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It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 30 years since Racing Champions made its first NASCAR offerings in 1989. Featuring some of the sport’s most important names, from A.J. Foyt to Richard Petty, the simplistic yet highly collectible cars helped kick off a diecast boon for all racing series in the decade to come.

But those cars, while an important landmark in the history of racing diecast, would do very little to foreshadow the complex and detailed models that Lionel produces today. On the other hand, Stock Car Miniatures’ line of Winston Cup and Busch Grand National cars showed just how much could be done with a 1:64-scale piece—even if the final product came down to the consumer.

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Let me explain: an SCM car is actually much closer to a Revell scale model than it is to any other diecast, in that the person who bought it would be applying the decals (and sometimes paint) themselves. Early SCM offerings came with the Ertl, Maisto, or Matchbox offerings of the day, but by 1989, the company’s own castings would see more and more use. These cars would feature a metal body, three plastic pieces for the interior, windows, and base, and four plastic tires, necessitating a full assembly.

SCM hit its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s, producing cars for almost every driver that mattered in NASCAR’s top two divisions (and, occasionally, some pretty obscure cars). I’ve picked 1989 to showcase based on the fact that my Cup collection from that season is the largest, even though a couple of the cars in question aren’t in the greatest shape. Of these models, I only assembled one myself—Derrike Cope’s Purolator Chevrolet, which he would later use to win the 1990 Daytona 500.

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In many ways, the SCM models were a reflection of the era in NASCAR. The talent and ingenuity of the individual were king, and both the manufacturer and consumer reflected that. Unlike the modern day, SCM’s contracts with drivers and teams weren’t quite as complex, with only a handful of hoops to jump through (such as Bill Elliott’s agent requesting that Coors be left off of the models). It was also an era where paint schemes and sponsorships remained slightly more consistent, to the point where fans wouldn’t necessarily need to replace some cars (such as Dale Earnhardt’s iconic Goodwrench machine) every. Compare that to the modern day, where some drivers race a different look every week!

Unfortunately, by the mid-1990s, SCM was long gone; while it dealt with legal claims in its hometown that were eventually rendered baseless, Racing Champions and Action stepped up their production quality to fill the void. Still, SCM’s work was hugely important in how it set the stage for the diecast of today. It showed that, with the right means behind it, even the smallest of racing replicas could match the detail present on the real thing.

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