A Field of Dreams that Never Came True
Get out your rabbit’s foot and do your part to wish for good luck when NASCAR’s finest make the Monster/Cup tour’s 13th November run at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. Let’s hope nobody in Lone Star Land has fallen behind and still has black cats lurking around a few days after Halloween.
But WAIT! We can banish all symbols of bad luck by making this the 14th November Cup race in the Great State of Texas. All we need to do is turn the clock back to November 12, 1972, when 44 cars took the green flag for the Texas 500 Winston Cup race at Texas World Speedway in College Station. Add that race to Texas Motor Speedway’s 13, and the total gets us off the bad luck number.
Texas World Speedway near College Station, a field of dreams that never came true.
On that afternoon 45 years ago, Buddy Baker edged A.J. Foyt by half a car-length to become the third different driver to win a Cup event on one of NASCAR’s most star-crossed former venues. Richard Petty, who already was a two-time Texas winner, finished third, last car on the lead lap. Baker averaged 147.059 mph to claim the 250-lap event on the two-mile oval, which was a sister track to the still-active Michigan International Speedway.
Thanks to the always observant TMC Chase, those of us who didn’t know already learned recently that Texas World has become the repository for thousands of cars damaged in Hurricane Harvey, filling the track’s infield beyond the wildest dreams of those who promoted races there. That development also seems to have put an end to the track’s final days of operation: it was still being used for driving schools and amateur racing events (mostly on road course layouts). Plans had been announced previously to tear down the facility and build houses, but the schedule for that activity had been delayed. One would think the delay will extend a while longer, since it’s hard to believe the flood-damaged cars will be disposed of quickly.
Just a few notes of possible interest about Texas World (or TWS), while we’re on the subject. The track had a “major league” life of about 25 years, with multiple promoters taking shots at making it successful. It was built as one of Larry LoPatin’s American Raceways Inc. tracks, the first effort at putting together an entity like today’s International Speedway Corp. or Speedway Motorsports Inc. Ultimately, LoPatin and ARI failed, but the tracks continued (Michigan, Texas and acquired tracks Atlanta and Riverside). Texas, though, was always the weak link.
Nevertheless, the track held a total of eight Cup races between 1969 and 1981, plus 10 Indy Car events between 1973 and 1979. Major SCCA road races also were held at TWS.
The 1973 Indy Car race at Texas World Speedway.
Most curious, though, were four ARCA events held in 1991-93, two co-sanctioned as NASCAR Winston West (now K&N West) events. The first three – one in 1991 and two the following year – featured a mix of ARCA and Winston West drivers, plus some of the Winston Cup part-timers. For the 1993 race, though, the track attracted a small group of top-tier Cup jockeys, including eventual winner Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt and Ken Schrader. That must not have boosted attendance much, though, because 1993 was the last year for a major race in Texas… until 1997 and a location about three hours north of College Station.
A photo said to be from the 1993 ARCA race at Texas World Speedway.
That’s when Bruton Smith’s Texas Motor Speedway opened.
A handful of drivers raced at both tracks, including Waltrip and Earnhardt, who not only were in the 1993 ARCA event but also ran the last TWS Cup race in 1981. Terry Labonte (a Texan, no less) and Dave Marcis also were in the fields both in ’81 and ’97.
DW won the 1993 ARCA race at TWS in his Western Auto car.
Ironically, Waltrip, who had won the ’93 ARCA race (the last big stock car event at TWS), finished dead last in the inaugural TMS race.
There also are a couple of longevity connections for car owners. Both Petty Enterprises (admittedly not exactly the same ownership as the current organization) and the Wood Brothers were in that first Cup event at TWS in 1969, and the initial Indy Car event in 1973 featured a second-place performance by Gary Bettenhausen in Roger Penske’s entry. That combo would win the race the next year.
Gary Bettenhausen in Roger Penske’s Sunoco-sponsored Indy Car #5.
This marks Texas Motor Speedway’s 20th year of operation, so it should be noted in the longevity arena that one driver might be in the 2017 Monster/Cup field who was racing Winston Cup at Ft. Worth in 1997: Derrike Cope. Two others might race in the companion events: Morgan Shepherd and Joe Nemechek. Sadly for all three, none is likely to be as competitive as 20 years back.
Derrike Cope in the Nelson Bowers/Skittles #36 Pontiac. Unfortunately, at the first Texas Motor Speedway Cup race, Cope wrecked after 21 laps and finished 41st.