Dale’s Early Cup Ride Replica: 1973 Ford Gran Torino

While Dale Earnhardt remains a household name due to his time behind the wheel of his legendary #3 Chevrolets, little is widely known about his rough and tumble rise to stardom.  Driven by a furious desire to be a great race car driver like his father, Earnhardt spent many years racing not just for fun, but often for food and rent.  His story was, imperfectly by many accounts, told by an ESPN television movie “3: The Dale Earnhardt Story.”  One of the cars featured in the movie was this 1973 Ford Gran Torino being sold on eBay out of Cedar Bluff, Virginia.  Built to look like a car driven by Earnhardt in 1978, this movie replica is sitting at a bid of just $1,580 with three days left to go.  Would having a piece of minor TV movie history be worth the low price of admission to any Earnhardt fans out there?

Today’s NASCAR drivers are a slickly packaged combination of a career in karting that usually stretches back to their kindergarten days and an equally sized helping of Madison Avenue slickness.  The rough and tumble whiskey running good ol’ boy days of NASCAR have been refined away from the show, and that is what is one large reason why the stands are often half empty.  That era seemingly passed when Earnhardt left us.  As things stand today, he probably wouldn’t have even been considered for a Cup ride.  NASCAR seems to currently have an unhealthy aversion to drivers with Earnhardt’s persona.

Dale Earnhardt grew up in the mill town of Kannapolis, North Carolina, and was the son of one of the greatest drivers in North Carolina and probably would have been a NASCAR great if he had made a concerted effort to move up from the fiercely competitive short tracks in the area.  He taught Dale to be the dominant driver in the race, but the lesson of keeping your car in one piece didn’t take until later.  Earnhardt’s reputation in the early days was that of a driver that was hard on a car.  He would also do what it took to win, even if it was considered “dirty driving” at the time.  Racing was such an obsession that he spent every dime his family had to get to the track, and he often placed himself in situations where he had to win to provide for his family.

Earnhardt drove hobby stock cars on dirt tracks, but wanted to advance to more lucrative rides in NASCAR.  Before his father died, he told Dale that he had to learn to drive on asphalt and move up to NASCAR racing.  Dale finally competed in his first official points race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway World 600 in 1975.  He competed in only eight more races in the next few years, and finally landed a ride in 1979 that resulted in him winning Rookie of the Year.  A championship followed in 1980, but wins were elusive for the next few years.  During his first stint at Richard Childress Racing, Childress was told by Junior Johnson to let Earnhardt drive for someone else (Bud Moore) until he learned how to not wreck cars.  Childress, who could ill afford to pay for Earnhardt’s learning curve, agreed.  When the pair got back together in 1984, the rest was history.

The car you see here was built up by Fast Track Driving in Harrisburg, North Carolina for use in the movie.  Packing a 351 cubic inch V-8 and an automatic transmission, it is clear that this was a street car built up enough to serve as a replica of one of Earnhardt’s cars when he drove for the underfunded team of Will Conkrite.  The father of the seller purchased the car in an auction after the movie wrapped, and it sat in a garage until recently.  The car currently runs and drives, and is sitting in the seller’s showroom as of this writing.  The car appears to be a far cry from the purpose built machines that put into motion NASCAR’s glory days.  However, the seller points out that it would be a fun car for parades, shows, and advertising.  It might even be a good start to a popular replica to vintage race.  There are sadly no pictures of the interior and engine to share.

While the connection to the television movie probably doesn’t add much to the value of the car, it does make an interesting reminder of a time where Dale Earnhardt was making a name for himself in racing.  It was his amazing focus on the goal of being a winning driver in NASCAR that brought him from humble beginnings to the legendary status he eventually attained.  The main thing to remember about Dale Earnhardt was that he was living proof that hard work, sacrifice, and tenacity can take you far in life.


  1. jimbunte jimbunte Member

    Really well written article, and could not agree more about the state of NASCAR today.

    Like 20
  2. sir mike

    Today NASCAR is just made for TV.Look at the stands and you see many empty seats.Run in 3 heats?? Don’t get it.A Mustang in stock car??? Put a decal on the nose to make it a “stock car”?? Bring back the older days….just my thoughts.

    Like 18
    • KKW

      Nothing unusual about pony cars in stock car racing. We’re you around in the 60s?

      Like 2
      • Dave

        I was, and don’t recall anything but mid size cars in Winston Cup races. Back then they were not shown live, but on Wide World of Sports. They used to carry the demolition derby from Islip, New York as well. People raced Tempests, Chevelles, Satellites, Coronets, Comets, and Fairlanes.

        Like 8
  3. john

    wrong year and bodystyle

    Like 6
  4. KKW

    @Dave. Before Winston Cup, it was called Grand National. Mustangs and Camaros were used in some of those races. Then there was Trans Am racing, Mustangs, Camaros, Cudas, and AMX’s.

    Like 3
  5. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

    I won’t get into any NASCAR discussion or Dale Earnhardt discussion…. So specific to this car, it unfortunately has even less practical use than many of our cherished classic rides, not unlike what one can (can’t) do with an old fire truck. Further, most Dale Earnhardt fans would probably blanch at owning this car because…. it is a Ford.

