KINGSPORT — Kingsport lost its Food City Family Race Night event this year, but race fans can still see an impressive collection of vintage race cars any day of the week at a downtown business.
Marty Mullins, who owns Wallace News at 205 Broad St., began collecting plastic model race cars around 1961. The crown jewel of his collection is a replica of Fireball Roberts’ 1961 Pontiac, but Mullins’ collection on display in the store includes most of the favorite entries from the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s.
His collection is so impressive that Mullins and his cars were featured last year in an edition of the national magazine Speedway Illustrated.
Three shelves in a glass display counter are filled with model cars, and the wall behind the counter is stacked almost to the ceiling with model cars that haven’t been put together and are still in their box.
Favorite NASCAR entries from the 1960s are on the top shelf of the counter including Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Bobby Isaac, Ned Jarrett, Joe Weatherly, Rex White, Tiny Lund, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Pancho Carter, Fred Lorenzen and Bobby Allison. There’s also a few of the more obscure drivers including Nelson Stacy and Elmo Langley.
The lower two shelves could fill a starting lineup for any random 1980s or early 1990s race being rebroadcast on ESPN Classic.
Several examples of Dale Earnhardt’s car are featured, as well as some examples of Davey Allison’s. That’s where Darrell Waltrip’s post Junior Johnson era cars are also displayed including his No. 17 Tide entry that he drove to victory in the 1989 Daytona 500.
There are obscure cars on the lower shelves as well. Diehard NASCAR fans will remember the No. 84 Chevy that Tennessee driver Mike Alexander drove in the mid-1980s before his promising career was shortened by wreck injuries.
The boxes on the upper shelves are even more impressive. Harry Gant from the 1980s, a few examples of Darrell Waltrip from his Junior Johnson heyday, Kyle Petty as a fresh-faced kid, and the dominant Bill Elliott cars of the 1980s.
Dale Earnhardt is well represented in his early Richard Childress Racing days and even earlier in the Bud Moore No. 15 Wrangler car. And then there’s Bud Moore’s replacement driver for the No. 15 after Earnhardt left, Ricky Rudd.
There’s a rare two-car box featuring 1984 teammates Darrell Waltrip and Neil Bonnett in the No. 11 and No. 12 Budweiser Monte Carlos when they both drove for Junior Johnson.
Probably not many people remember Buddy Baker or Donnie Allison driving for the Wood Brothers, but Mullins has both of those cars in unopened boxes. One of the more rare unopened boxes is the early 1970s red, white and blue No. 16 Roger Penske owned AMC Matador driven most prominently by Bobby Allison — although this kit doesn’t specify a driver.
There’s even an unopened model of the 1973 Chevy that Tennessee driver Coo Coo Marlin drove to victory in one of the 1973 Twin 125 qualifying races at Daytona.
Not long ago someone from Winston-Salem, N.C., attempted to buy Mullins’ collection. The man was building a scale model replica of Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte and wanted the 1960s model cars to fill out his starting lineup.
“They came up here at least two trips, and maybe three, and asked me what I wanted for them, and I said I don’t want to sell them,” Mullins said. “They said for the right price I would, and I said ‘No, I still don’t want to sell them.’ I enjoy looking at them, and that’s one reason I never did sell them.”
Mullins accumulated his collection through friends, swap meets, and buying cases of models at auction when other retail businesses closed. He had friends who built some of the vintage cars for him.
Most of them were race car model kits, although one of his favorite cars, the 1961 Fireball Roberts Pontiac, started as just the plain car. A friend made the decals and designed it to look exactly like the Roberts car.
“Down through the years I had some guys build them for me, and then I bought some that were already built like this top row (of 1960s cars),” Mullins said. “I don’t know how many cars I’ve got all together, but this is all the cars I’ve got put together. I’ve got a lot more older cars still in the boxes in the back.”
Although the collection isn’t for sale, Mullins admitted that he can be bought. If someone offered him $1 million for his entire collection, “I’d have to take that.”
“You don’t see many of these old ones like Fireball Roberts, Ned Jarrett, Rex White and Fred Lorenzen,” Mullins said. “I always said if I ever retire I’d like to have one of these showcases in my living room and have them on display.”