Where Else Has NASCAR Raced in These States?
Writing about what ails NASCAR has gotten depressing; even more so because nobody’s paying attention to any of the possible solutions that have a remote chance of working. Things clearly are going to have to get a lot worse before the powers-that-be (or their replacements, if that becomes necessary) consider going beyond all the current nonsense.
Sooooo… I need a break, and what better way for a history buff get it than in the fascinating files of Racing-Reference.info? That’s where I went, and here’s what I came up with.
[Editor's note: This piece was given to me before the Bristol race but logistics said it must run after the race.]
We have 13 races left in the 2017 Monster/Cup season, and they take place in 12 different states (two are in Virginia). My quest was to find out which no-longer-on-the-schedule tracks have run the most GN/Cup races in the past in each state.
(If that doesn’t appeal to you, I’ll maybe see you next article.)
This brought back some memories and a surprise or two. For starters, there have been NO races other than at the current Monster/Cup track in three of the states: New Hampshire, Delaware and Kansas. There are great race tracks in all three, but none has held a GN/Cup race in the past. Of the ten remaining, let’s take them in chronological order.
TENNESSEE - Bristol has run 113 GN/Cup races to date, and quite a few other tracks have been on the schedule in the past - Smoky Mountain Speedway (was “Raceway” at times, too) in Maryville, for instance, had a bunch, including the one where Buddy Baker used to tell about being loaded into an ambulance after a crash, only to have the gurney roll out the back door and across the track as the field was heading his way. The “past races” champ, however, is TMC Chase Whitaker’s favorite Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville (also with several alternate names over the years). In its day, between 1958 and 1984, it ran 42 GN/Cup events. Both Smoky Mountain and Nashville continue as active tracks today, although the latter faces the challenge of most fairgrounds tracks with anti-racing wingnuts who want to remove it and build a ballpark or something.
SOUTH CAROLINA - You’d think Darlington would have run more races than anyone else, but consider how many years - both early and most recently - it only ran one GN/Cup event, and you can see why it’s only tied with Bristol for fourth place (among tracks still to run a race this year). South Carolina also has had other stalwart speedways - all from before the “modern era” and its shorter schedule began in 1972. Of those, Columbia Speedway ran the most GN/Cup events, 43. Sadly, this facility is now “Historic Columbia Speedway,” and while the track still exists, it’s used as an events venue (including drive-in movies in the summer).
VIRGINIA (for Richmond race) - You could add “historic” to Richmond International Raceway, too - as long as you didn’t stop racing there - since it’s been around since right after WWII and has been running GN/Cup since 1953, which is why its 122 total events place in as the runner-up for the most. Somewhat surprisingly, there’s a big drop to the top spot among no-longer-active-as-Cup venues, but the holder of that title still proudly races late models and other divisions. South Boston Speedway ran 10 races between 1960 and 1971.
NEW HAMPSHIRE and DELAWARE - Loudon (45 races) and Dover (95) are alone as venues in these states.
NORTH CAROLINA - Charlotte stands in third place with 117 past events, but N.C. probably has more contenders after that than anyone else. Well ahead of the rest of the pack, though, are the two tracks that made it into the “modern era,” and of those, North Wilkesboro (93 races) gets the edge over Rockingham (78).
ALABAMA - I was a little surprised that Talladega (96) ranks as high as it does, but I guess that’s just because I’m old and can’t believe I’d already been following racing for quite a while when it opened in 1969. How well I remember “Big Bill” France taking a car out on the big track himself to show the Professional Drivers Association racers that it was safe. I kind of liked Richard Brickhouse, too, and was sorry his career didn’t extend far beyond that win in the first Talladega race. Anyway, here’s another steep drop: I also was a bit surprised that Birmingham International Raceway didn’t run more than eight GN/CUP events, the last in 1968. It was another fairgrounds track that was the victim of empire-building politicians who had it torn down so they could bring in something more to their liking.
VIRGINIA (Part II, for Martinsville) - The little paperclip everybody loves has held 137 GN/Cup races, tops among all tracks remaining on this year’s schedule and second overall to Daytona (and second ONLY because, when the track is owned by the same family as the sanctioning body, you get to count your qualifying races as “official” for a number of years, giving you four events a year), which has 141. For years, Virginia had three tracks running weekly NASCAR-sanctioned races on Saturday nights, with the already mentioned South Boston as one of them. The other two, Langley Speedway in Hampton and Old Dominion Speedway (in Manassas until its demise a few years back) rank second and third in the state’s former tracks with nine and seven events, respectively. It’s maybe worth mentioning that in 1964 Old Dominion actually ran a 500-lap race, but it didn’t pay much more than a 200-lapper would have, and 20 cars showed up (including a couple of start-and-parks). Ned Jarrett won that weird event, and the tenth-place finisher was 86 laps behind.
TEXAS - Bruton Smith’s speed palace has now run 33 Monster/Cup races since 1997. The runner-up still exists, but its demise has been announced and presumably will happen soon. Texas World Speedway in College Station was part of the Larry LoPatin’s American Raceways empire that came and went in the 1960s and ‘70s. Michigan is the remnant of that failed empire. TWS was supposed to close this year but is still hosting private tests and driving schools. Its website calls the two-mile track “the only Super Speedway in the Southwest.” Hmmmm. In better times, TWS ran eight races from 1969-81. Last month, a “rodeo-style” event was held there during which a feud between two attendees resulted in a shooting, and the promoter has been arrested for failing to acquire the proper permits to hold the event. (NASCAR thinks it has problems.)
ARIZONA - Phoenix has now hosted 42 races, and it’s not that far away from the second-place venue, the Arizona State Fairgrounds, which hosted four races in NASCAR’s early years. This track, a mile horse-racing facility initially, also ran AAA/USAC Champ/Speedway cars and other events before at least part of it was removed to make room for the coliseum where the Phoenix Suns play basketball these days. My understanding is that the current Phoenix International was built as a replacement for the fairgrounds track.
FLORIDA - Homestead is the baby among tracks still to run Monster/Cup races this year, with only 18 previous events, but of course it’s somewhat in the shadow of Daytona, and the old Beach-Road Course there actually stands in third place historically with 10 races. I’ll also mention the next track in order, though, because Palm Beach Speedway in West Palm Beach ran seven events in the ‘50s. It’s also worth mentioning Speedway Park in Jacksonville, which ran six events, the last of which was Wendell Scott’s historic victory in 1963.
It speaks for the stability of the current Monster/Cup schedule that each track still to run in 2017 has had more past events than any of the no-longer-active speedways in its state. On the other hand, if you’re from one of those areas and you saw a great race at South Boston, North Wilkesboro, Birmingham, Nashville or Columbia, you might prefer a return to those roots over the sterile product the suits from NASCAR, TV and the corporations provide us with today. For me, it wouldn’t be a tough choice.