Stadium Racing Part of NASCAR’s Roots
by Tom Jensen January 28, 2022
Chicago’s Soldier Field hosted NASCAR racing, as well as a variety of open-wheel series back in the day
There’s a huge buzz building in the NASCAR community for the February 6 Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, the season-opening premier series exhibition race that will be run on a 0.250-mile track built inside the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The excitement is understandable.
The Coliseum celebrated its 99th birthday on January 5th. Over the last century, the venerable Los Angeles landmark has hosted multiple Summer Olympics, a Super Bowl, heavyweight championship fights, decades of college and professional football games, concerts, political rallies and much more.
And while this marks NASCAR’s first appearance at this venue, it is not the sanctioning body’s first crack at stadium racing.
Bowman-Gray Stadium, a 0.250-mile track in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, hosted 29 premier series races from 1958 to ’71 and still stages Saturday night races in a variety of divisions.
Then there’s Soldier Field.
Still home to the Chicago Bears of the National Football League, Soldier Field was a hot bed of open-wheel racing after World War II ended. And in 1956 and ’57, the football stadium staged four NASCAR races on its 0.500-mile track.
Some highlights from Soldier Field:
In the late 1940s, open-wheel racing was immensely popular in the Midwest. As a result, Soldier Field hosted a variety of different racing series, including roadsters, midgets, jalopies and other classes. The races drew big crowds of entertainment-starved race fans.
Even before NASCAR sanctioned races there, Soldier Field in Chicago was one of the more popular venues for auto racing in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Stock cars races were successful for the facility, as well as for the competitors and the fans.
The first time the NASCAR Convertible Division raced at Soldier Field was June 30, 1956. Hall of Famer Curtis Turner (2015) led the first 194 laps, but with six laps to go, local favorite Tom Pistone passed Turner in the race’s only lead change. It was an immensely popular victory for Pistone, who earned $650 with the win.
The 1956 season saw the premier series race on the 0.500-mile Soldier Field oval for the first and only time. In a finish that saw five drivers complete all 200 laps, Hall of Famer Fireball Roberts (2014) finished one car length ahead of Jim Paschal to claim the $850 winner’s purse.
NASCAR’s fourth and final race at Chicago’s Soldier Field was run on June 29, 1957, when Hall of Famer Glen Wood (2012) won a 100-lap Convertible Division battle over Possum Jones. For his efforts, Wood’s share of the purse was $600.