    Like 6
    • scottymac

      Blanching now because a Ford owner allowed Earnhardt to drive it.

      Like 1
  6. Troy s

    Looks like the lone Ford Torino that used to race in either street stock or bomber stock out here at El Cajon Speedway, ha, surrounded by bow ties!..not like Mr. Earnhardt’s Nascar racer. It’s an interesting car featured here but I don’t know what you’d do with it really. Interesting history here about the real hard driver. Couldn’t believe that crash killed him, compared to some of the rollercoaster absolute freakish wrecks we’ve all seen before. Long live #3!!!

    Like 2
  7. moosie moosie

    NASCAR needs help, it has changed so much and to be called stock car racing is a very big stretch, the cars are all “belly button” cars. I think it started losing most of its allure when the cars that raced on the tracks got further and further away from what you could go and buy from the manufacturers. I think every ones values have changed, for the better, for the worse, who is to say but now there are just too many rules and attitudes and the racing that put the fans in the seats is slipping away. No more rubbing and banging for position and when there is, too many hurt feelings arise and penalties are dished out. These racers are (most of ’em anyway)out there to race and win, not to play chess or checkers. One of the few good things to come about in todays cars is the safety aspect & the technology involved to get small blocks to run as fast as the big blocks did before NASCAR outlawed them for being too fast, aero packages ? Thats all I have to say about that, ,,,, well maybe one more thing, why are there no Dodges involved in the cars series as well as the trucks ? Did someone at Chrysler piss off the France family ? Oh yeah this car,,,,,,,, why bother ? Peace

    Like 6
    • Troy s

      Agreed, once the g-body GM cars disappeared things got kinda wierd and definitely did not resemble or represent anything from that manufacturer. Ford Thunderbirds looked good early on, the Taurus not so much. I honestly don’t know what happened at Chrysler when they bailed a few years ago, maybe finance? The fact that Toyota is a part of Nascar these days would have started a small riot not many decades ago.. different times these are. Extreme sells, sometimes not always a good thing.

      Like 2
      • moosie moosie

        Jack Roush is just now coming back after being ostracized by NASTYCAR for negative comments about them allowing Toyota to field their cars. I wonder what will happen if and when Honda is allowed in ? Yes, I know that there are Toyotas and Hondas being assembled in the states . With very few exceptions there are very few drivers today that would amount to a pimple on the a$$ of the likes of Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Sr. Bobby Allison,Junior Johnson, ETC. I really miss those days.

        Like 9
      • Dave

        Mopar wanted to run the then-new Hemi 5.7. Fearing that history would repeat itself, NASCAR refused and Mopar said goodbye. The old motor was a Magnum 5.9 derivative and had become uncompetitive.

        Like 2
      • cunnanm

        Dodge left because Penske moved to Ford and there was no competitive team willing to run the new Dodge car that was actually designed and presented for approval. There was hope that Petty would come home, but they did not (they were/are not championship quality) so Dodge decided that if they couldn’t win why bother spend the money. I doubt they will ever return unless cost and rules change. Toyota competes with an engine that is not available for passenger car purchase as they don’t make a push rod V8 engine. Stock car? Even less today than when the front wheel drivers converted to rear wheel drive were introduced. It’s all about the drivers today and not the cars. You rarely even see the auto makes listed on TV these days. The bodies look nothing like the stickered head and tail lights. No more win on Sunday, sell on Monday. Maybe that is a reason the stands are more than half empty!

      • moosie moosie

        @ CUNNANUM ,,, thank you for that explanation, sounds logical, Penske, Petty ETC, It seems like the Frances’ are calling all the shots and will continue to do so since they basically invented NASCAR. I hope that some change comes about so it doesnt die. Peoples interest change and it seems that the more the rules are changed more and more empty seats at the races appear, NHRA is experiencing the same exodus of fans, It gets boring to see the same teams dominating the winners circle.

  8. Bing

    Life long racing fan. As a kid in the late fifties and early sixties, we had NASCAR short tracks both dirt and asphalt to go to all summer long. From upstate NY, we had great tracks and great racing. Once a year the NASCR big boys, Yarbourghs, Allisons, Petty, Lund, and the rest of the greats would take a northern tour and run half mile dirt ovals. After the race you could go to the infield and meet these guys and they were , just regular guys.
    Fast forward to the early 2000’s. I was president of a public company, and we were minor sponsors for a fairly notable driver (hint. he had a brother and won Daytona once). We had a personal services contract with the gentlemen, and he would meet and greet customers for us, and always was a gracious man.
    Once at Indy, we were doing a press release about a charity, and there we were below the Pagoda, even Bill Lafrance was there, but no driver. He showed up without his NASCAR pass for that particular race and they would not let him in the track. He showed them his photo ID, no dice. If you were walking through an airport and saw him you’d know who he was and yet on that day, a Nascar official who HAD to know who he was denied him entrance to the infield… NASCAR and their rules, identical cars, over controlling attitude, and ever changing regulations have killed the sport. The days of independent drivers following the races around the country are long gone… Good rest your soul Huck Spaulding and Wendal Scott.
    I know this has nothing to do with Barn Finds, but I couldn’t help getting up on the soap box.

