Motorists and automobile owners have given names to their cars since the first Model T rolled off the assembly line. The nickname usually reflected something in the car‘s mechanical personality. If a car was special to someone, it had a name. One of the most famous was — and still is — “Midnight.”

Midnight was a brand-new, shiny black Pontiac Grand Prix when 1989 NASCAR Cup Series champion Rusty Wallace drove it for the first time, at Richmond Raceway on September 12, 1992. Rusty led 231 laps of the Miller Genuine Draft 400 and parked his Miller Genuine Draft Penske Pontiac in victory lane.

“The race went long due to rain delays,” said Wallace. “My p.r. guy was Tom Roberts — ‘TRPR‘ — and he looked at his Timex just as I took the checkered flag. He stuck his head in the window and said, ‘I‘ve got a great name for this car. You crossed the finish line right at midnight, so let‘s call it Midnight.‘ “

Midnight began life as a Ronnie Hopkins chassis (PRS-009), delivered to Team Penske. Fitted with the Pontiac  body, and fine-tuned by Penske‘s mechanics, Midnight was an out-of-the-box frontrunner. After Wallace won with it in Richmond, he raced it four more times in 1992 and scored three top-five finishes and one top-10.

Midnight was busy during the 1993 season. The car was slated to run in 15 races that year, and after it finished second at Richmond in March, it swept all three races held in April — Bristol, North Wilkesboro, and Martinsville. Wallace led 120 laps at North Wilkesboro and 409 of 500 laps at Martinsville. Midnight got a much-deserved rest in the Penske shops for the next two months, then returned with a vengeance, scoring five wins in its final nine starts. Wallace rolled into victory lane a total of 10 times during the 1993 season — with eight of them behind the wheel of Midnight. Wallace narrowly missed winning a second Cup Series championship, finishing second to Dale Earnhardt Sr. by 80 points (4,526 to 4,446).

Team Penske switched from Pontiacs to Fords for the 1994 campaign and Midnight was reskinned with Thunderbird sheetmetal. Wallace scored at Rockingham in February, leading 347 of laps 492 laps. The following week, Wallace and Midnight finished second at Richmond, followed by another runner-up run at North Wilkesboro. Wallace also claimed second place in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May. Midnight‘s final five starts garnered three more wins, including a sweep of the Dover races along with the night race at Bristol.

Midnight was retired at the end of the 1994 season. It was one of the most dominant race cars in NASCAR history, propelling Wallace to 13 victories and 30 top-five finishes. Midnight led more than 5,000 laps during its 1992-1994 run.

“That was one of my most popular cars,” said Wallace. “I used it when I was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2013.

“Mr. Penske gave the car to me. He said, ‘This is Rusty‘s car.‘ My son Greg is a historian. He said, ‘Dad, let‘s put this car back to 100 percent.‘ “

The car did not come with Midnight‘s racing engine. Robert Yates was a premier Ford racing engine builder back in the day. Wallace tapped Yates‘ son, Doug, to build a period-correct power plant for the car.

“It took a while, but he found all the new, unused vintage parts and put together a complete, correct engine. You should hear it when we fire it up. It has an all-new suspension. The car is 100-percent race ready.”

Midnight will be on display on the WWTR midway on race weekend, next to the Kenny Wallace Live! stage. On race day it will pace the field at the start of the Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter.

“I‘m excited to do it,” Wallace added. “We‘re gonna take Midnight to St. Louis. It‘s my back yard. It‘s where I cut my (racing) teeth.”

— World Wide Technology Raceway —

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *