Legendary Darlington track sold to ISC

Monday, June 28, 1982 – Darlington (S.C.) Raceway stockholders agreed to a sale of the historic facility to International Speedway Corp., the Daytona Beach, Fla.-based track ownership arm run by the France family. While no purchase price was announced, reports put the sale of the facility at between $2.5 million and $4.2 million.

Darlington was built after founder Harold Brasington visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway and wanted a similar venue for stock car racing. The track began hosting NASCAR events in 1950. It was the first paved superspeedway in NASCAR, measuring 1.25-miles when it opened.

The track hosted one premier series race, the Southern 500, annually from 1950-’51; two races during the ’52 season, then one again from ’53-59. From 1960-2004, Darlington hosted two Cup races each season and then one again since’05.

The Southern 500, considered one of the series’ crown jewels, has had the largest fields to ever start a Cup race – including a record 82 in 1951.

The purchase gave ISC three facilities that hosted Cup races – Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Darlington. Today, the ownership group holds 12 tracks that host 19 of the season’s 36 points races.

Yarborough collects first NASCAR victory

Sunday, June 27, 1965 – Cale Yarborough finally joined the ranks of the winners on NASCAR’s premier circuit when he picked up the victory in the rain-delayed 200-lap race at Valdosta (Ga.) 75 Speedway. Yarborough, 26, was making his 78th career start in the series and his fourth for car owner Kenny Myler.

J.T. Putney, G.C. Spencer, Stick Elliott and Harvey Jones rounded out the top five at the end of the 100-mile race.

Yarborough, who started fifth in the No. 06 Ford, finished three laps ahead of runner-up Putney. He took the lead at lap 183 and led the final 18 circuits.

The race, No. 28 of 55 contested that season, had originally been scheduled for Saturday, June 26 but was halted after just 12 laps due to rain. Polesitter Dick Hutcherson of Keokuk, Iowa was leading when the race was halted.

Had it not been for the rain delay, Yarborough would not have competed in the event. The rain kept the Timmonsville, S.C. resident from flying from Charlotte, N.C. to Valdosta and another driver, Sam McQuagg, qualified the entry and started the race. When officials postponed the race until Sunday, Yarborough reportedly drove all night to get to Valdosta, arriving at the track some four hours before the race resumed. Rather than pick up the race at lap 13, officials re-started the race to be run in its entirety. Had it been resumed instead, McQuagg would have gotten credit for the victory since he was the driver of record when the race began on Saturday.

Fitting finish for Stewart at Sonoma

Sunday, June 26, 2016 – Three-time NASCAR premier series champion Tony Stewart won for the 39th and final time of his career, capturing the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.

Stewart led the final 22 laps around the 1.99-mile, 11-turn course but briefly lost the top spot, and nearly the race, on the very last lap when Denny Hamlin shot past in Turn 7. Stewart regrouped and chased Hamlin down, then overtook the Joe Gibbs Racing driver in the final turn.

The victory was Stewart’s first since June 2, 2013 and ended a streak of 84 starts without a win.

It was his third career win at Sonoma and his eighth on a road course.

Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. completed the top five.

The win kept Stewart’s hopes of qualifying for NASCAR’s playoffs alive by meeting one of two qualifiers. The second, that he be in the top 30 in driver point standings by the cutoff, was eventually accomplished as well.

An injury suffered while driving a sand buggy in January of that year had resulted in Stewart missing the season’s first eight races.

A first for Florian and Ford at Dayton

Sunday, June 25, 1950 – Jimmy Florian scored his first and only victory in NASCAR’s premier series in his fourth start, winning the 200-lap race at Dayton (Ohio) Speedway. Florian, 27, led 40 laps, including the final 32, in his No. 27 Ford. Dick Linder, Buck Barr, Curtis Turner and Art Lamey rounded out the top five.

Florian’s win was also the first for Ford in NASCAR competition. It would be five years and 190 races before another Ford made it into the winner’s circle.

Florian also holds the distinction of being the only NASCAR premier series driver to win while competing shirtless. NASCAR safety standards still had a long way to go in ’50.

