Wallace shuts down Riverside with victory

Sunday, June 12, 1988 – Rusty Wallace will forever be the last driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race at Riverside International Raceway as he outran Terry Labonte, Ricky Rudd and Dale Earnhardt in a four-lap shootout to capture the Budweiser 400, the final NASCAR race to be held at the 2.62-mile road course. The track, which hosted its first NASCAR premier series race in 1958, was closed and a shopping mall was eventually built on the site.

It was the fifth career win for Wallace, driver of the Raymond Beadle-owned Blue Max Racing Pontiac, and the first of six he would score in ’88. It was also his third road course win and second in a row at Riverside.

A NASCAR error nearly cost Wallace the victory – when the caution flag appeared for a spin by Ken Schrader with eight laps remaining, the pace car mistakenly picked up the leaders before they had a chance to race back to the start/finish line (allowed at that time). Wallace and Rudd slowed; Earnhardt and Phil Parsons shot by both drivers and the pace car and rushed back to the line. Officials realized the error and corrected it by placing Earnhardt and Parsons behind Wallace and Rudd before the final restart with four laps remaining.

There was a 25-minute red flag period after driver Ruben Garcia crashed through a guard rail, chain fence and cement wall, finally coming to rest just short of a seating area for spectators. Neither Garcia nor any fans were injured in the incident.

NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick qualified 13th and finished 15th. Hendrick pitted during the race’s second caution and turned the driving duties over to road-course specialist Elliot Forbes-Robinson. It was Hendrick’s second, and final, Cup start.

Officials announced a crowd of more than 75,000 for the final race at the southern California road course.

While Wallace holds the mark as the final NASCAR race winner, Rudd holds the qualifying record, having set the mark of 118.484 mph during qualifying for the final race.

Morgan Shepherd filled in for Harry Gant in the Mach 1 Racing Chevrolet owned by movie director and stuntman Hal Needham. Gant was recovering from a broken leg sustained in a crash during the Coca-Cola 600.

Parsons adds road course win to resume

Sunday, June 11, 1978 – Benny Parsons, who won a Daytona 500 in 1972 and a premier series championship in ’73, finally won on a road course when he outlasted the competition to capture the NAPA 400 at Riverside International Raceway. The win came in Parsons’ 17th attempt at the 2.62-mile layout.

Parsons, 36, drove his L.G. DeWitt-owned Monte Carlo to the front, passing Bobby Allison with 16 laps remaining in the 95-lap affair. It was his third win of the year, coming on the heels of victories at Richmond, Va. and Darlington, S.C.

Parsons’ pit crew was the same group pitting the No. 11 Oldsmobile fielded by Junior Johnson and driven by Cale Yarborough. Parsons asked for the help in an effort to save money by not bringing additional crewmen on the trip.

Yarborough, the No. 2 qualifier, led 47 laps, most of anyone. However, he was penalized 30 seconds by NASCAR for improper pitting – he used an illegal shortcut to get to pit road after suffering a flat tire.

Runner-up Richard Petty saw his winless streak reach 28 races at Riverside. The six-time series champion had not won since the July Daytona race of the previous season.

Hershel McGriff won a sportsman/modified combo race, the Warner W. Hodgdon 200, contested earlier that day at Riverside. McGriff then came back to finish 17th in the Cup event.

Earnhardt’s first pole comes on road course

Friday, June 8, 1979 – It took Dale Earnhardt only 16 starts to win his first NASCAR premier series race. It didn’t take much longer for the future Hall of Famer to score his first pole. On a road course, at that. Earnhardt, 28, captured his first No. 1 starting position with a race record qualifying lap of 113.089 mph at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway. The pole came in his 24th start; it was his second appearance on the eight-turn course.

Second fastest in first round qualifying was road-racing ace Jimmy Insolo, a Winston West champion. Insolo had given Earnhardt lessons on getting around the road course during a test in January of ’79.

In addition to the No. 1 qualifying position, the pole also put Earnhardt in the following season’s Busch Clash, a non-points race for the previous year’s pole winners.

Earnhardt had made one start for team owner Rod Osterlund in 1978 before running fulltime with the organization in ’79. Earnhardt’s crew chief was Jake Elder.

Race day wasn’t as memorable for both front-row starters. Earnhardt lost a wheel just 12 laps into the race and had to battle back to finish 13th after an extended pit stop; Insolo, felled by engine trouble after 45 laps, wound up driving in relief for Richard Petty due to the intense heat.