It’s not surprising to find out that NASCAR, America’s most favoritest form of motorsport, has a very non-metric crapton of associated video games. What is surprising to find out is that the very first official NASCAR tie-in video game, which came out way back in 1984, had one of the most hilariously inaccurate box covers of, well, let’s say all time. At least in the context of NASCAR games.
Unfortunately, all of that cred was squandered by the box art for the game, which you saw up top, but I can’t resist showing you again, I love it so:
I’m showing two versions here; one included the Richard Petty name, and one just called Talledega.
What you are likely noticing about these covers—which are illustrated quite nicely, in a style very consistent of that era—are the cars chosen to depict a NASCAR race.
Specifically, there’s what looks like a British Ford MkII Escort and what looks like a 1968 to 1973 Volkswagen Beetle.
Now, both of these are fantastic cars and both have extensive racing histories of their own, especially in Europe, but I think its safe to say that neither of these cars has ever had anything to do with NASCAR, at all.
Well, the Beetle had that Herbie movie with Lindsey Lohan, but that’s it.
This is what a NASCAR race actually looked like in the 1980s:
As you can see, there’s a pretty dramatic absence of Mk.II Escorts and Beetles out there on the track. In fact, I’m not sure you could have picked two cars that were less associated with NASCAR if you tried, and tried hard.
Why did this happen? The best I can come up with is that a European—likely British—artist was used to make the cover? The game was made for the Atari 400 and 800 computers first, then ported to the Commodore 64—both popular home computers in America, but also popular in Europe, too.
The box pictures I showed you here, with the U.S. Games logo and the price sticker in pounds suggest these are UK-market games, so maybe that’s why?
Then again, the game was developed by Cosmi, a company based out of California, where they should have known better. Perhaps this box was just the European version?
I haven’t been able to find out for sure, but I can tell you that no one would have been able to ID any cars based on the game’s graphics:
Those odd loaves don’t really look like any specific car. The pit stop scene gives a bit more detail:
That’s a little better, but all I can really say is it’s definitely not a Beetle.
It doesn’t even look like the number 43 Buick Regal Petty would have been driving at that time.
I’m just amazed so little apparent research went into this cover—it’s not like anyone was keeping what NASCAR cars looked like a secret, even in that dark, pre-internet era. In fact, at some point, somebody wised up and the cover was changed to something more accurate, but, if you ask me, not as nicely illustrated:
They got Petty’s Regal pretty well, but that dash? That other car? Garbage. It looks stilted and amateurish. At least the crazily inaccurate cover gave a nice window into a weird, alternate-universe NASCAR of British Fords and VWs duking it out.
I’m pretty sure no NASCAR game since has made such a gloriously wrong cover, which makes this first digital NASCAR outing pretty special. The gameplay isn’t great—think sub-par Pole Position that also plays “Dixie” sometimes—but I do admire the whimsical approach to reality.