The race was also the first in the series to be contested on asphalt. Not surprisingly, perhaps, there were reports of nearly 30 tire failures.

Getting rid of restrictor plates?

Monday, June 24, 1991 – NASCAR officials, along with five Cup Series teams, began a two-day test at Talladega Superspeedway in an attempt to develop an aerodynamic package that could allow the sanctioning body to potentially eliminate the use of carburetor restrictor plates at its two superspeedways. Use of the horsepower-reducing plates kept speeds under 200 mph but many drivers complained that the plates also keep the field bunched too closely together, often leading to dangerous, multi-car crashes.

A 20-car pileup, which left driver Kyle Petty sidelined with a broken left leg, occurred in the May 6 Winston 500 at Talladega a month earlier. The bulk of the blame for the crash was placed on driver Ernie Irvan, who tried to squeeze in between Petty and Mark Martin, igniting the crash, and the 7/8-inch restrictor place, which kept cars running closely together.

Drivers taking part in the test at the 2.66-mile track were Dale Earnhardt (Chevrolet), Bill Elliott (Ford), Brett Bodine (Buick), Harry Gant (Oldsmobile) and Bobby Hillin (Pontiac). Gant had won the May race at Talladega; Hillin was filling in at the test for the injured Petty.

Officials tested with changes to the rear spoilers as well as smaller pieces along the top of the car, down the C-post (alongside the rear window) and across the rear deck lid, all on the driver’s side. A “reverse” spoiler underneath the rear of the cars was also expected to be tested.

Cup Series director Dick Beatty said if officials found anything they felt could make the racing at the two tracks safer and more competitive it likely would be implemented in time for the summer race at Daytona.

Rain on the following day cut the test short and officials called the results “inconclusive.”

NASCAR stars wrap up Indy test

Tuesday, June 23, 1992 – Nine NASCAR premier series teams wrapped up the second day of a two-day test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway held to gauge the feasibility of competing at the legendary 2.5-mile venue. It was part Goodyear tire test, part show as some 50,000 fans turned out for the two-day program.

The nine drivers participating in the test were Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, Ernie Irvan, Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Kyle Petty, Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip.

Wallace was the first driver out of the garage once the track was open for testing; Earnhardt led the first lap.

NASCAR’s Bill France Jr. and Indy’s Tony George insisted there was no agreement in place to bring NASCAR to Indy. “Since (NASCAR) started in 1949 we’ve been able to live without (racing at Indy) and it’s not do or die,” France told reporters, “but yes we would like to come here and race.”

The second day concluded with a drafting “exhibition” that turned into a mini-race of nine laps or so, thrilling the thousands of fans who turned out for the spectacle.

Another first for Gordon

Sunday, June 22, 1997 – Jeff Gordon helped usher in another era of NASCAR competition in Southern California, winning the inaugural California 500 at California Speedway. It marked the seventh win of the season in just 15 starts for the 25-year-old phenom and one-time series champion.

The first-ever race at the 2-mile Roger Penske-owned facility ended in a fuel mileage battle with Gordon barely having enough to finish the race and drive to victory lane. Mark Martin was forced to stop for fuel while leading after passing Gordon with 17 laps remaining. Gordon beat teammate Terry Labonte to the finish line by 1.074 seconds.

Gordon was the first driver to win at three different tracks when they became part of the NASCAR premier series schedule: he was the first to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in ’94, the first to win at California and four years later the first to win when the series visited Kansas Speedway.

While the series had been competing in northern California at Sonoma Raceway since 1989, racing had been absent from southern California for almost a decade following the closing of Riverside International Raceway in ’88. Ontario Motor Speedway, located much closer, had been shuttered in 1980.

The first race at California Speedway, which was built on the grounds of the old Kaiser steel mill, drew an estimated crowd of 89,000.

Labonte, Ricky Rudd, Ted Musgrave and Jimmy Spencer completed the top five.

Joe Nemechek won the first NASCAR premier series pole at the speedway. Three drivers – Kenny Wallace, Mike Wallace and Billy Standridge – failed to qualify.  

