DiGard Racing DiGard Racing
DiGard Racing Company History
DiGardDiGard Racing is one of the legendary names in NASCAR racing. At a time when motorsports was seen as a sport for southerners with participants that were not far removed from the rum runners/moonshiners that are credited with creating stock car racing, Bill Gardner and Mike DiProspero entered the sport and put the wheels into motion that have helped turn NASCAR racing into a marketing platform that is virtually unrivaled in American sports. Started in 1973, DiGard Racing quickly became a force in what was then the NASCAR Grand National Series. Gardner purchased DiProspero’s interest in 1973 after DiProspero was involved in a serious automobile accident, and his brother Jim Gardner joined the team to start building a championship-caliber organization in 1974. With drivers such as Donnie Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Rudd, and Bobby Allison, DiGard Racing quickly became a contender for top-5 finishes and wins.
DiGardIn addition to working with superstar drivers, the team also launched the careers of numerous other individuals in NASCAR, including team owner Robert Yates, former NASCAR Vice President of Research and Development Gary Nelson, NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton, and 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series champion crew chief Jimmy Fennig, to name a just a few. DiGard Racing also employed a legendary Crew Chief, Jake Elder. At the time of Gardner’s retirement from active competition, not only had he racked up 43 victories and one series championship, but he had also played a major role in the transformation that brought NASCAR out of the backwoods of the southeast and helped put it on a path to the mainstream that has made it a multi-billion dollar industry and one of the most popular marketing platforms in America.
DiGard The team achieved its first win with Darrell Waltrip at the wheel in 1975. Waltrip went on to win 25 more races in the team’s white and green No. 88 Gatorade cars, and came within 11 points of winning the series championship in 1979. While Waltrip narrowly missed the series championship, members of the motorsports media voted him the Driver of the Year in 1979, the first such honor for a DiGard driver.
DiGardWhile it was a bone of contention at the time when Waltrip was forced to buy his way out of it, Gardner was the first NASCAR team owner to sign a driver to a binding contract. Previously, team owners were without business savvy and drivers agreed to drive for them based on a handshake or a verbal commitment. Gardner brought his business acumen to the sport, and from that day onward every driver and team have entered into their relationship with a written contract in place. In a flashback to 1980 when Waltrip bought his contract out to move to another team, two high profile drivers, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray, bought out their contracts in 2005 to terminate their relationships early and move to other teams for the 2006 season.
DiGardIn 1982, Bobby Allison took the controls of the DiGard Racing ride and made an immediate impact. He started off the season with a dominant win in the season’s most prestigious event, the Daytona 500 and the Busch Clash (an all-star event for the previous year’s pole winners, now called the Budweiser Shootout). In addition, Allison also picked up the win at Daytona in the Firecracker 400, being the first driver to sweep the Busch Clash, Daytona 500, and Firecracker 400 in a single season. Allison ended the season with 8 wins and finished second in the series championship standings.
DiGardThe following season the team created a new relationship with Miller Brewing Company, and Allison continued to pick up checkered flags at an astonishing rate. Gone were the familiar green and white Gatorade colors, and in was the red and white Miller look. The Miller sponsorship was the first in NASCAR history to be valued at over $1 million annually.

DiGardLittle did it matter what color the car was. Bobby Allison collected six more wins, but more importantly, claimed the 1983 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship. Insistent that the team look professional when they celebrated the series championship at the awards banquet in New York, team owners Bill and Jim Gardner had the team wear tuxedos, becoming the first team to do so. The event has now transformed from a casual event with blue jeans and t-shirts into a black-tie affair that is nationally televised. In addition to picking up his first championship as a driver, Allison was also voted by the motorsports media to be Driver of the Year in 1983.
DiGardDiGard Racing won 43 NASCAR Cup series races from 1975 through 1985, won the series championship in 1983 and finished second in the series championship twice in 1979 and 1982.

