Racing Game History: Bill Elliott’s Nascar Challenge (1991)

When was the last time you took a look inside a video game box. Heck, when was the last time you bought a physical copy of a video game? If you did, you might notice that manuals are more often than not an artifact of a bygone era like cursive, or stockpiling your favorite .mp3s. And yet video game fans who can remember the days when games came packed with an instruction booklet may recall the time that Japanese developer Konami bought them dinner. 

Packaged with every copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game (1990) for the Nintendo Entertainment System was a coupon at the back of the manual for a free personal pan pizza. And while we’re certainly not turning our nose up at a free pie, there’s another piece of manual marketing from Konami that grabbed our attention when we opened a copy of Bill Elliott’s NASCAR Challenge. The game came with a contest entry form for a chance to win a trip to the Daytona 500, a meet and greet with legendary driver Bill Elliott himself, and drive away with a ‘92 Firebird. Unfortunately, that entry form is a few decades past its expiration at this point, so we’re taking solace in the early NASCAR game that came with it. 

Bill Elliott’s NASCAR Challenge hit the Nintendo Entertainment System and personal computer platforms including the Amiga, MS-DOS and Macintosh in 1991. Development was handled by Distinctive Software who had created the Test Drive series in the late ‘80s with publishing duties going to Konami. 

Like Test Drive, Bill Elliott’s NASCAR Challenge features a behind-the-wheel perspective, from which players can experience a simulation of the NASCAR Winston Cup. The PC versions of the game included eight tracks while the NES version only had four that repeated for eight total races. 

Bill Elliott must’ve had a lot of pull on the development of this game because it features real cars instead of recognizable but legally distinct approximations. Players can put the pedal to the metal in a Ford Thunderbird, a Chevrolet Lumina, or a Pontiac Grand Prix. 

Graphically, Bill Elliott’s NASCAR Challenge feels like a product of the early ‘90s with visuals reaching for a 3D immersive experience and coming up a wee bit short. But we played it all the same. NASCAR games were few and far between back then, let alone NASCAR games that went for the simulation feel outside of the PC market. Although Days of Thunder (1990), created by Argonaut Software on the NES is certainly a notable exception. Still, there are fun details in Bill Elliott worth noting like the animation of the pit crew changing a tire or the tiny guy who walks out before a race to deliver an impressive audio sample asking drivers to start their engines. 

If you have a chance to play any version of the game that bears Bill Elliott’s name, strap in and appreciate what was before NASCAR games were plentiful and their graphics photo-realistic.