California Dreaming - 60 Years of NASCAR
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.
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
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.
* 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.
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.
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.)
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