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Top-10 List: January Races

10 factoids from the days when NASCAR actually raced during the month of January.

For the last 39 years, the NASCAR premier series season has begun each February with Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway. And it’s been 40 years since the first race of the season took place in the month of January.

Once upon a time, though, NASCAR did race in January. Not often, mind you, but occasionally.

So now that the holidays are over, the first Top 10 list of 2021 covers NASCAR trivia regarding the month of January.

Lee Petty raced at Palm Beach Speedway in the early days of NASCAR. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

10. First January race

The 1952 premier series season opened up on January 20, 1952, at Palm Beach Speedway, a 0.500-mile dirt track in West Palm Beach, Florida. There, Hall of Famer Tim Flock (2014) lapped runner-up Lee Petty (2011) and the rest of the field. Driving a Ted Chester-owned Hudson Hornet, Flock led 194 of 200 laps to win $1,025.

9. Total January races

In the 72-year history of the premier series, there have only been 20 races contested in January, the last one coming in 1981.

8. Tracks that have hosted January races

Believe it or not, just three tracks have hosted premier series races during the month of January. Including the aforementioned Palm Beach Speedway in 1952. Arizona State Fairgrounds, a 1.00-mile dirt track in Phoenix, staged a 150-nile race won by Buck Baker (2013) on January 22, 1956. The other 18 January premier series races were all run on the old 2.7-mile Riverside International Raceway road course in Southern California.

On January 22, 1967, Parnelli Jones won the Motor Trend 500. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

7. Biggest January field

The 1967 Motor Trend 500 at Riverside International Raceway had a field of 46 cars, the largest of any premier series race ever run in January. Open-wheel ace Parnelli Jones drove a Bill Stroppe-owned Ford to victory over Paul Goldsmith and Norm Nelson.

6. Slowest January race

In the early days, premier series races at Riverside International Raceway were a full 500 miles, which made for long afternoons in the Southern California sun. In 1963, Dan Gurney won the Riverside 500 behind the wheel of the iconic No. 28 Holman-Moody Racing Ford frequently piloted by Fred Lorenzen (2015). It took Gurney 5 hours, 53 minutes and 20 seconds to go the distance, averaging 84.965 mph.

5. Fastest January race

In terms of average speed, the fastest January premier series race was the 1979 Winston Western 500 at Riverside International Raceway. Driving for DiGard Racing, Darrell Waltrip (2012) averaged 107.82 mph in a race that ran caution free. With the race distance shortened from the old 500 miles to 500 kilometers – about 312 miles – Waltrip needed just 2 hours, 53 minutes and 30 seconds to defeat fellow Hall of Famers David Pearson (2011) and Cale Yarborough (2012).

4. Most January victories

Of the 18 races run in January at Riverside International Raceway, Dan Gurney won five of them, making him the biggest January winner in NASCAR history. Not coincidentally, all of Gurney’s career premier series wins were at Riverside.

3. Hall of Famers who won January races

Seven NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees won premier series races in the month of January: Tim Flock (2014) in 1952; Buck Baker (2013) in 1956; Richard Petty (2010) in 1972; Cale Yarborough (2012) in 1974 and ‘78; Bobby Allison (2011) in 1975 and 1981; David Pearson (2011) in 1976 and ’77; and Darrell Waltrip (2012) in 1979 and ’80.

2. Most team wins in January

Wood Brothers Racing, the team founded by Hall of Famer Glen Wood (2012) in 1950, won five January races at Riverside International Raceway, with Dan Gurney in in 1964-66 and ’68 and David Pearson in 1976 and ’77.

Bobby Allison leads David Pearson, Richard Petty and the rest of the field at Riverside International Raceway in the 1975 Winston Western 500. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

1. Last January Race

On January 11, 1981, Bobby Allison (2011) won the Winston Western 500 at Riverside International Raceway, leading an all-Hall of Fame top five ahead of Terry Labonte (2016), Dale Earnhardt (2010), Richard Childress (2017) and Richard Petty (2010). NASCAR has not hosted a premier series race in January since that day 40 years ago.

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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.