I remember watching stock car races on TV with my granddad and uncle at my grandparent’s house back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The races were popular, but not the spectacle that they are now. It seems like ESPN started broadcasting them on the new “cable TV” in 1980 or ’81, but we were still watching them on NBC SportsWorld, because the only racing you could get on CBS WIde World Of Sports back then was Grand Prix.
In the 1981 Winston Cup season for example, you saw Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison trading victories back and forth with an occasional Richard Petty or Cale Yarborough upset. The funny thing about that ’81 season though…it was dominated by the Buick Regal! What set the Regal apart from the Pontiac Grand Prix, the Chrysler Imperial, the Ford Thunderbird, the Chevy Monte Carlo, and the Olds Cutlass which are the other makes and models raced that year, was pure aerodynamics.
GM had dictated that all it’s cars in the series would be powered by the Chevy 358 small block, so the only way for the Buick Regal to set itself apart from the herd, apart from the nut behind the wheel, was in airflow. The Regal featured a fairly raked windshield, the double sloped grill, and smooth side panels all the way down the car. The combination of smooth airflow over the body, the 358 under the hood, stunningly good handling on the track, and a talented butt in the seat, brought home 12 wins and 21 finishes in the top five, and even more Regals in the top 10, across the 30 race season.
Darrell Waltrip won the Winston Cup championship in a Buick, Bobby Allison came in second in a Buick, Harry Grant came in third in a Buick, Terry Labonte came in fourth in a Buick, Ricky Rudd came sixth in a Buick, and even The King, Mr Richard Petty placed 8th in his only season driving Buicks.
So when you see that beat up Buick Regal driving down the street, remember this: it may be 34 years since the Regal’s heyday but there my friend, goes a former thoroughbred.