Motorists and automobile owners have given names to their cars since the first Model T rolled off the assembly line. The nickname usually reflected something in the car’s mechanical personality. If a car was special to someone, it had a name. One of the most famous was – and still is -- “Midnight.”
Midnight was a brand-new, shiny black Pontiac Grand Prix when 1989 NASCAR Cup Series champion Rusty Wallace drove it for the first time, at Richmond Raceway on September 12, 1992. Rusty led 231 laps of the Miller Genuine Draft 400 and parked his Miller Genuine Draft Penske Pontiac in victory lane.
“The race went long due to rain delays,” said Wallace. “My p.r. guy was Tom Roberts – ‘TRPR’ – and he looked at his Timex just as I took the checkered flag. He stuck his head in the window and said, ‘I’ve got a great name for this car. You crossed the finish line right at midnight, so let’s call it Midnight.’ “
Midnight began life as a Ronnie Hopkins chassis (PRS-009), delivered to Team Penske. Fitted with the Pontiac body, and fine-tuned by Penske’s mechanics, Midnight was an out-of-the-box frontrunner. After Wallace won with it in Richmond, he raced it four more times in 1992 and scored three top-five finishes and one top-10.
Midnight was busy during the 1993 season. The car was slated to run in 15 races that year, and after it finished second at Richmond in March, it swept all three races held in April -- Bristol, North Wilkesboro, and Martinsville. Wallace led 120 laps at North Wilkesboro and 409 of 500 laps at Martinsville. Midnight got a much-deserved rest in the Penske shops for the next two months, then returned with a vengeance, scoring five wins in its final nine starts. Wallace rolled into victory lane a total of 10 times during the 1993 season – with eight of them behind the wheel of Midnight. Wallace narrowly missed winning a second Cup Series championship, finishing second to Dale Earnhardt Sr. by 80 points (4,526 to 4,446).
Team Penske switched from Pontiacs to Fords for the 1994 campaign and Midnight was reskinned with Thunderbird sheetmetal. Wallace scored at Rockingham in February, leading 347 of laps 492 laps. The following week, Wallace and Midnight finished second at Richmond, followed by another runner-up run at North Wilkesboro. Wallace also claimed second place in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May. Midnight’s final five starts garnered three more wins, including a sweep of the Dover races along with the night race at Bristol.
Midnight was retired at the end of the 1994 season. It was one of the most dominant race cars in NASCAR history, propelling Wallace to 13 victories and 30 top-five finishes. Midnight led more than 5,000 laps during its 1992-1994 run.
“That was one of my most popular cars,” said Wallace. “I used it when I was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2013.
“Mr. Penske gave the car to me. He said, ‘This is Rusty’s car.’ My son Greg is a historian. He said, ‘Dad, let’s put this car back to 100 percent.’ “
The car did not come with Midnight’s racing engine. Robert Yates was a premier Ford racing engine builder back in the day. Wallace tapped Yates’ son, Doug, to build a period-correct power plant for the car.
“It took a while, but he found all the new, unused vintage parts and put together a complete, correct engine. You should hear it when we fire it up. It has an all-new suspension. The car is 100-percent race ready.”
Midnight will be on display on the WWTR midway on race weekend, next to the Kenny Wallace Live! stage. On race day it will pace the field at the start of the Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter.
“I’m excited to do it,” Wallace added. “We’re gonna take Midnight to St. Louis. It’s my back yard. It’s where I cut my (racing) teeth.”
WWTR’s second annual NASCAR Cup Series Weekend begins on Thursday, June 1, with a fanfest at Ballpark Village in downtown St. Louis from 4-7 p.m.
The track opens on Friday, June 2, for Free Friday. Fans activities include the opportunity to see the NASCAR haulers, watch the NASCAR hauler parade, a guided track walk, and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Toyota 200 practice and qualifying.
NASCAR Cup Series practice begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 3, followed by qualifying for the Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Toyota 200 is slated to take the green flag at 12:30 p.m., followed by the inaugural JJK 5k. Music artists Flo Rida and Tim Dugger will take the stage beginning at 5:15 p.m.
