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California Dreaming - 60 Years of NASCAR

NASCAR
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

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NASCAR's 60th anniversary season continues this week with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returning to California Speedway for Sunday's Auto Club 500, renewing a tradition that has long preceded the 2-mile Fontana oval.

Richard Petty and Bobby Allison duel at Riverside International Raceway.

Photo Credit - Getty Images

NASCAR has a rich, varied history in California that is worth remembering and cherishing. California events in NASCAR's premier series – a total of 119 heading into Sunday – have played a vital role in building the sport's popularity. Twenty-three of those 119 events were held in the 1950s.

Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are two of seven California natives currently competing in NASCAR Sprint Cup. Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Robby Gordon, David Gilliland and AJ Allmendinger are the others
No other state has that many NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers these days.

And that situation surely owes some sort of debt to the "old days" of NASCAR in California that began with NASCAR's third season of existence, 1951.

Consider:

* From 1970-81, the NASCAR Sprint Cup season opened not with the Daytona 500 but rather in the Golden State, at the old Riverside International Raceway road course.

* From 1981-86, Riverside hosted the finale.

* From 1974-80, Ontario Motor Speedway hosted the season finale.

Three wide starts at Ontario Speedway.

Photo Credit - Racing One Multimedia

* In 1979, Richard Petty clinched the last of his seven series championships at Ontario, by finishing fifth in the L.A. Times 500.

And that’s only a small part of the story.

In 1951 – NASCAR’s fourth year of existence, there were three California dirt tracks on the schedule – Carrell Speedway in Gardena, Marchbanks Speedway in Hanford and Oakland Stadium.

There were a total of 23 races run in California during the 1950s. The list of winners from those events is dotted with legends:

* In April 1951, Marshall Teague won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race held in California, at Carrell Speedway in Gardena, driving the famed Hudson Hornet.

* Herb Thomas, the two-time series champion, won at Eureka Speedway in May 1956.

* Marvin Panch won the 1957 season opener at Willow Springs Speedway in Lancaster.

On to the 1960s, and California native Dan Gurney, an open-wheel and sports-car star, winning at Riverside five times (1963-85, ’68), driving for two renowned NASCAR organizations – Holman-Moody and the Wood Brothers.

Rusty Wallace leads the way at Infineon Speedway.

Photo Credit - David Taylor / Getty Images

In the 1970s, A.J. Foyt won the first two Ontario Motor Speedway events, in 1971-72. In the ‘80s, Tim Richmond won four times (twice in 1982, then in 1986-87) at Riverside. In the 1990s, at the new speedway in Fontana, a newer legend took up where others had left off. Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon won two of the first three races (1997, ’99) there. This decade, reigning champion Jimmie Johnson has two Fontana victories.

Gordon and Johnson, in fact, are two of seven California natives competing in NASCAR Sprint Cup. Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Robby Gordon, David Gilliland and AJ Allmendinger are the others.

No other state has that many NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers these days.

And that situation surely owes some sort of debt to the “old days” of NASCAR in California.

(Note: The chart below details the history of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing in California, since NASCAR’s 1948 inception.)

Track

Size/Surface City Years In Series Races
Ascot Stadium half-mile/dirt Los Angeles 1957, ’59, ’61 3
Bay Meadows Speedway mile/dirt San Mateo 1954-56 3
California Speedway 2-mile/paved Fontana 1997-present 15
California State Fairgrounds mile/dirt Sacramento 1956-61 6
Capitol Speedway half-mile/dirt Sacramento 1957 1
Carrell Speedway half-mile/dirt Gardena 1951, ’54 3
Eureka Speedway .625-mile/dirt Eureka 1956-57 2
Infineon Raceway 1.99-mile/road Sonoma 1989-present 19
Marchbanks Speedway half-mile/dirt Hanford 1951, ’60-61 3
Merced Fairgrounds half-mile/dirt Merced 1956 1
Oakland Stadium .625-mile/dirt Oakland 1951, ’54 3
Ontario Motor Speedway 2.5-mile/paved Ontario 1971-80 9
Riverside International Raceway 2.631-mile/road Riverside 1958,’61,’63-88 48
Santa Clara Fairgrounds half-mile/dirt San Jose 1957 1
Willow Springs Speedway 2.5-mile/road Lancaster 1956-57 2

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