is I couldn’t pass it up — and neither could Dale Earnhardt Jr. He ended up hunting down his dad’s real Goodwrench Nova and bought it at auction for just a touch under $200k. The car underwent a full restoration and has been the topic of several of Jr’s podcast and Youtube videos, and he ran some pace laps in the finished car during the 2021 Xfinity Throwback Weeekend at Darlington Raceway.

Needless to say if you’re a NASCAR fan, a Dale fan, or just someone with good taste in race cars in general, this Nova is definitely a car that needs to be in your personal winner’s circle🏁

The Roundup:

Model: 1986 Chevy Nova Busch Grand National Series Race Car

Manufacture/line: Winner’s Circle/Dale Earnhardt Lifetime Series (2001)

Where to find one: Buy the Goodwrench Nova on eBay

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3 Replies to “Lamley Daily: Dale Earnhardt’s 1977 Chevy Nova NASCAR Busch Series Race Car”

  1. Awesome! I’ve just started collecting NASCAR models over the past 2 years, focusing solely on Dale’s #3s. Once I’m done with that, I’ll be going for his other cars!

  2. In, probably, 1990 I was in a NASCAR store in my town looking for cars. I was still pretty young and this was just before Racing Champions started to show up on the pegs. Other than a Hot Wheels car that was vaguely like Dale’s car I had nothing of his. On the glass case at the register was the first actual Earnhardt car I’d ever seen. It was a black Goodwrench Monte Carlo Aero Coupe made by Ertl. The confusing thing was that it was number 8. I didn’t care, I bought it. It didn’t come on a card or anything, it was just loose. It was my Earnhardt car for years, even after the RC cars were added to my collection because it was so well detailed. I managed to hang onto it and it stands as one of my all time favorite NASCAR models.

    1. If I am correct, Dale use the #8 at certain points of his career. I have the same #8 Monte Carlo Aero Coupe in 1/64 by Winner’s Circle!

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