Spectator gates will open at 7 a.m. on Sunday, June 4, for the second annual Enjoy Illinois 300 NASCAR Cup Series race. Driver introductions will take place at 1:55 p.m. with the green flag at 2:30 p.m. Brittney Spencer, Bailey Zimmerman and Brothers Osborne will perform on the Confluence Music Festival’s main stage beginning at 10:30 a.m. Country music superstar Dierks Bentley will take the stage at 6:30 p.m. for a post-race concert.
THURSDAY, JUNE 1
4-7 p.m. -- Fanfest at Ballpark Village, downtown St. Louis.
FRIDAY, JUNE 2 – FREE FRIDAY
10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. -- NASCAR haulers Touch-a-Truck. Located in the Special Events lot. See the NASCAR haulers, meet the hauler drivers. Photo opportunities. Open to everyone.
11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. -- Lunch with Legends featuring Kenny Wallace. This is a ticketed event and is sold out. Lunch at 11 a.m. Q&A session at 11:30 a.m. Located on Midway Stage No. 3.
12 p.m. – NASCAR Cup Series haulers parade to the all-new Gateway Garage. Fans invited to the grandstands to watch the parade of NASCAR Cup Series haulers as they enter the track.
2 p.m. -- Guided fan Track Walk. Fans may walk a lap around the World Wide Technology Raceway oval with a special guest from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. (Driver TBA).
3 p.m. to 8 p.m. – NASCAR Cup Series technical inspections. Fans with Saturday or Sunday Infield Fan Experience passes may watch the NASCAR Cup Series’ technical inspection process and get a preview of the all-new Gateway Garage Experience.
5 p.m. -- NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Toyota 200 practice.
5:30 p.m. -- NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Toyota 200 qualifying.
SATURDAY, JUNE 3 – NASCAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES TOYOTA 200, CONFLUENCE MUSIC FESTIVAL, JACKIE JOYNER-KERSEE JJK 5k
6 a.m. – Parking lots open.
7 a.m. -- Spectator gates and Infield Fan Experience open. All Midway stages go live for Confluence Music Festival.
9 a.m. -- NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter practice.
9:45 a.m. -- NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter qualifying.
11 a.m. – NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver autograph session (Infield Fan Experience).
12 p.m. – NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Toyota 200 driver introductions.
12:30 p.m. – NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Toyota 200 (160 laps).
3:30 p.m. – Jackie Joyner-Kersee JJK 5k.
4 p.m. – Car show (pit road).
5:15 p.m. – Flo Rida performance.
6:30 p.m. -- Tim Dugger: Saturday Wrap-Up Party on the Midway.
8 p.m. – Campground concert.
8:30 p.m. – Track gates closed.
SUNDAY, JUNE 4 -- NASCAR CUP SERIES ENJOY ILLINOIS 300, CONFLUENCE MUSIC FESTIVAL STARRING DIERKS BENTLEY
6 a.m. -- Parking lots open.
7 a.m. – Spectator gates and Infield Fan Experience open. All Midway stages go live for Confluence Music Festival.
8 a.m. – Motor Racing Outreach non-denominational Sunday service (stage near Turn 4 tunnel).
9 a.m. -- Garage Guys Live (stage near Turn 4 tunnel).
9:30 a.m. -- Kenny Wallace Live! with John Roberts (Midway).
10 a.m. -- Track open to fan access.
10:30 a.m. -- Confluence main stage: Brittney Spencer.
11:15 a.m. -- Confluence main stage: Bailey Zimmerman.
12:30 p.m. -- Confluence main stage: Brothers Osborne.
1:50 p.m. – NASCAR drivers Red Carpet Walk.
1:55 p.m. – NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter driver introductions.
2:30 p.m. – NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter (240 laps, 300 miles).
6 p.m. -- Post-race Track Walk, fan access for concert (time approximate).
6:30 p.m. – Confluence main stage: Dierks Bentley.
7 p.m. – Infield Fan Experience closes.
Schedule subject to change.
For tickets and additional information, please call WWTR at (618) 215-8888 or visit www.wwtraceway.com. Follow @WWTRaceway on social media.