    Like 16
  9. moosie moosie

    @ Dave, thank you for that explanation about the 5.7 HEMI & NASCAR not allowing it, I’m surprised they didnt allow it with a weight penalty, like IMSA is doing to the C7R Corvettes, I wonder what they will do to the new C-8’s when the start racing ?

    Like 2
    • Steve R

      By the late-90’s NASCAR teams we’re using purpose built race engines. These were not related to production engines. The Mopar R5 engine, which was used by the Dodges in NASCAR was approved in late-2000 for Dodges return for the 2001 season. The 5.7 liter Hemi didn’t come out until several years later. The two engines have nothing in common, just like the Chevy SB2 which was used in NASCAR and the production based GM LS V8 engines, both of which were introduced within a year or two of each other.

      By the way, Dave is wrong, Mopar pulled out of NASCAR in 2012, 8 years after the Hemi was put into production. The 5.9L magnum engine was never used when Dodge returned to NASCAR. Search Mopar R5, if you want more information.

      Steve R

      Like 2
      • moosie moosie

        So why is Chrysler / mopar / Dodge still out ?

      • Steve R

        It’s not because they couldn’t run the Hemi.

        Whatever it is, with the decline of NASCAR’s popularity it looks to have been a smart decision. Each manufacturer was spending well over $100 million a year to support their involvement when you factor in engineering and all forms of marketing in the mid-2000’s. That’s a lot of money, maybe they didn’t think they were seeing a return. That makes more sense for them leaving than the alternative notion previously floated.

        Steve R

        Like 4
  10. Wayne

    The only thing to do with this car is to properly make a vintage stock car/clone to Dale’s car. That way you could have fun with it at track days and shows and the movie provenance might mean something. But, the cost would still be way over what you can buy a several year old “real” NASCAR roller these days.

  11. stillrunners stillrunners Member

    And don’t forget about the Dodge Charger he drove in those early days….

    Like 1
  12. Ken

    Love the comments about Earnhardt fans “blanching” at thought of him driving a Ford. if his fans understood NASCAR history, they’d know that back in the day, if an owner expressed interest in an eager young driver without a ride, said driver did not complain, “But…but that’s not a Chevy!” They drove whatever the owner gave them to drive.

    Ricky Rudd, for example, drove Fords, Mercurys, Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, and Chevys in his career. If it had four wheels and a gas pedal, Ricky drove it, period.

    Like 5
  13. Bing

    Ken, Great comment and true. If you go way back to the 50’s when dirt track racing, born on the back country dirt tracks of America, the hottest set up was a Ford coupe, model A to 36, 37 with a hopped up Flathead V 8. At that time the Chevys and Chrysler products had straight 6’s or 8’s and while competitive in the hands of some, usually were not in the winners circle. Cant forget the Hudson Hornets that came into being in the mid fifties… You can go through car museums in the south and no display is complete without a couple of ridge running moonshiner cars, usually Ford sedans tricked out to carry the load with extra springs and a hot dual carburated flathead Ford.

    Like 3
  14. James Martin

    Another left turn. Me and my wife watched nascar for years. Was watching when Earnhardt lost his life at Daytona. Nascar has ruled and regulated the sport to death. It is no fun watching the same cars win every week. Watching them ride around in single file, no racing until maybe the last lap, and even then the cars are so tuned down that they could pass if they tried. Nevertheless we dont watch nascar any more.

    Like 4
    • shanahan

      A 400 mile race? I watch the last 50 miles…Nascar killed itself with all the rules. It just got stupid trying to improve on something that was great to start with.

      Like 5
      • moosie moosie


        Like 1
  15. Steve S

    Another thing the people that drive in Nascar know what they are getting into and know that anything can happen either good or bad at anytime. Especially back when Dale Sr. all the other greats was still driving.


    Dale also had a hand in the Chrysler kit car race car based on the Plymouth Volare Dodge Aspen. Since he was a great dirt track racer Chrysler asked for Dales input. I don’t know if he ever raced that car or not.
    Also one of his early cars was PINK
    I did not see the ESPN movie but I had the 6 DVD box set DALE which was approved by Dale Jr. Teresa etc. which apparently left out this car and part of the story
    Personally He could have driven a VW bettle and I would have still been a fan of his. As far as the current NASCAR I am in total agreement that the safety improvements were needed but otherwise the racing has been ruined.

    Like 1
    • KKW

      The early PINK car you mentioned, was a pink 56 Ford Fairlane, with the #K2 on the doors. I have a die-cast replica of it.

      Like 1
  17. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    Sold for $2280.

Leave A Comment

RULES: No profanity, politics, or personal attacks.

Become a member to add images to your comments.


Keep me in the conversation via email. Or subscribe without commenting.