Driver Robby Gordon, still dealing with burns suffered in an Indy 500 crash, hit the wall during qualifying at California and failed to receive clearance from doctors to continue competing. The SABCO Racing driver was replaced for the race by Greg Sacks.

A win for Rathman; death visits Langhorne

Sunday, June 21, 1953 – Dick Rathman started on the pole and led all 200 laps to capture the International 200 NASCAR premier series event at Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway. Rathman, driving a ’53 Hudson, beat Lee Petty by four laps to score his seventh career victory. It was the first NASCAR premier series race to feature both America-made and foreign-built entries.

There were 11 different makes of automobiles in the lineup, including four from outside the U.S. ­– Aston Martin, Jaguar, Porsche and, for the only time in series history, Volkswagen.

Team owner and part-time driver Frank Arford, 42, died from injuries sustained in a crash during qualifying the day before the race. A native of Indianapolis, Arford also owned the entry driven by Dick Passwater. According to reports, Arford was thrown from his vehicle after the car began to roll. It stopped only after crashing through a barrier. In addition to being in the used car business, Arford also worked as a boxing referee in amateur bouts.

Canadian Lloyd Shaw, driving one of six Jaguars entered in the race, won the pole in his first NASCAR outing. It also proved to be his only NASCAR outing.

Langhorne, a 1-mile dirt track, hosted NASCAR events from 1949 through 1957.

Petty, Jim Paschal, Herb Thomas and Bill Blair rounded out the top five in the 38-car field.

Yarborough continues to master Michigan

Sunday, June 20, 1982 – Three-time NASCAR premier series champion Cale Yarborough continued his mastery of the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway, recording his sixth career victory in the Gabriel 400. Yarborough’s No. 27 Buick, fielded by owner M.C. Anderson, led 73 of the race’s 200 laps and survived a last-lap encounter with Darrell Waltrip to earn the win.

Waltrip dove underneath Yarborough in Turn 3 on the white-flag lap and there was brief contact but Waltrip couldn’t make the pass. On the cool-down lap, Waltrip again made contact with Yarborough, but wound up spinning into the grass. Asked about the altercation, Yarborough said “Guess I’ll have to meet him in the Big K parking lot.” Waltrip, upset over fan reaction to his crash in the World 600 at Charlotte, had earlier suggested “putting out a bulletin that I’ll be at the Big K parking lot … and anybody that don’t like me can show up.”

Bill Elliott, Bobby Allison and Ricky Rudd completed the top five.

The race was delayed twice by rain for a total of 3 hr., six min. Once the rain stopped, the race didn’t go green again until 7:20 p.m. It finished at 9:12 p.m.

Robin McCall, 18 and only recently out of high school, made her NASCAR premier series debut, finishing 29th in the J.D. Stacy-owned No. 5 Buick.

Ron Bouchard started on the pole for the second time in his career.

NASCAR launches Strictly Stock series

Sunday, June 19, 1949 – After one season of sanctioning Modified races around the country, NASCAR launches its Strictly Stock series. The inaugural 200-lap event was contested at Charlotte (N.C.) Speedway, a three-quarter mile dirt track. Local racer Glenn Dunaway was flagged the winner, however he was later disqualified for having altered rear springs on his ’47 Ford. As a result, the series’ first victory was awarded to Kansas native Jim Roper.

Roper, who completed only 197 of the race’s 200 laps, had learned of the inaugural event when he saw it mentioned in the nationally syndicated comic strip Smilin’ Jack.

Attendance for the race was estimated at 13,000.

Nine different makes of automobiles were featured.

The 33-car lineup was set via qualifying. Bob Flock was the series’ first pole winner.

Six future NASCAR Hall of Fame members competed in the race: Red Byron, Tim Flock, Curtis Turner, Buck Baker, Lee Petty and Herb Thomas.

Roper made only one more start in the series, finishing 15th later that year at Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsborough, N.C.

The race was the first of eight for the inaugural season; the track hosted 12 races in what is now the Cup series as well as three convertible series events.

Admission was $2 (infield), $3 (grandstand) and $4 (reserved grandstand).