Back in Time to Excitement
If I had a time machine, I really, honestly think I’d make my first racing-related time travel to Islip Speedway to see one of the NASCAR Grand National races held there between 1964 and ‘71.
I know it seems an odd choice, but I really love racing on shorter tracks, and at one-FIFTH of a mile, Islip is about as short as NASCAR has ever gotten. I’d just love to see it.
Grand National racing at Islip in 1966.
I’ve seen a regular weekly show at Bowman Gray and would love to see the “big boys” run there, too, but Islip was even shorter, and it was banked - what a place to race!
There are other great short tracks - South Boston always comes to mind - and for the ones that remain in business (or have successors, like Dominion Raceway in Virginia, down the road from the former Old Dominion Speedway), I’d go even farther and suggest a return engagement for NASCAR’s traveling show. But how can I make suggestions like this when others are calling for fewer races, not more?
Let me start my response to that apparent dilemma by reiterating a suggestion made a couple of years ago to have races at “classic” NASCAR venues (or their modern replacements) a couple of days prior to Cup races. That’s where my Islip would show up.
Here’s the plan:
First of all, you dumb down current rules big-time, so that teams wouldn’t need the resources currently required for the single weekend events of today. Then you take a little of what isn’t needed anymore and devote it to these “NASCAR Classic” races, which would be supported by TV revenue, since the “gate” attendance wouldn’t be sufficient, even by NASCAR’s ever-shrinking “new normal.”
Putting Cup cars at places like this might just unlock the a way to reverse the sport’s decline
With “old school” racing, you could restore some of the excitement currently lacking at many NASCAR venues, and the “classic” races would add an element of interest - maybe points for the weekend could be tied to finishes on both Thursday (the “classic” race) and Saturday/Sunday (the “regular” Cup event).
I know there are lots of people who think I’m nuts to beat this drum of setting back the clock on NASCAR rules; they say it can’t be done. But all the current rules do is (1) make those with the most money rise to the top, and (2) create an ever more unenforceable set of rules, raising costs that much more.
The heart of the matter, though, is how to make the races themselves better for the fans, and the current approach is failing; a crisis I believe is caused in part by fans rejecting the kind of car being raced in NASCAR today. So why not try something dramatically different now, rather than waiting until things are even more desperate?
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
Before I got off on my high-horse/rant above, I was going to talk about one-mile tracks, which also are a good length for exciting NASCAR racing. These days we have two races each at Dover and Phoenix, plus just one at Loudon (where the modifieds have proven that awesome racing is possible with the right cars and rules). Of course, we used to have Rockingham, but in much earlier days, there were lots of other mile tracks on the circuit.
All the way back in the beginning, there were two on NASCAR’s 1949 Strictly Stock schedule, Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsboro (later considered nine-tenths of a mile) and the dangerous circle at Langhorne. The latter paid the highest purse of that year.
Hillsboro was still considered a mile track when these racers were there
Two years later, the circuit (renamed Grand National) made its first tour of the west, and the second race out the Eastern and Central time zones was at the old fairgrounds in Phoenix (where the grandstands still exist, but the track is gone). 1951 also marked Bill France’s first effort to impress the auto manufacturers with his racing by holding an event at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit.
Like Phoenix and Detroit, many of the older mile tracks were fairgrounds facilities originally built for horse racing, but the early days also included the paved mile in Raleigh, N.C.
My quick-and-dirty research shouldn’t be considered the last word, but the miles might have reached their zenith in 1955 when 11 of the tour’s 45 stops were on tracks that length. Included were old reliables like Hillsboro, Langhorne and Raleigh, as well as the ill-fated Last Vegas mile and the horse track at San Mateo, Calif., which only shut down in that capacity about a decade ago. Oddly, Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta, which hosted 11 GN events in the ‘50s, wasn’t on that season’s schedule.
Here’s Lakewood - instead of SAFER Barriers, you needed inner tubes.
By the early ‘60s, the fairgrounds tracks were fading as GN venues, and we eventually settled on our current crop (sans Rockingham, sadly). They’re still good tracks, and I think we could shrink a mile-and-a-half track or two and come out ahead in the excitement department. Agreed?
1964 Daytona 500 pole-winner
The other day I came across a wonderful interview with one of racing’s most underrated/underappreciated competitors, Paul Goldsmith. Well over 90 now, he seems to be going strong still, and his recollections are gold for anyone interested in this sport’s history.
which has more good history and makes a good case for this guy’s status as one of the best ever.
Because he didn’t regularly run the full Grand National schedule, and because he was a Yankee, Goldsmith just didn’t get the recognition on the circuit, but Smokey Yunick thought he was good enough to drive for the “Best Damn Garage in Town,” both in NASCAR and at Indy.
In fact, nobody else can match this record: Paul Goldsmith won the Daytona 200 motorcycle race; he won the last big NASCAR race on the old Daytona Beach-Road Course, and he finished third in the 1960 Indy 500.
Hang in there, Paul. You mean too much to us.
Here’s Paul Goldsmith winning the 1965 spring race at Rockingham. One of the fans lining the fence is this writer.