Terry Wilson’s small store on Beaufort Street is a virtual Mecca for fanatical NASCAR fans
Chapin, SC (James Bowers) - Behind an unassuming storefront on Chapin’s quiet Beaufort Street, one of the most interesting and prolific collectors and experts on replica NASCAR stock cars in the world, collects and sells these scale model cars. Over the course of the last quarter-century, Wilson has turned his business, Classic Auto Replicas, from a fledgling store where he resells the die-cast cars, into a thriving business that has drawn die-cast collectors and enthusiasts from as far as Australia and Canada, thanks to the advent of the internet.
How could Wilson have ever known in 1992 when he started the shop that computers and the internet would open the world to him, and to customers from across the globe, to his little shop in Chapin? “A lot of people don’t know that NASCAR has followers from all over the world," Wilson said recently.
Don’t let the little store front fool you, his shop has around 10,000 items inside, predominately replica cars, but some apparel such as hats and t-shirts thrown in the mix. Visitors to Classic Auto Replicas are treated to a colorful panorama of miniature stockcars, with the cars of legendary drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Tony Stewart well represented among the rides of many other of their fiercest competitors in the sport.
Wilson himself is a dedicated, no fanatical really, fan of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. He proudly displays a large collection of Earnhardt and Earnhardt Jr. die-casts that he refuses to part with for any price; those are his keepers if you will. They're in the shop, but for display only.
Wilson considers the greatest moment in his collecting career to have come in 2001. Early that year, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was tragically killed in a crash on the final lap of the 43rd Daytona 500. The legendary racer’s passing created a shockwave of interest in Earnhardt merchandise. This was partly responsible for a boost in Wilson’s sales numbers that year. As a reward for the increased sales, a die-cast manufacturer gave Wilson a chance to display one of Dale Earnhardt’s #3 Chevrolet stock cars from the 2000 season in front of Classic Auto Replicas. Wilson recalls being emotional as he got a chance to sit behind the wheel of the famous black Monte Carlo. To him, it felt as he were close to the hero he had lost just months earlier. Upwards of 4,500 people turned out to take a look at the Earnhardt car while it was there.
Over the past decade, a host of factors, not the least of which was the great recession that began in 2008, hurt the sport of NASCAR greatly. Sagging attendance and a drop in available sponsorship money, led to the closure of several teams and forced auto manufacturer Dodge to exit the sport after the 2012 season. Wilson admits that this did have some effect on his business. “Manufacturers (of the die-cast replicas) cut their numbers,” Wilson said. “When times were better, they would make 100,000 of a certain paint scheme. Now, you’re lucky to receive 1500.” Still, Wilson says that there is enough interest from collectors for his business to stay profitable. Wilson says his biggest problem right now is scarcity of certain models. “It can be tough to meet demand with those low production numbers,” Wilson added. Fortunately, scarcity can also boost value for collectors.
Classic Auto Replicas is a virtual candy store for NASCAR enthusiasts, with new merchandise being added frequently. Even if you’re not a NASCAR fan, it’s worth dropping in to see what may very well be one of the largest collection of die-cast car models in the world right here in Lexington County. For more information, visit the store at 110 Beaufort Street in Chapin, or call Terry Wilson at (803) 345-6715.