With the running of this year's Indy 500 on Sunday, Chevy fans are reminded that 44 years ago the Camaro paced the 33 starters in 1969. This was followed by production of 3,675 Pace Car replicas that remain one of the most popular Camaro collectibles. But did you know that there was another series of Camaro Pace Cars that are much rarer and even more collectible?
This is the story of one seven 1969 NASCAR Pace Cars built for use at NASCAR tracks for the 1969 season, in this case at the car that paced the North Wilkesboro race on April 20. It has survived the past 44 years with its original drivetrain intact.
More than 40 years ago college professor Bruce Carlton of Tempe, Arizona, was bitten by the Camaro bug and contracted a life-long affliction for Chevy's seminal pony car. It started in 1970 with the purchase of a 1969 Z/28 Camaro which required working three jobs while in college to acquire. Then after going Camaro-less for 15 years he bought another 1969 Z/28 Camaro at the Barrett-Jackson auction followed by a basket case RS 1969 Z/28 Camaro. But these cars pale into insignificance when in 1996 he purchased the car you see here, one of the seven specially built 1969 NASCAR Pace Car Camaros. The car pictured here was the car assigned to the North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina. (It should be noted that Bruce and his very supportive wife Mary have since added another 1969 Camaro, this one for a long-planned ZL1 tribute project.)
Each car was manufactured at GM's Norwood, Ohio, plant where the vast majority of the production Z11 Indy Pace Car replicas were built. These are early-build 1969s, thus they were built with the short rear spoiler that was a carryover from the 1968 cars. The original sale was to NASCAR's home office in Daytona Beach, Florida, where they were distributed to six additional NASCAR's race tracks for use for the 1969 season for pace car duties. This was good for both NASCAR--which showed a Camaro with a connection to the Indy Pace Car and provided a degree of consistency for the 1969 season--as well as for Chevrolet which was able to promote the big block Camaro in the Southeast as a viable competitor to Ford's Mustang. A win-win for all concerned.
Each Camaro sported hand-painted lettering and logos advertising each track along with other sponsors. According to Bruce Carlton at the end of the 1969 NASCAR season each car was returned to its' original condition--painted white with logos and advertising removed--then turned back to Chevrolet for resale. Each track was offered the option to purchase the car at half retail price if they wanted to keep the car, an opportunity that some tracks did.
While the NASCAR Pace Cars were similar in appearance ro the Indianapolis Z11 Pace Cars, there were several distinctions. Most important was that the NASCAR Pace Cars were all equipped with the 396 big block. Each Dover White convertible carried the RS and SS packages but instead of the orange hounds' tooth interior found on the Indy Pace Cars, each NASCAR Pace Car was equipped with blue comfort weave vinyl interior trim. The rocker panels were painted black and the rear end (above the bumper) was also painted black, which was standard paint treatment for an SS-optioned car.
When getting down to the specifics of the North Wilkesboro car, Bruce has lots of history to tell. "Originally the North Wilkesboro Pace Car was driven by Enoch Staley who at the time was the