T-Rex, Gray Ghost and NASCAR’s Most Iconic Car Nicknames
NASCAR has plenty of famous handles for drivers, including The Intimidator, The King or Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, and over the years there have also been some memorable NASCAR car nicknames. Here is a look at some of the most iconic NASCAR car nicknames that have been etched into the annals of stock car racing history.
Alan Kulwicki’s ‘Underbird’
Everyone loves a good underdog story, and one of NASCAR’s greatest such triumphs was accomplished by Alan Kulwicki and his appropriately nicknamed “Underbird” in the 1992 Cup season.
Kulwicki had already established himself as a strong contender in the field having won the 1986 Rookie of the Year crown and several races by 1992. This was despite Kulwicki’s limited resources as an owner-driver. Ahead of the 1990 season, Kulwicki even turned down an opportunity to drive for famed owner Junior Johnson, preferring to chart his own path.
Though Kulwicki’s team consisted of just 14 employees, including his receptionist, according to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his 1992 season was exceptional. Ahead of the final races of the year, Kulwicki was a legitimate championship contender. This inspired the team to remove the “Th” from his Ford Thunderbird, creating the “Underbird” as a nod to his underdog status as a championship contender.
In the final race of the 1992 season at Atlanta, in which six drivers had an opportunity to claim the championship, Kulwicki placed second behind Bill Elliott, another title challenger. However, Kulwicki led one more lap than Elliott during the race, earning him bonus points that earned Kulwicki and his AK Racing team perhaps the most unlikely NASCAR championship in history. A true “underbird” story of an underdog’s triumph.
Buddy Baker’s ‘Gray Ghost’
Buddy Baker’s 1979-80 Oldsmobile was a menace for other drivers, particularly on superspeedways. It wasn’t just the outright speed of Baker’s black and gray No. 28 — drivers said the color scheme allowed it to “blend” into the surface of the track. As such, other drivers struggled to see it in their mirrors until the speed of the streamlined Olds and Baker roared by them, Hendrick Motorsports claims. And it certainly had speed. Baker earned several wins in the car, including the 1980 Daytona 500 in which he averaged over 177 mph throughout the race, a record that stands today.
Thus, Baker’s No. 28 was dubbed the “Gray Ghost” for its ability to seemingly show up out of thin air and vanish in an instant.
Several newer cars have paid homage to the Gray Ghost scheme, most notably, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 2016 Darlington throwback.
Jeff Gordon’s ‘T-Rex’
In 1997, Jeff Gordon’s “The Winston” All-Star Race ride was so good, it was banned.
Ray Evernham, Gordon’s crew chief at the time with Hendrick Motorsports, said his team was challenged by Rick Hendrick to build the ultimate NASCAR stock car within the confinements of the rule book. Using a unique setup, Evernham said the No. 24 Chevrolet was lapping over a second quicker at Charlotte during testing. It was just as impressive during the race. Gordon and his “T-Rex” — dubbed so because of its Jurassic Park: The Ride special paint scheme and perhaps as a nod to chassis engineer Rex Stump — dominated.
T-Rex was so quick NASCAR effectively banned it despite its compliance with the rule book. Between the T-Rex’s domination and subsequent ban, it remains one of the most memorable one-offs of NASCAR competition in the 1990s.
Rusty Wallace’s ‘Midnight’
Many NASCAR car nicknames are attributed to its sponsor or livery, but underneath what’s obvious to viewers, a chassis often gets its own nickname. One of the most dominant NASCAR chassis over the past few decades was Rusty Wallace’s “Midnight.”
Wallace turned around the fortunes of Team Penske by winning the fall race at Richmond in 1992 in the chassis’ debut. The race ended near midnight, and thus it earned its new nickname. That moniker became iconic due to Midnight’s success.
From 1992-94, Midnight earned 13 victories, 30 top-five finishes and led over 5,000 laps, according to Team Penske. Midnight’s dominance even ran across two manufacturers, Pontiac and Ford.
Darrell Waltrip’s ‘Bertha’
Darrell Waltrip sports a nickname of his own, “Jaws,” and his cars also bore their own monikers. Along with “Wanda,” perhaps Waltrip’s most iconic ride was “Bertha.”
Waltrip raced the No. 88 green and white Gatorade-sponsored Monte Carlo throughout the late 1970s and 1980. In 2018, he called it “one of the best race cars I ever drove!” For good reason. It was undoubtedly a winner.
According to SpeedSport, Waltrip and Bertha captured 19 wins from 1977-80.
Additionally, the car earned its own nickname, “Buckshot Bertha,” for its creative way of breaking the rule book. Though Bertha wasn’t the only car to use the method, car builder Banjo Matthews installed a hollow frame rail in Waltrip’s ride. This rail could be filled with buckshot, allowing the car to meet weight regulations. But over the course of the race, the buckshot would “drain” from the rail, thus making the car lighter.