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NASCAR’s axed road-racing prototype up for auction

AN unusual piece of NASCAR history has come onto the market in the United States.

The 1980s boom in street race events run across the United States by CART and IMSA led NASCAR to develop its own bespoke chassis more suited to road racing.

Known as the L-R car (Left-Right car), two prototypes were built in 1986 that were lighter and shorter than existing Cup Series machinery with an eye to creating a series that raced on road courses and street circuits.

The series never went ahead and the Cup Series instead limited its road-racing appearances to permanent circuits for the next few decades, only this year venturing to a street circuit for the first time with an event in downtown Chicago, famously won by Shane van Gisbergen.

However, one of the original L-R prototypes is set to go under the hammer via Mecum Auctions in January.

How the L-R prototype looked during testing in January, 1986. Pic: Supplied

NASCAR commissioned famed chassis constructor Banjo Matthews to build a 101-inch wheelbase chassis for the project – shorter than the Cup Series cars of the day (110 inches) and the second-tier Grand National machines (105) – while Richard Childress Racing eventually turned the chassis into a completed car.

The car carried Pontiac Sunbird bodywork, the brand’s compact-class model compared to the larger Grand Prix used in the Cup Series.

Cup Series stars Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Allison carried out the initial testing of the prototype on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course in January 1986, the Pontiac wearing the #1 and the colours of series sponsor Winston.

“It’s a little front-heavy,” Earnhardt said during testing. “The weight’s not quite as good as it needs to be on the car. There’s a lot of improvement to be made, and I think once they get the car ‘on the rulebook’, so to speak, we’ll have a good racecar.”

At 3000 pounds (1360kg), the L-R prototype was some 600lb (272kg) lighter than the Cup Series cars of the era, but had a weight bias of 56-percent over the front axle, making it hard to turn into corners and even harder on front brakes.

A second prototype was built later that year that was 400lb (181kg) lighter and a 49.5% weight bias over the front axle, but the L-R program was quietly abandoned soon after.

While the second prototype was retained by Allison, who raced it in the 1988 Daytona 24 Hours, the original prototype eventually found a home in Winston’s show car fleet. Over time it received upgraded bodywork, culminating in the mid-‘90s Chevrolet Monte Carlo panels it now wears.

The program was run for the Winston brand’s owners, R.J. Reynolds, by JKS Motorsports, which took on the role in the mid-1980s as NASCAR entered a boom period.

“It grew unbelievably,” JKS founder Will Spencer said.

“From 1984 to 2003, when RJ Reynolds got out of the sport, we went from not only supporting RJ Reynolds SME but the majority of the race teams for all their needs, from show cars to displays, painting trucks and trailers, all their sponsor-branded banners, everything from the pit signs in the garage area to pretty much anything you can think of as far as NASCAR.”

It resulted in JKS amassing a large collection of ex-racing machinery, including the original L-R prototype.

“The joke was ‘Wreck it on Sunday, and Will’s going to buy it on Monday,’” he said.

“At one point in my life, I owned over 118 NASCARs in various warehouses. Pretty much anything that was wrecked on Sunday and wasn’t going to be raced again, I bought it.”

The chassis may have a more modern body, but it retains the same dashboard and switch panel from its days as a prototype. Pics: Supplied

Anti-smoking legislation forced Winston to end its NASCAR sponsorship in 2003, and although JKS continued to run the show car fleet for new series sponsors Nextel and Sprint, Childress suggested another way Spencer could utilise his fleet of cars.

In May 2005, Spencer opened the Winston Cup Museum, a celebration of the sport’s rapid rise under the company’s sponsorship, in R.J. Reynolds’ hometown, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“The museum, for me, was very, very special,” Spencer said. “R.J. Reynolds and Sports Marketing Enterprises gave me a lifetime opportunity for over 20 years, and when I was trying to figure out how to do the museum, and I did it, the greatest part of it was, it was a thank you to Reynolds for what they had done for me and a gift to the city of Winston-Salem.”

However, recent years have seen the museum become embroiled in a trademark dispute with ITG Brands, which purchased the Winston brand from R.J. Reynolds’ parent company in 2015.

A final settlement was reached in November, one which forced JKS to rename and rebrand the museum.

However, the costs involved didn’t stack up alongside the museum’s financial position, prompting Spencer and wife Christy to permanently close the facility after December 16.

The settlement agreement, however, made clear that most of the physical assets of the museum – the cars and memorabilia – belonged to the Spencers.

Many of those assets are now being put up for auction at Mecum’s Kissimmee, Florida auction on January 2-14, the 25th anniversary of an event billed as the world’s largest collector car auction.

The L-R prototype is one of over 30 cars going under the hammer, with other lots including a genuine RCR-built Chevrolet Monte Carlo raced by Earnhardt during the 1995 and 1996 seasons.

Other memorabilia includes a large array of bonnets, helmets and drivers suits.

Click here for the full list of lots on Mecum.com.

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