I was really excited when Days of Thunder on NES hit the stores in 1990.  The only previous NASCAR title had been Richard Petty’s Talladega for the Atari XL and Commodore 64, which was OK as long as you didn’t mind waiting several hours for the game to load. Anyway, I ran out and paid the ridiculous price of $64.97 for Days of Thunder as soon as the first copy hit the shelf.  Keep in mind that $64.97 was a lot of money in 1990, especially for a broke-ass college student making $3.35 an hour working part-time at Kmart.  I rushed home with my purchase and was rewarded with this:

Pretty lame, huh?  In fact, it was so lame that I sat up until 3 am just to prove to myself how lame it was.

A year went by, and then Konami came out with Bill Elliott’s NASCAR Challenge with much-improved graphics, game play and a choice of four tracks.

The biggest leap forward for NASCAR games came when Papyrus introduced NASCAR Racing for the PC and Macintosh in 1994.  Although still primitive, this game was the most realistic simulator to date, shifting the focus from arcade-style racing games.  It also offered a car editor that allowed gamers to design their own custom NASCAR racers.  This feature opened the door for all kinds of third-party designers to make cars of their own available for download, and it didn’t stop at new car designs.  You could also replace the cars in the opening sequence and add your own music. 

One of the last arcade-style NASCAR game was Kyle Petty’s No Fear Racing, introduced in 1995 for the SNES.

Papyrus introduced NASCAR Racing I for the PlayStation in 1996, bringing NASCAR sims to the age of CD-based consoles.

In 1996, Papyrus launched NASCAR Racing II for the PC and PlayStation.  I bought he PC version and loved it, even though my geriatric PC would only allow about five minutes of game play before giving up and shutting down on its own.

NASCAR racing games really caught fire around 1997 and 1998 with a slew of titles released for a variety of platforms.  Check out the video of NASCAR 98 for the Sega Saturn below.

I could show you more previews of these games, but the truth is that they’re all pretty much the same.  NASCAR 98, 99, yadda yadda yadda.  Let’s move on to something that was a little different.

Papyrus released NASCAR Legends in 1999 and gave us a break from all the look-alike sims by featuring vintage racers from the 1970 season.  Please excuse the music in the clip below, as it was the only game play video found on YouTube.

Speaking of different, let’s take a look at NASCAR Rumble for the PS1.  I must admit that I found this game highly entertaining, a kind of Mario Kart meets NASCAR.

More NASCAR Rumble:

NASCAR 2001 was the first NASCAR sim for the all-new PlayStation 2, and the most remarkable thing about it was that you could cause some really cool wrecks, including some truly violent parts-scattering, airborne tumbles. 

I know we’re skipping a lot of really cool games here, but what I am trying to do is show the evolution of NASCAR sims, meaning I’m only showing you what I consider to be giant leaps forward.  I’m truly sorry if I have ignored your favorite game and broke your fan-boy heart, but this is my article, you know.

The next game I’d like to cover skips forward seven years to the release of NASCAR 08 for the PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360.  Let’s take a look at the PS3 version first:

I apologize for the quality of that last video. I chose it because the person holding the camera didn’t shake or run his mouth like the gazillions of other YouTubers who upload their game play videos.

Now let’s take a look at the Xbox 360 version:

All of which brings us to the much-anticipated release of Gran Turismo 5, the pinnacle of NASCAR video game perfection.  The previews are absolutely stunning.

If you’d like to see what I’ve left out, click here for a more complete listing.  Then go find some clips on YouTube, because I’ve only given you a thumbnail sketch of the titles that are out there.

We’ve come a long way since Days of Thunder.

Related link:
Gran Turismo 5 PSP credits teaser