Note that the laps of lead changes and cautions are from the broadcast, and might be a little off.
A bizarre track, a bizarre race, and a bizarre story. Here, we take a look at the 2010 Free State 500, a superspeedway race held at the Phakisa Freeway, in South Africa.
The province of Free State is in central South Africa and is one of nine provinces. Free State borders the small enclosed country of Lesotho, and contains one of South Africa’s three capitals, Bloemfontein, also the provincial capital of Free State. In 1970, the Goldfields Raceway was opened in Odendaalsrus, a town of 60,000 near the province’s second largest city, Welkom (it’s an Afrikaans/Dutch name, so the W is said as a V). The track was likely named after the area’s gold fields, or gold mines.
Goldfields Raceway was a popular circuit for national events over the years. Despite the area being famous for its depressions, Goldfields was a very flat circuit. It was fast, and could be run with little usage of the brakes, especially by open wheelers, though this sort of flat-out racing wasn’t always the best idea, as Goldfields was very famous as being a tire killer.
By 1997, the track owners were looking for more, wanting to bring American oval racing to the area, and so the old road course was demolished, and construction on a new circuit began. The new track, called the Phakisa Freeway, opened in 1999.
The oval is an interesting specimen. Measuring 1.5 miles, it is kind of a mix of pre-reconfiguration Las Vegas and Pikes Peak. The track is a d-oval and is about as wide as Pikes Peak, but the banking was heavily influenced by Las Vegas’, to the point that they are almost identical. The backstretch of Phakisa is banked to 3 degrees, the turns to 12, and the d-oval to 9, a near-exact match with old Las Vegas’ banks, which were 3, 12, and 8 respectively.
Also built with the oval was a 2.636 mile road course, which also has a short course layout of a bit under two miles. The road course doesn’t use any of the banked corners. It does, however, use the oval’s pit lane as its backstretch, and crosses the oval’s backstretch on two occasions.
In 1999, its first year open, the track immediately saw a major event in MotoGP. The South African Motorcycle Grand Prix was held at Phakisa from 1999 to 2004, when it left the track due to economic issues. The oval, however, remained unused. Phakisa’s road course continued to hold all sorts of national level events, as it does today, but there were talks of actually putting the oval to use. Sarel Van Der Merwe, a legendary South African racer who even made a few NASCAR starts, was the only driver to ever lap the oval in a race car, doing so on opening weekend. He apparently was lapping it out of anger directed towards something, presumably the demolition of Goldfields, though I could never find any specifications.
In and of itself, stock car racing is very popular in South Africa, which has a set of dirt tracks for local events. Dirt late models and midgets frequent these circuits, and there are a couple flat asphalt ovals for superstocks and jalopies, such as what is seen in Great Britain. In 2000, an asphalt late model stock car series called SASCAR was founded, however again I could find no evidence that it ever ran the oval at Phakisa. South Africa. In 2004, a larger banked oval opened at Gosforth Park, near Johannesburg. The WesBank Raceway, a slightly banked 0.621 mile oval, is known to have held several SASCAR events. The WesBank Raceway, which also contained an external road course, was fairly popular, but unfortunately it closed in 2007 and was demolished when a local company purchased the property. SASCAR went defunct at some point before 2009.
With the oval at Phakisa looking like it was never going to be used, the American Speed Association, or ASA, took notice. Ever since its financial difficulties in the early 2000s, the ASA was still attempting to recover, and eyed a potential race in South Africa as a good way to bring American superspeedway influence to the country and potentially return to relevance. This ambition gave birth to the Free State 500, to be held at the Phakisa Freeway on January 31st, 2010. 21 local South Africans jumped at the chance to race at the big oval alongside other big names who had entered the race such as Geoff Bodine, Chris Wimmer, and west coast legend Rick McCray and his daughter Toni Marie. A qualifying session was held, and those who were fast enough would be permitted to race. Six of the 21 locals were given the go-ahead to race.
The race itself had been born out of an idea by Dennis Hoth, the ASA president, in September 2009. Organization had been swift, and by December 1, shipments of the cars had begun. The drivers themselves left a week or so beforehand.
