ASHLAND, Ky. (KT) – The two-car garage at Rick Fyffe’s home is a room full of vroom.
Diehard NASCAR fans would think they had died and gone to heaven upon catching a glimpse of a collection worthy of a museum.
The right front tire and wheel from Richard Petty’s last race in 1992, an extensive Dale Earnhardt memorabilia corner that includes two champagne bottles from the winner’s circle, and the rainbow-colored fender off a Jeff Gordon crash doesn’t even scratch the surface of the massive collection.
Fyffe, who says his “knowledge of NASCAR is limited,” is the owner of the unique and massive assortment of items.
He purchased it from Phil Stemmer last April “as an investment” and now he’s ready to have his garage back.
Stemmer, a NASCAR fanatic, worked security at the Charlotte Motor Speedway from 1985 to 2015. He befriended many of the drivers, including building a personal relationship with Earnhardt. Through the years, Stemmer picked up odds and ends at the speedway and then had most of the items he’d collected autographed.
“The big one I found in a garbage can,” he said, pointing to the large champagne bottle that is accompanied with a photograph from the Charlotte Observer.
The other bottle came with a little bit of a surprise.
“I got to know Dale Earnhardt,” he said. “He threw it to me and I thought it was empty. I stick it in the back of my pants and didn’t realize there was still champagne in it. It soaked me with champagne.”
Stemmer was always on the lookout for memorabilia during his week of work at the speedway for the fall race. He also did a few other events through the year but always worked on race week.
“If it had NASCAR on it, I wanted it,” Stemmer said. “I had no shame about it.”
He said when he started working at the track in 1985, the sheet metal from wrecked cars was being thrown out.
“I did some dumpster diving,” he said, pointing to the fender from one of Gordon’s wrecks. It has Gordon’s autograph on it now.
“They stopped throwing those away when they realized there might be a market for it,” Stemmer said. “But back then, they just pitched it.”
A NASCAR collector supreme
Over the years, the collection grew although there was never an intention to do anything with it. Stemmer was obsessed and didn’t even know it. He collected literally hundreds of diecast metal cars- many of them limited edition items and still in the box that go for big bucks on eBay - picked up lug nuts and put driver’s numbers on them, cases of NASCAR-themed Coke and Pepsi bottles, full boxes of cereal with driver’s photographs on them, magazines and books, newspapers of special events, cut-outs of drivers hawking products, posters, hats, t-shirts and more.
One of the hats is autographed and worn by Ray Everham, the crew chief of Jeff Gordon, following Gordon’s first NASCAR victory.
“I was able to get a lot of things because I had access where others couldn’t go,” Stemmer said.
His favorite drivers were Earnhardt, Petty and Gordon although he is knowledgeable about nearly all of them. For instance, did you know that driver Dick Trickle not only smoked while he raced but had a cigarette lighter put into his stock car? “Even when they made them wear the helmets with the mask, his cigarette was sticking out of it.”
Some drivers, like Rusty Wallace, he didn’t like. “Rusty Wallace is a jerk,” Stemmer said.
Stemmer went to his first race at Darlington, S.C., with his uncle in 1968 and he was hooked for life. Seventeen years later, Stemmer received an offer to work as a security officer at Charlotte Motor Speedway and he jumped at the opportunity.
He worked as an unpaid volunteer on pit row and the garage area until 1993.
“It was eight years before I found out they paid people to do that,” he said.
That’s when he moved to the grandstand area and became a security supervisor, complete with a black uniform and firearm. He had to go once a year for gun safety training. Stemmer also carried a collapsible baton and he had to use it once when challenged by two inebriated fans.
Stemmer said he’s had hundreds of others from the area come to the track as volunteers to experience the thrill of NASCAR up close and personal.
It was at the grandstand area where he struck up a personal relationship with Earnhardt. When drivers were introduced before races they’d take a lap around the track with a family member. Earnhardt asked Stemmer if he would escort his wife, Teresa, back to her condominium behind the grandstand. “She’d take my arm,” he said. “It was an honor for me.”
Befriending a superstar
Stemmer found himself friends with one of NASCAR’s all-time stars.
His connections allowed some special treatment, including when his daughter Michelle Stemmer Fugett was married in the winner’s circle at the speedway. “Earnhardt made her blush when he said “What are you getting married for?’’’ Stemmer said.
One unique part of the collection is the cover of a Coke machine that has a life-size photograph of Earnhardt. He received it from the manager of a local Walmart who knew he was a huge fan.
The cover doesn’t have any of the cutouts for the pop cans and has a light behind it. It is signed by Earnhardt, of course.
Stemmer’s collection was in his basement until he decided it was time to let it go because of an impending move to Florida.
“I had no idea about selling this stuff,” Stemmer said. “But I knew I wanted to sell it all instead of piece-mill because what you’d have is people buying about 60 or 70 percent of it and then you’re stuck with the rest.”
Much of the collection, like the diecast cars, has the original packaging and there are hundreds of them. Stemmer was a member of a car club that sent them out monthly for years.
The documentation for many of the items that Stemmer picked up on the track has markings on them to show their authenticity.
Letting it go wasn’t as hard as it might seem, he said. “It wasn’t because I was ready for it to go.”
Now Fyffe has the amazing collection and he’s ready to sell it to the highest bidder. “I need my garage back,” he said.
Fyffe said the estimated value is far more than what he’d take for it. But, like Stemmer, it wants to sell it all to one buyer.
“I don’t mind buying things I can turn around,” Fyffe said. “I’d take a decent price for all of it. When I first entertained the thought I was going to sell it, it was going to be all in one lot.”
Fyffe said he has been told the collection is worth in the $200,000 range, “but I’m not looking for anything like that,” saying it was for sell in more the $35,000 neighborhood.
NASCAR’s popularity has waned in recent years, but the memorabilia that Stemmer collected came during its heyday.
“The value is with the older drivers,” Fyffe said. “People aren’t going to the races like they used to. Phil is my documentation for a lot of these items.”
Fyffe said he has had several potential buyers look over the collection and had several offers for some individual items.
Anyone interested in looking over the collection can call Fyffe at (606) 831-5081 or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org