The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports

A Fan’s View: Diecast Crazy

A Fan’s View: Diecast Crazy

BY Chris Stevens


What started out a simple gift of a 1/64th scale Richard Petty Pontiac Grand Prix has turned into a collection of hundreds of 1/24th scale cars, nearly a thousand 1/64th scale cars, sheet metal from actual cars, vintage advertising from NASCAR’s past and a passion for the history of the sport that rivals some of the most diehard New York Yankees fans. In short, that little car got me hooked and like most collectors, it has never stopped, the pursuit of rare and odd collectables or some historically significant artifact has taken me across the country and introduced me to fellow collectors who share the same passion. The Ertl toy company, famous for its tractors and machinery toys, had produced a few cars in the late 80’s but sales didn’t meet expectations and the sport wasn’t in the mainstream at that time. The die cast collecting craze started in the early 90’s with a collection of 1/64 scale cars and transporters from Racing Champions. These cars lacked detail but satisfied the craving for an actual collectable as NASCAR was about to explode in popularity on Television and on the big screen with the still popular movie Days of Thunder.

The first cars were inexpensive and provided a new wholesome hobby for entire families to enjoy. It became a treasure hunt of sorts going to Wal-Mart and other retailers hoping to find a new release or a different driver that we hadn’t found yet. As the sport grew so did the die cast hobby, the first major milestone was the debut of Action Racing Collectables, they released a series of 1/24th scale cars that had so much detail that adults and children alike were grabbing every car with enthusiasm. The hobby has developed into a multi-billion dollar business with dealers all over the world. Distributors like Plan B Sales have found a fan base that keeps them busy all year round and fans get awesome deals throughout the year and on Black Friday that keep their collections growing.

Craig Phelps is a kitchen manager for the Kingsport Tennessee Texas Roadhouse, a local short track racer and die cast collector. Craig shares the love of the sport with his lovely wife Michelle who can always be found cheering on the #00 on the track and also helping Craig get his memorabilia autographed, that’s a marriage made in heaven. Craig promotes his local track, Kingsport Speedway, and hosts racer appreciation night at the roadhouse, bringing racers and the community together for a fun night of food and race cars. It is a sight to behold driving down Stone Drive in Kingsport and seeing race cars lining the front of Texas Roadhouse and children looking at the cars and dreaming of one day racing at their home track. Craig devotes most of his collection to Trevor Bayne who is considered a local hero being from just down the road in Knoxville Tennessee. He also has an impressive collection of race used sheet metal from Bayne and another local hero Caleb Holman, former driver of the #75 Henderson motorsports NASCAR Camping World Truck Series truck.

Steve Taylor is another die cast collector who also gives back through the hobby. Every year Steve auctions off special cars and memorabilia to support breast cancer awareness and research. Steve caught the bug when he got the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Superman/ AC-Delco car. Steve says that as the cars became more and more detailed he began to collect more and more. His wife Staci, like most of our spouses support our hobby and let us be kids again. His love of the hobby has been passed down to his daughter who loves Danica Patrick and who just received a custom, raced version of Danica’s Wonder Woman car as it looks sitting at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s race car graveyard to add to her over 150 cars! The car was made by master custom builder Mr. Z. Mr. Z has completed many, many custom cars that were either never produced by Lionel or are fantasy schemes that he or the customer have designed. The custom die cast hobby is a combination of scratch built modeling and art, these cars have so much detail that it would be hard to determine real from die cast. Collectors have what we call “Grail Cars”, these are the collectors’ most desired die casts, sometimes these are rare, special finish cars, or prototypes and samples that come from the factory and are super rare, for Steve it is the 24k gold Dale Sr. crash car, Dale Sr. pink color chrome IROC Camaro or the Dale Sr., Dale Jr. Goodwrench/ AC-Delco split paint scheme car. Steve’s fan wish is for the die cast producers to not produce so many cars as this would drive the value of the cars up or at least allow the car to hold its original value.

Plainwell, Michigan is home to third generation collector Harley Town and his supportive fiancé Alicia Gerze. The tradition was started by his grandmother who loved Rusty Wallace and his father who loved Dale Earnhardt Sr., given the rivalry between Wallace and Earnhardt I’m sure Sundays were interesting in that home! Harley is a diehard Kyle Larson collector and his collection includes a sentimental raced version of Larson’s first win at Michigan, his ticket from the race, pieces from the race winning burnout tire, lug nuts, confetti from Victory Lane and the door off the actual car. Like a lot of race fans we love getting cars in the raced version from races we attend. Harley’s fan wish is that all race wins be offered even if smaller numbers, as of now not all race wins are offered and for some collectors and fans they miss out on a special memory to add to their collection. Harley’s grail car is a liquid color Elite of Larson’s first win or any Larson prototype. The die cast hobby continues to grow and every year more and more people catch the bug and start their own collections, turning entire rooms of their homes into a shrine to their favorite driver or multiple drivers. Like most hobbies it can be as expensive or cheap as the collector desires, the cars can be found at the flea market for five bucks or a super rare car can go upwards of five hundred, it depends on your desire and checkbook. If you are interested in the hobby check out for cars and trucks of today’s stars or for cars of the legends of NASCAR. Happy hunting!

[Photo: Lamley Group]

A Fan’s View: Diecast Crazy
Copyright GoLong Media & The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports

A Fan’s View: Diecast Crazy

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