2010 ASA TRANSCONTINENTAL VRYSTAAT FREE STATE 500 STARTING LINEUP
#8 Geoffrey BODINE (USA)
#96 Marc DAVIS (USA)
#52 Chris WIMMER (USA)
#09 John MICKEL (GBR)
#F-22 Russ BLAKELEY (USA)
#90 Toni Marie McCRAY (USA)
#F-66 Steve CARLSON (USA)
#19 Tiffany DANIELS (USA)
#11 Jaco CORREIA (RSA)
#97 Mark EBERT (USA)
#22 Johan CRONJE (RSA)
#98 Shaun RICHARDSON (AUS)
#73 Gary LEWIS (USA)
#68 Danie CORREIA (RSA)
#55 Greg BARNHART (USA)
#80 Mark SHAFFER (USA)
#41 Ron NORMAN (USA)
#85 Lance FENTON (USA)
#20 Gugu ZULU (RSA)
#61 Tim OLSON (USA)
#900 Johann SPIES (RSA)
#31 Dustin DUDLEY (USA)
#00 Johan COETZER (RSA)
#08 Rick McCRAY (USA)
#88 Don UHLIR (USA)
The highest qualifying local was Jaco Correia, whose #11 greatly resembled Denny Hamlin’s white and purple Fedex scheme. Jaco Correia, a competitor in South African V8 Supercars, one of the most prestigious series in the country, started ninth. Businessman and hobbyist dirt tracker Johan Cronje’s #22 started 11th. Danie Correia in the #68, brother of Jaco and fellow competitor in South African V8s, started 14th. Starting 19th was the late Gugu Zulu of Cape Town, one of the country’s best rally racers. Johann Spies, a national Super Saloon class champion, started 21st in the #900, and young dirt oval racer Johan Coetzer started 23rd in the #00. Also in the field were John Mickel of Great Britain, who raced both in the ASA and in ASCAR, a stock car series which ran at the now-defunct oval in Rockingham, England, and Shaun Richardson, a Queensland, Australia native best known for his stunt work. The ASA picked up a television contract for the Free State 500 to be shown in the United States on a set of regional channels such as SportSouth, and several local South African channels were also there to broadcast the event. Most of the cars dated back to the early 2000s, with most Fords being Tauruses, most Dodges Chargers, and most Chevys Monte Carlos, though Tiffany Daniels and Shaun Richardson used relatively new-ish Toyota Camrys, and a couple of the frontrunners used Chevy Impalas.
Race day was extremely hot, reportedly approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but the skies themselves were almost cloudless. Race attendance totalled in at about 11,000. Marc Davis got the jump and took the early lead. The grid was one car short, as Dustin Dudley had sold his engine to Johann Spies, who had blown his primary engine in practice. This left Dudley without an engine, so he was headed home. Luckily for him, the South African government had covered travel costs and lodging.
Davis led a few laps, but on lap five, Geoffrey Bodine took the lead and pulled out a decent gap. Sometime before a lap 22 debris yellow, Geoff had lost the lead to Davis. In fact, Geoff had fallen back to fourth. By this point, two cars had dropped out of the event, the #88 Chevy Monte Carlo of Don Uhlir and the #85 Dodge Charger of Lance Fenton.
The field used this chance to pit. By series rules, the cars were only permitted to take on two tires at a time, and were not permitted to refuel during a tire stop or vice versa.
On the lap 29 restart, Marc Davis was the leader, but the mostly unsponsored #73 of Gary Lewis found a fantastic burst of speed. The two Chevrolets raced side by side through turn three, and Lewis surged ahead into the lead. Lewis led them around and to the yellow flag, as the second caution had come out for the #11 of Jaco Correia ramming the wall on entrance to turn three. Correia, of Klerksdorp, North West Province, was out of the race, but he was not hurt.
Lewis continued to lead on the lap 37 restart. A third yellow flew on or around lap 55, likely due to Steve Carlson’s car breaking down. During this run, Chris Wimmer had fallen out of the race, and Mark Shaffer had fallen out the caution before. The cavalry entered the pit lane, and on the lap 64 restart, Geoff Bodine took the lead and led until lap 75 due to a double spin by the #97 of Mark Ebert, the owner of a driving school, and the #68 of Danie Correia of Welkom. The field restarted on lap 85, and not much occurred during the brief green flag run other than the engine on the #00 of Johan Coetzer of Welkom blowing up, putting an end to the 19-year-old’s day. Caution 5 flew on lap 94 for debris, and the field pitted again.
Marc Davis took the lead during pit stops and led the field to the lap 102 restart. John Mickel got a bit of a run in turn one, but Davis surged ahead on the middle line, and Mickel was quickly freight trained. The #08 of Rick McCray then made a move and actually led a lap somewhere during the shuffle, possibly even two laps, though Davis emerged victorious again.
Caution 6 flew on lap 105 due to Mark Ebert in the #97 spinning again off of four, this time to the inside of the track. The field restarted on lap 112, and Geoff Bodine pursued the #96 of Davis from the moment the starter flew the green. On lap 119, he took the lead, but once again Davis made the outside work, and on lap 122, he took it back. Gary Lewis tried his hand at a pass, but Rick McCray, who had somewhere along the line lost a lap, made it three wide and got his lap back in the trioval coming to finish lap 122 and start lap 123. Gary Lewis took the lead in turn one on lap 123 and held it for some time. He put McCray another lap down and led until the seventh yellow on lap 145.
The field made more pit stops, and John Mickel found himself up front on the lap 154 restart. However, Australia’s Shaun Richardson took the lead on the backstretch and pulled out to a great gap, which Geoff Bodine quickly made up as if he were the star of a bad racing movie. Geoff passed Shaun around lap 157. Around this time, Johan Cronje’s engine let go, and the Welkom native would be forced to retire the car. Russ Blakeley’s #F-22 car also let go around lap 163. Blakeley had gone about 35 laps down already, having pulled his car behind the wall earlier in the event, and this would do him in. Interestingly, even after his first mechanical gremlin, Blakeley’s car had still been very fast…
Speaking of a couple of laps down, Marc Davis found himself in this situation. He had been forced to change tires under green, and it had cost him dearly. But the #96 was still quick. He was hoping for a yellow so he could get a lap back, and he got one on lap 167.
The restart flew on lap 174, but Shaun Richardson brought out the yellow on lap 176 when he blew a tire and skidded into turn one. The #98 Toyota Camry was done for the day despite not hitting anything, as Shaun had cooked the car’s clutch in his attempt to get back under way.
Bodine led on the restart on lap 182, but he found himself cutting it close on fuel. In the meantime, a massive cavalry of cars dueled one another to try and become the recipient in case Bodine ran dry. Coming to finish lap 205, Bodine’s car sputtered, and he bailed for the pit lane. Toni Marie McCray and John Mickel were the two beneficiaries, and the #90 of McCray led lap 205 and lap 206. On the white flag lap however, John Mickel in the #09 Chevrolet made a move on the outside of turn one and he made it stick. Mickel held off any further attempts by McCray to reclaim the lead, and John Mickel was the winner at day’s end.
Out of the locals, the #900 of Johann Spies was the best finisher, in fifth. Danie Correia finished 10th, and Gugu Zulu, a rally expert who had never raced on an asphalt track before, finished 11th. Johan Cronje, Johan Coetzer, and Jaco Correia failed to finish.
2010 ASA TRANSCONTINENTAL VRYSTAAT FREE STATE 500 RESULTS
#09 John MICKEL
#90 Toni Marie McCRAY
#96 Marc DAVIS
#08 Rick McCRAY
#900 Johann SPIES
#73 Gary LEWIS
#19 Tiffany DANIELS
#55 Greg BARNHART (-1)
#8 Geoffrey BODINE (-1)
#68 Danie CORREIA (-3)
#20 Gugu ZULU (-5)
#97 Mark EBERT (-5)
#41 Ron NORMAN (-9)
#98 Shaun RICHARDSON (-31, Burnt Clutch)
#22 Johan CRONJE (-52, Engine)
#F-22 Russ BLAKELEY (-79, Mechanical)
#61 Tim OLSON (-92, Status Unknown)
#00 Johan COETZER (-119, Out)
#F-66 Steve CARLSON (-153, Engine)
#52 Chris WIMMER (-169, Mechanical)
#11 Jaco CORREIA (-179, Crash)
#80 Mark SHAFFER (-179, Out)
#85 Lance FENTON (-195, Out)
#88 Don UHLIR (-206, Out)
#31 Dustin DUDLEY (DNS)
Known Cautions: 9
Known Lead Changes: 14
Known Leaders: #08, #09, #8, #73, #96, #98
MoV: 0.4 sec
Hard Charger: #08 Rick McCray Purse: Apparently about $US300,000 Pole Speed: 149.938 mph
The intention was for a few more races to be held at the oval track. Ron Barfield, owner of the #88 and the #55, stated his intention to leave a couple of race cars behind for the South African local drivers, and a racing school was reportedly supposed to be created, however no further races were held at the oval. A planned second Free State 500 scheduled for January 2011 never went anywhere, nor did a revival in November 2012. The ASA faded away during the early 2010s, meaning it likely will not return. The loss of Gugu Zulu, who passed away in mid-2016 after descending Mt. Kilimanjaro, further hurt any possible return. However, the one race that was held was very entertaining and unique, with overtaking galore, especially on the outside line, and the drivers put on a fantastic show.
As for the track itself, national events are still going very strong at the road course, but the oval has remained dormant ever since the 25 stock cars packed up and left the track on January 31, 2010.
“South Africa embraces V8s in 2001”, February 21, 2001 article to Motorsport.com
“Six SA drivers named to race Free State 500”, January 26, 2010 edition of IOL
“ASA Returns To South Africa For Free Satate 500 Nov. 25”, March 30, 2010 article to Raceweek Illustrated
“Florence’s Barfield on racing safari to South Africa”, January 26, 2010 edition of SCNow
The term ‘crashfest’, when applied to racing, usually refers to a race with many yellow flags. NASCAR and local short tracks alike both have seen some messy. Which race was the messiest in NASCAR history depends on perception, but the messiest race purely by caution count was the 1992 Mountain Dew 400.
The Mountain Dew 400 was originally intended to be run on February 22nd, 1992. When the NASCAR Busch Grand National cavalry showed up to Hickory, NC, it was to a rather chilly track. Steve Grissom’s #31 Oldsmobile was on fire, however, and he smashed the track record during qualifying with an average speed of 89.354mph. In fact, the previous record of 88.659mph was beaten by the top eight.
Unfortunately for the fans, Mother Nature was about to throw a wrench in the works, as terrible weather led to the race’s cancellation. The race was rescheduled to April 18th. Most of the drivers were able to return, however second place qualifier Ken Schrader was unable to attend the rescheduled event. Dale Earnhardt, Sr. hopped in Schrader’s car for the race.
#31 Steve GRISSOM
#15 Dale EARNHARDT, SR.
#44 Bobby LABONTE
#63 Chuck BOWN
#27 Ward BURTON
#59 Robert PRESSLEY
#17 Darrell WALTRIP
#20 Mike WALLACE
#75 Butch MILLER
#48 Jack SPRAGUE
#87 Joe NEMECHEK
#77 Jimmy SPENCER
#19 Tom PECK
#08 Bobby DOTTER
#49 Ed FERREE
#99 Ricky CRAVEN
#23 Scott KILBY
#16 Jeff GREEN
#25 Jimmy HENSLEY
#98 Jim BOWN
#1 Jeff GORDON
#4 Ernie IRVAN
#00 Jay FOGLEMAN
#36 Kenny WALLACE
#5 Richard LASATER
#8 Jeff BURTON
#72 Tracy LESLIE
#10 Steve BOLEY
#34 Todd BODINE
#6 Tommy HOUSTON
DC: #15 Ken Schrader
Steve Grissom led the field to the green, but unfortunately the race saw its first caution on lap two, when Ricky Craven spun his Chevrolet in turn four, collecting the fellow Chevrolet-user of Richard Lasater. Both drivers suffered some damage, but they were able to continue on. The race restarted on lap 8, with a lead change thrilling the fans as Dale Earnhardt took the lead. Dale’s Chevrolet was up front for a couple of laps, however he lost the lead to Bobby Labonte, in yet another Chevrolet, on lap 16.
Caution 2 flew on lap 18. The caution had almost come out a short time earlier due to a near spin by Chuck Bown, but Jeff Green’s wall hit in turn two was certainly enough to warrant a yellow. Green’s Chevrolet was done for the day.
Bobby Labonte led the field to the lap 23 restart. By this point, Steve Grissom was getting bored outside the lead, and luckily for him a wall hit by Bobby Labonte was in the cards. Grissom became the race leader once more on lap 28.
Caution 3 flew on lap 34 for the #6 Buick of local driver Tommy Houston spinning in turns three and four. During this caution period, NASCAR threw the red flag. The third and fourth turns had been resurfaced only the day before, and the surface was, predictably, not ready to see racing. The red flag lasted a short while, and the race resumed on lap 39.
Caution 4 flew on lap 41 when Ernie Irvan and Ed Ferree collided in turn four. During the very short green flag run, Jim Bown’s Buick had spun in turn one, but he’d gotten back going without a caution. Caution 5 flew on lap 49 for Ed Ferree spinning yet again in turn four. On a side note, Jim Bown’s day was about to be absolutely dreadful.
On the lap 52 restart, Ricky Craven found that he was suffering from mechanical issues and brought the car behind the wall. Fellow Chevrolet user Ernie Irvan followed him behind the wall a couple of laps later. Ricky Craven would eventually get back in the race, but unfortunately for Irvan, his car’s overheating issues were terminal.
