The mid-1990s might have been the perfect time for NASCAR to launch a third national class of racing. Interest was at an all-time high, with the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 and its entry list of 80-plus cars a sure sign of that. With Winston Cup competition at its fiercest and the Busch Grand National Series an effective feeder class, but both series hovering under 30 events, there was undoubtedly an appetite for more stock car racing, or—in this case—stock trucks.
A number of off-road racers, concerned with the future of desert racing, first came up with the idea of bringing truck racing to NASCAR. A prototype was built in 1994, and it didn’t take more than a year for that vehicle to go from an idea to the basis of a full-fledged racing series. In the spring of 1994, the NASCAR SuperTruck Series was born.
After a number of short-field races in the winter, the series officially debuted on February 5, 1995 at Phoenix International Raceway. Part of the 18th annual Copper World Classic, the new series helped the event set an attendance record of 38,000. While team owners like “Scoop” Vessels and Jim Smith, both of whom conceptualized the series, came from a desert background, many of NASCAR’s top teams also ventured into the new effort; in fact, four of the top five finishers in Phoenix were either a Winston Cup driver or drove for a Winston Cup team.
Racing Champions produced the largest amount of these vehicles, having not only done the 1995 trucks but also a number of the Winter Heat Fords from the year before. But it was Action who secured some of the biggest names, and most unique vehicles, as exclusives to its line. Complete with a Skybox tallboy trading card, they produced 11 trucks from 10 drivers in all.
Most of the Winston Cup licensees made it to both the Action and Racing Champions lines. Mike Skinner’s championship-winning Richard Childress Racing truck was among them, even as RCR’s Dale Earnhardt left Racing Champions entirely after 1994. So too were the self-owned trucks of Geoff Bodine and Ken Schrader, the Hendrick Motorsports ride of Scott Lagasse (themed off of Jeff Gordon’s 1995 Winston Cup-winning DuPont scheme), and the SuperTruck-only teams of Rick Carelli and Butch Miller.
Irvan-Simo Racing, however, was one of the Action-exclusive teams. Its full-time entry for Joe Ruttman made the cut here, as did the NAPA-sponsored truck that Ernie Irvan raced in his return from life-threatening injuries at Michigan the year before. Also making the cut for Action’s line was Kenji Momota, the first Japanese driver to start a national NASCAR series event; a broadcast journalist by trade, he once attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and later served as a pit reporter for NASCAR’s first Japanese race at Suzuka.
But no discussion of Action’s first year of SuperTruck diecast would be complete without Ron Hornaday. Signed to compete for Dale Earnhardt Inc., his initially unsponsored truck would later carry Papa John’s decals as he earned six wins and four poles on the way to third in points. The next season, he earned the NAPA sponsorship and took the championship; in a career that spanned nearly 20 years, he earned four titles and 51 wins in all, and earlier this year, he became the first NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee to primarily spend his time in trucks.
The initial fervor of what is now the Camping World Truck Series has long since worn off in the memorabilia market. Other than race wins, it’s hard to find trucks produced even at the 1:24 scale, much less 1:64. But it’s certainly fun to relive one of the most exciting and innovative periods of NASCAR’s history by looking back at those first-year productions.