Follow the Richmond Races This Weekend
Then Return in October for the "Clash"
I truly hope this coming NASCAR weekend at Richmond Raceway goes well. It would be awesome if the Federated Auto Parts 400 was run before a full house, even if that house would have barely half the fans that routinely showed up in September when I was a weekend PR staffer there a decade ago and crowds were 112,000. I also hope the Go Bowling 250 Xfinity race draws well, recalling Friday attendance as high as 75,000 back when NASCAR was “the next big thing.”
The glory days of Richmond (International) Raceway.
Even more than those, though, I hope people turn out for the PASS Commonwealth Classic on Saturday, Oct. 20. “What’s that?” you say. Well, it’s the Richmond management’s effort to find a successful formula for a non-Cup racing event
This essentially one-day show (there will be practice sessions on Friday) will feature more practice, qualifying and feature racing for super late models, late model sportsmen, limited late models, modifieds and street stocks. Altogether, there will be 340 laps of feature racing (which is why the features begin at 4 p.m.) on a track that’s proven in the past that local divisions can put on a good show. I will be there.
PASS late model racing from a couple of years back at Dillon, S.C.
While I can say with certainty that I saw my first NASCAR Grand National (Cup) race at the old Atlantic Rural Exposition Fairgrounds dirt track in 1963, I’m not sure when I saw my first non-GN/Cup event there. I suspect 1965 or ‘66. Paul Sawyer regularly ran a handful of local-division races (mostly featuring modifieds back then) on the old dirt track every year. Most were midweek shows, and all were called “Mid-Atlantic Championship Races.” TheThirdTurn.com lists partial results for a few of these races, but by no means all. It shows “NASCAR National Modified Championship” races in April 1964 and 1966, then three late model events in September 1968 (after the track had been paved), which would have been during the Virginia State Fair. I have no idea where other results might be, although some dedicated research in Richmond Times-Dispatch and News Leader files might give limited information. Maybe I’ll get to Richmond one day with some spare time and go to the State Library, where I’m guessing the paper’s available on microfilm or computer.
This is way earlier at Richmond – early to mid-1950s – but it shows that other types of racing have always been staples at the track. (Photo swiped from a Dave Fulton discussion post in response to a Tim Leeming article on Racers Reunion. TMC Chase also is in on the discussion, so you know it’s worth your reading time.)
They were good races, and every now and then Paul would bring in a nationally known driver to spice things up. They would mostly draw drivers from the nearby tracks - Richmond’s Southside Speedway, Langley Speedway in Hampton, South Boston, Old Dominion in Manassas, the dirt tracks in the Shenandoah Valley, Bowman Gray and Wilson in North Carolina, and a few of the guys from “up North” - those with crews that could get off work on a Wednesday to go racing a few hundred miles away. The local “hobby” cars typically joined the show.
Non-Grand National racing shifted to late model sportsman and then late model stock car events not long after the track was paved and became known as Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway, and it wasn’t until 1977 that those races became part of the big weekends for what had become Winston Cup cars.
After the new Richmond International Raceway was built in 1987, Sawyer tried a number of racing programs on weekends other than those for the Cup Series (midweek shows no longer were viable, I guess). The modifieds and late models had a number of races, as did USAC Silver Crown, weekly late model stock cars and even the star-crossed NASCAR Sportsman Series. The problem by this time, though, for a track the size of Richmond, was high overhead; a crowd that would have been a rip-roaring success at a Saturday night short track was a failure at RIR.
Silver Crown cars first came to RIR for two years of stand-alone events in the 1990s, then were preliminary racers on Indy Car weekends.
In 2001, the Indy Racing League came to RIR, with Silver Crown, modifieds and other divisions running support events, but even that couldn’t fill the stands, and the economic downturn spelled the end for Indy races in 2009. Since then, it’s been pretty much two weekends a year… until now.
The sanctioning body for the Commonwealth Classic is the Pro All Star Series, or PASS. This year most of its events are in the Northeast, but it has several Southern races, and it seems to share enough rules with other groups, most notably the Championship Auto Racing Series, or CARS that many of the same drivers show up for both. For the money being offered, I suspect that both the super late model and late model sportsman will have a good turnout; I hope the same will be true for the other divisions.
Here’s hoping that the Commonwealth Clash will become a fan favorite like Martinsville’s big late model stock race or the All American 400 (shown above) at Nashville.
Bristol has been trying various non-Cup weekend races and has run the Short Track Nationals, primarily sanctioned by the Midwest-based Champion Racing Association (CRA), and Martinsville has its big late model stock car race in the fall, so there are “third weekends” for Cup tracks that can work. I really hope the Commonwealth Clash at Richmond joins that group.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
Belated congratulations to Tony Stewart on his win in the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions sprint car race at BAPS Motor Speedway in Newberrytown, Pa. The race was the fourth and final in an All Star tour through Central Pennsylvania. “Smoke” had finished outside the top 10 in the first three races but was in the hunt all the way at BAPS (formerly Susquehanna Speedway) and executed a daring pass of the second- and third-place cars, then grabbed the lead from long-time national sprint circuit racer Paul McMahan.
Stewart also owns the All Star Circuit but drives sporadically. This was his third win in the series.
Here’s Tony Stewart in victory lane at BAPS Motor Speedway after his win in the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions race there August 26.
As I have noted before, I was working at RIR in 1999 when Stewart won his first Cup race and celebrated in Victory Lane for a couple of hours, missing all post-race interview sessions. I have a feeling these sprint car wins come pretty close to that excitement level for a guy who really loves this kind of racing.
And while we’re speaking of Richmond, the good folks there apparently have put out advance material that perpetuates an oft-told untruth about that track's history.
For years Richmond Raceway has insisted that the first night race under permanent lighting was run in 1991, and that the 1964 spring race was run under temporary lighting on a Tuesday night following a rain delay Sunday. BALONEY! Dave Fulton and I have found numerous photos of the Richmond lighting in the '50s/'60s that clearly show it was permanent. Plus, we were in attendance at both that 1964 race but also at the 1965 fall race, which was run on Saturday night following a Sunday rain-out; both took place under permanent lights.
Paul Sawyer regularly ran special events at Richmond for modifieds and later late models, and all of those were run under permanent night lighting. There are photos dating to the early/mid '50s that clearly show permanent light poles.
Why can't otherwise intelligent people get this right?