Marveling at Midnight

October 20, 2021


"Penske Material" provides an inside look at some of the personalities, stories and moments that make Team Penske so unique.

Race crews work tirelessly to make sure cars are built and prepared consistently over the course of a season so drivers can have the same feel week-to-week and hopefully, that leads to solid results for the team. Sometimes, however, a specific car just has that special something that simply can’t be duplicated. Throughout the middle of the 1990s, NASCAR and Team Penske Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace and the No. 2 Miller Genuine Draft team established themselves as one of NASCAR’s most dominant teams. Much of that success can be attributed to one specific car – chassis PRS-009, better known as “Midnight.”

Midnight made its debut in the fall race at Richmond Raceway in September 1992. That season had been one of frustration as the second-year Penske Racing South team had gone winless and was outside of the top-10 in points through the first week of September. After qualifying third for the Miller Genuine Draft 400 at Richmond, Wallace dominated the race that carried the branding of his team’s primary sponsor. The 1989 NASCAR Cup Series champion driver led 231 of the 400 laps to cruise his first win of the season. The victory proved to be the first of many for the driver/crew chief pairing of Wallace and veteran Buddy Parrott.

Following the race, the No. 2 Miller Genuine Draft car was dubbed “Midnight” as the event ended close to 12 am on that September evening in Virginia. Midnight would make four additional starts in 1992 at Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix, and the season finale at Atlanta and it produced one pole (Phoenix) along with three top-five and four top-10 finishes.

During the 1993 Cup Series season, Midnight became the work horse of the No. 2 team. PRS-009 took the green flag for half of the 30-race schedule contested by the Penske team that season. After scoring a runner-up result back at Richmond in March, Wallace and Midnight began to build momentum. The No. 2 team swept the month of April, beginning with an emotional victory during a tragic weekend at Bristol as 1992 Cup Series champion Alan Kulwicki lost his life in a plane crash on his way to the track. Following an off weekend for the Cup Series, Wallace led 120 laps on his way to victory at North Wilkesboro and he and Midnight delivered again a week later with a dominant win at Martinsville Speedway as the team led 409 of 500 laps.

Midnight returned to the race shop for the next two months of the season before the car returned to competition at Pocono Raceway in June. Unfortunately, the No. 2 MGD car experienced its first DNF (did not finish) after an engine issue on lap 4. Just one week later, Midnight was back up front as Wallace posted a fifth-place finish at Michigan International Speedway, a track that was then owned by Roger Penske and his organization. Midnight’s final nine starts of 1993 brought five more race victories, including the inaugural Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a win from the pole at Dover in September and a triumph in the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway. All told, Wallace visited Victory Lane a total of 10 times during the 1993 season – eight of them behind the wheel of Midnight – as the No. 2 Miller Genuine Draft team finished second in the series standings, narrowly missing the Cup Series championship.

The 1994 Cup Series season brought some significant changes to Midnight and the No. 2 team but the success continued. Team Penske transitioned cars from a Pontiac Grand Prix to a Ford Thunderbird and the Miller Genuine Draft team built on its winning tradition. Wallace scored his second-consecutive victory at Rockingham in February, as he led 347 of laps 492 laps in Midnight. The No. 2 crew would brought the car to Richmond the following week and scored a runner-up result. Wallace then produced another second-place finish with the No. 2 Ford at North Wilkesboro in April. Midnight was involved in a crash at the non-points paying All-Star Race at Charlotte in May, but it returned to the track just one week later as Wallace claimed second in the Coca-Cola 600. Midnight’s final five starts featured three more wins, including a sweep of the Dover races along with the prestigious Bristol night race.

After a long and productive run, Midnight was removed from Team Penske’s car rotation following the 1994 season, but it’s legacy as one the most dominant race cars in NASCAR history lives on. Wallace drove Midnight to 13 victories, 30 top-five finishes and the car led over 5,000 laps during its racing journey.

        

Several current Team Penske crew members that worked on Midnight shared their memories and thoughts on what made the car so special.
 

Jeffery Thousand – Mechanic on Midnight
“Back then we didn’t size the bodies on the cars like we do today. There must’ve been something body wise and a certain sweet spot that Rusty was looking for, especially on the immediate racetracks. Even though we went through a body change from 1993 to 1994 the results were still there. Rusty had a certain feel he was looking for and we always tried different options to see if we could make improvements with the car. Those were special times.”

Gary Brooks – Mechanic and Jackman on Midnight
“Rusty Wallace made that car special. We did the best that we could to build the cars the same way they do now. Everybody put their thoughts and efforts into it and (Team) Penske was a little ahead of the times with the people we had assembled. There was a big effort to make the car lighter, faster, sleeker, and more aerodynamic. Rusty had confidence in that car and if we won a race, he wanted that car back the next week.”

Dave Kenny – Spotter for Rusty Wallace and Midnight
“I happened to be spotting (Midnight’s) first race at Richmond when we won. Rusty really liked that car, and we ran it everywhere. Whether it was short tracks, intermediate tracks, it had the feel he was looking for and we turned it around continuously. Rusty really focused on corner speed and acceleration especially on longer runs and that’s where a lot of his success came from.”

After its retirement from competition, Midnight was restored by Team Penske and the historic car has been on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC since Wallace’s induction in 2013.