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Curator's Corner / Historic Moments

NASCAR’s Top 10 Twists and Turns

Road racing has been a thing in NASCAR since its inception. Here are 10 road course facts you may not know.

Time to turn right as well as left.

When NASCAR heads to Austin, Texas, and the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) this weekend, all three of the sanctioning body’s national touring series will once again be back road racing.

One of the hottest segments in NASCAR, road course racing is both highly competitive and highly entertaining. That edge-of-your-seat intensity should continue this weekend at COTA, a world-class, purpose-built road course that opened in 2012 and already has hosted a number of global and national racing events.

And that makes it the perfect time to delve into the history of NASCAR road races. Following are 10 fun facts about NASCAR road racing.

Red Byron, shown here in 1950, won the first NASCAR premier series road race, which took place on the old Daytona Beach Road-Course in 1949. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

10. The First Road Race

NASCAR’s first premier series road race came in just the second event of the inaugural season. On July 10, 1949, Hall of Famer Red Byron (2018) won a 40-lap race on the Daytona Beach Road-Course, a 4.15-mile oval circuit that, as the name implies, was run both on a public road and the beach. Drivers raced south down Atlantic Avenue, took a hard left turn and then raced north up the beach to another hairpin left turn to complete the lap.

Fred Lorenzen led eventual winner Fireball Roberts to the green flag at Augusta International Raceway in 1963. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

9. One-Hit Wonders

COTA will be the 16th road course the premier series has competed on. Of the previous 15, five hosted just a single NASCAR event: Linden Airport in New Jersey in 1954; Florida’s Titusville-Cocoa Speedway in 1956; Kitsap County Airport in Washington state in 1957; New York’s Montgomery Air Base in 1960; and Augusta International Raceway in Georgia in 1963. Give an asterisk to Road America in Wisconsin, which hosted its only premier series road race in 1956. The picturesque circuit is back on the schedule in 2021 for the first time in 65 years.

Stock cars and foreign sports cars raced each other side-by-side at Linden (NJ) Airport in 1954. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

8. Second Road Course

From 1949-53, the only road course the premier series raced on was the Daytona Beach Road-Course. Then in 1954, NASCAR moved in a much different direction, staging the International 100 on the two-mile Linden Airport road course in New Jersey. The catch was that foreign cars were allowed to compete, so in addition to the Hudsons, Oldsmobiles and Plymouths of the day, the field was liberally spiked with Jaguars, MGs, Austin-Healeys and even a Porsche and a Morgan. Al Keller won the race in a Jaguar, one of four big cats to finish in the top six positions.

Al Keller won the first and only International 100 road race, which featured American stock cars and foreign sports cars. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

7. Airport Road Courses

NASCAR staged road races at three airports, between 1954 and 1960, but as noted in item No. 9 none of those three circuits staged a second race. All three – Linden Airport, Kitsap County Airport and Montgomery Air Base - were one and done.

The Daytona Beach Road-Course was one of five facilities to host premier series road races in 1957. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

6. Most Road Races in a Season

In 1957, NASCAR raced on a record five road courses: Willow Springs Speedway, Titusville-Cocoa Speedway, the Daytona Beach Road-Course, Kitsap County Airport and Watkins Glen International.

Now, 64 years later, that record is set to be shattered, as there will be seven premier series road races: Christopher Bell won his first race on the Daytona International Speedway Road Course. Remaining road races on the 2021 schedule include Circuit of the Americas, Sonoma Raceway, Road America, Watkins Glen International, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The 1962 NASCAR season was NASCAR’s last one without a road race. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

5. No Road Races

Here’s a good bar bet question: What are the only two seasons when NASCAR didn’t have any premier series road races? The correct answer is 1959 and 1962. Every other season had at least one road race.

In 1989, Ricky Rudd won the first premier series race at what today is known as Sonoma Raceway. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

4. Latest Addition

Prior to this year, the last time NASCAR added a permanent road course – not an infield road course at an oval track – to its schedule was 1989, when Sears Point International Raceway (now Sonoma Raceway) hosted its first race.

In 2018, Ryan Blaney won the first premier series race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. Photo courtesy of Streeter Lecka

3. Double-Duty Road Courses

In recent years, NASCAR has taken to road racing at oval tracks that also have infield road courses. The Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval” was added to the 2018 schedule and the road course at Daytona International Speedway hosted its first premier series race last year. This year, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which has hosted premier series races on its oval since 1994, will move to its infield course.

Team owner Roger Penske made his NASCAR premier series debut with driver Mark Donohue and his AMC Matador at Riverside International Raceway in 1972. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

2. Most Races at A Single Track

Southern California’s Riverside International Raceway is the track that hosted the most premier series road races. NASCAR first raced at Riverside in 1958, then again in 1961 and continuously from 1963-88. All told, NASCAR raced 48 times at Riverside and was the only road course the sanctioning body used from 1967-80.

Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon holds the premier series record with nine road race wins. Photo courtesy of Jeff Gross/Getty Images.

1. Most Road Course Victories

Not surprisingly, Hall of Famers top the premier series road course victory list. The most successful NASCAR road racer is Jeff Gordon (2019), who has won nine times, all at either Sonoma Raceway or Watkins Glen International. Right behind Gordon is Tony Stewart (2020), an eight-time road course winner. Richard Petty (2010), Bobby Allison (2011), Rusty Wallace (2013) and Ricky Rudd each won six times on road courses.

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Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen

Tom is the Curatorial Affairs Manager at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For more than 25 years, he has been part of the NASCAR media industry.

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