^ Company History Continued on Next Column ^
DiGardDiGard Racing won at every track on the schedule and the team also has dozens of wins in support series such as the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman division (now the NASCAR Busch Series) and the ARCA Re/MAX Series.
DiGardDiGard Racing was an innovator on and off the track. The team continually hired the best and the brightest minds in NASCAR, such as Gary Nelson, Robert Yates, and Robin Pemberton. Nelson and Pemberton would go on to successful careers within the sport before joining the upper management of NASCAR itself. Nelson recently retired from his position as Vice-president of Research and Development, while Pemberton is currently Vice-president of Competition. Yates is renowned for his engine building prowess, and has gone on to win three Daytona 500s and a Winston Cup Series championship of his own as an owner.
DiGardThese bright minds were the cornerstone of DiGard Racing’s innovative approach to the sport. While other teams used tried and true technology, DiGard Racing pushed the envelope looking for new ideas that would improve performance on the track. DiGard Racing perfected the use of power steering in NASCAR racecars, developed shock absorber technology that improved handling characteristics, and made a concerted effort to use aerodynamics to lessen drag while giving downforce, thus increasing overall speed.
DiGardWhile many teams were reluctant to try new technologies for the fear they would fail and hurt their performance on the speedway, DiGard Racing built a better mousetrap by taking the next logical step: Gardner fielded a second car with the expressed purpose of being a research and development vehicle. The R&D car proved to be a good investment as it won its first race out of the box in Daytona with Greg Sacks at the wheel in July 1985. Gardner himself was no stranger to innovative ideas as he was one of the first racing spotters, perched above the race track with radio contact with the driver to warn of accidents ahead. With his core business being in the steel industry, Gardner also was ahead of the game when it came to new materials within car construction and was among the first to use tungsten to add weight in the appropriate places. Tungsten was much more dense than other metals and was easier to locate within the chassis, giving the team more flexibility in where to locate ballast.
DiGardIn addition to the team’s strong performance on the track, team owner Bill Gardner created strong programs to allow the sponsors to reap the most benefits off the track. Gardner was the first to bring a business approach to the sport, bringing in contracts for drivers, team members, and sponsors. The Gatorade sponsorship was the first national sponsorship by a non-automotive, consumer brand in NASCAR history, and it opened the door for other non-traditional sponsors to follow. In the 30 years since Gatorade entered the sport, sponsors of NASCAR racing teams have evolved from local car dealership, towing companies, and service shops to Fortune 1000 companies willing to pay $20 million annually to be a part of the sport.
DiGardGardner also led the way in creating retail tie-ins, including the development of a nationwide display vehicle program, to generate as much goodwill for the brand as possible. When the team partnered with Miller Brewing Company in 1983, they also escalated their marketing efforts by creating one of the first ever licensed merchandise programs. Gardner also hired Miller Brewing Company executive Sam Belnavis, and part of his duties were to push forth a program dedicated to diversifying DiGard Racing with an African-American driver. DiGard Racing was the first Major Cup Team to support a diversity program in 1986 with the signing of driver Willy T. Ribbs an African American. Belnavis’s efforts came to fruition when Willy T. Ribbs ran a partial schedule for the team in 1986. Belnavis has remained in NASCAR racing, having been an owner of his own team before taking on duties with Roush Racing’s diversity program.
DiGardWhile Bill Gardner and the DiGard Racing team were seen as “outsiders” to the mainly southern participants while the team was active in competition, the legacy of the team is that of innovator and champion. The result of DiGard’s participation in NASCAR racing has opened the door to dozens of other businessmen and women to enter the sport as owners. NASCAR, which was once seen as nothing more than “good old boys” driving souped-up jalopies, is now a household word to nearly 75 million Americans and is a powerful marketing vehicle for a large portion of the Fortune 1000. While DiGard Racing has not been in active competition in 20 seasons, its legacy does indeed go on. Famed NASCAR broadcaster Eli Gold was quoted as saying that many of today’s brightest minds in NASCAR were either “graduates of DiGard University, or taught by someone who was.”

DiGard Racing Highlights Chronology:

  • 1983 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion
  • 43 NASCAR Cup Series wins; still among the top-15 in all-time Cup Series wins for car owners
  • 1982 Daytona 500 winner
  • Second-place in NASCAR Cup Series points in 1979 and 1982
  • Implemented first driver contract in NASCAR with Darrell Waltrip in 1975, turning the sport into a business and paving the way for many of the successful owners that are in the sport today
  • Brought first national non-automotive consumer sponsorship to the sport, Gatorade
  • Developed power steering in NASCAR, lengthening the career of drivers
  • First team to hire a Vice President of Marketing
  • First team owner to lease engines to other teams; Richard Petty won races 199 and 200 with a DiGard Racing engine (Petty’s 200th winning car and the DiGard engine resides in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.)
  • First team to start a dedicated R&D team
  • Three cars in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala.: the 1977 Gatorade Chevrolet, nicknamed “Bertha” by Darrell Waltrip, that won 19 races from 1977 through 1980; the 1983 Miller Beer Buick driven by Bobby Allison during DiGard’s 1983 championship season; and the 1985 DiGard Racing Research and Development Chevrolet driven to victory by Greg Sacks at Daytona in 1985.
    ^ Back To Top ^
DiGard Racing