Dale Earnhardt's record-setting seven championships, Richard Petty's remarkable 200th victory, and the first checkered flags in NASCAR's premier series for such drivers as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., all happened while the sport's primary sponsor was the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. From 1971 through 2003, the most talented stock car drivers in the world competed for the Winston Cup, and it was during this period that NASCAR skyrocketed to national popularity. The museum in Winston-Salem has a collection of race cars, show cars, trophies, driver uniforms and helmets, and more.
Winston-Salem is 81 miles from Charlotte, about a 90-minute drive, one way.
To see and do
While specific cars and exhibits vary from time to time, the primary purpose of the museum - to honor NASCAR's Winston Cup era - remains a constant. An impressive mural that wraps around three interior walls, a visual timeline that pictures many of the sport's most popular drivers on and off the track, racing photos from venues around the nation, pre-race festivities and victory celebrations. A showcase at the end of the timeline features a trophy naming the champion driver for each year from 1949 to 2003, beginning with Red Byron, NASCAR's inaugural champion, and ending with Matt Kenseth. Cars making up the museum's "field" include show and competition cars driven by some of the sport's most iconic figures, including Richard Petty, Darryl Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In 1985, R.J. Reynolds introduced "The Winston Million," giving drivers the chance to win $1 million by winning three of four "crown jewel" races: Florida's Daytona 500, NASCAR's most prestigious event; the Coca-Cola 600, the longest; the Winston 500 at Talladega, Ala., the fastest; and the Southern 500 at Darlington, S.C., the oldest. During the 15-year history of this event, only two drivers claimed the prize. Bill Elliott won the inaugural Winston Million, earning him the nickname "Million Dollar Bill." Jeff Gordon won in 1997, the final year of the event, by taking the checkered flags at Daytona, Charlotte and Darlington.
The Winston Million was replaced by the Winston No Bull 5 in 1998. Also introduced in the mid-1980s was an all-star event. What is now known as the All-Star Challenge began as "The Winston," an event open only to a select field of drivers. Held all but one year at the track in Charlotte, winners of "The Winston" include Darryl Waltrip, Davey Allison, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, and both Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. The last driver to win the event in 2003 was an up-and-comer named Jimmie Johnson.