The #1 Baby Ruth Ford of Jeff Gordon had started towards the back, and the young mustachioed Cup prospect, running the field’s only Ford, had run midfield most of the race. His race came to an end with an engine failure on lap 62, warranting caution 6. During the yellow flag, a brief red flag was flown for the pavement coming up in the third and fourth turns yet again. Another driver whose day wasn’t going well was Robert Pressley, he had to head behind the wall with more car troubles, but he returned to the track pretty quickly. He was followed back onto the track by Ricky Craven.
The restart occurred on lap 71. The day got a little better for Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Burton, who had fallen off the lead lap and got laps back during this green flag run, but got a little worse for Robert Pressley, who skidded in turn one, and Tracy Leslie, who had a flat tire.
A double spin on lap 82 caused caution 7. Jim Bown spun the #98 Bank of Granite Racing Buick in turn two, and Jack Sprague, who had been attempting to get a lap back, spun in turn three. The restart flew on lap 86, but yet another double spin warranted caution 8 on lap 89, when Kenny Wallace spun in turn 2 and Tommy Houston in four. In the meantime, Todd Bodine had swerved and collided with Mike Wallace on the backstretch. Mike lost his rear bumper cover in the collision and the cover got caught in the hood of Todd’s Chevrolet. This led to massive complications for Bodine, though he tried his best to continue.
Unfortunately, his efforts were in vain, as the #34 car was terminally damaged. Bodine stalled on the restart on lap 93, forcing caution number 9. The restart finally flew on lap 98, and Jack Sprague got his much-wanted lap back.
Caution 10 flew on lap 101. Richard Lasater and Kenny Wallace collided in the first turn, and in probably the day’s biggest crash, two more cars piled in. Local driver Scott Kilby had found a small team and had done well during the event, but his day turned south when he piled into the mess. Also collected was Mike Wallace. Richard Lasater and Scott Kilby would have to retire their cars.
The race restarted once again on lap 112, but Ed Ferree had seemingly declared war on green flags, as he spun his self-owned car in turn one right after the drop of the green flag. This was the 11th caution of the race. Jimmy Spencer seized the lead during this brief green flag run, and Dale Earnhardt, running tenth at the time, pitted.
The event restarted on lap 118. Kenny Wallace had begun smoking before the restart and his problem was just getting worse, however he remained on the track. Someone who wasn’t up to remaining on the track, however, was Jim Bown, who spun his car in turn 1 on lap 120, bringing out caution 12.
The restart flew on lap 125. Tom Peck, a Pennsylvania dirt tracker who had picked up a ride in the Busch Series a few years before, had been doing well in the race, but his good run came to an end when he skidded his Oldsmobile in turn 2. No caution flew for this, but a caution did fly on lap 127, when Jim Bown spun his car in turn three. Dale Earnhardt pitted again, as did a few more cars including Darrell Waltrip. Kenny Wallace actually stalled his car in the pits.
Lap 130 saw the restart. The lapped car of Jack Sprague got a great jump on the restart and got his lap back, and Jimmy Hensley followed Sprague, Hensley’s pass on Spencer being for the lead. Caution 14 flew on lap 147 when Steve Boley, an Iowan short tracker who had been picked up by Jack Ingram, lost control and spun in turn one. The cavalry made their pit stops under this yellow.
The field got back going on lap 151, just past the race’s halfway point. Jim Bown piled into the turn 2 wall on lap 154, forcing another caution. From here the yellows were rather rapid fire. The restart flew on lap 161. Jay Fogleman piled his Pontiac into the turn four wall, though no yellow flew. A yellow then flew on lap 162, when Jimmy Hensley dumped Tommy Houston, who had just gotten his lap back. Houston already was having a tough day, and the recent passing of his father Oren, only two days before the race in fact, was likely weighing on his mind. Kenny Wallace used this opportunity to return to the track.
The restart was on lap 166, but on lap 169, the 17th yellow flew due to Ed Ferree spinning into the turn two wall. Car #49 would be taken out of the race. The restart flew on lap 173, but an immediate caution flew due to Jeff Burton being dumped in turn four. Tommy Houston got his lap back. Restart lap 180. On the restart, Jimmy Hensley and Butch Miller got together dueling for the lead, sending them plummeting through the field and dealing Hensley a flat tire. Robert Pressley inherited the lead after this. Hensley headed to the pits, being joined by Tom Peck, whose day had come to an end with overheating issues. Bobby Labonte brought out the next yellow on lap 187 after being dumped by Jimmy Spencer in turn one.
Restart lap 193. Jim Bown jumped the restart trying for one of his laps back…and was promptly black flagged for it. This was Bown’s sixth incident of the day. Steve Boley was dumped on lap 199 in turn one by Ward Burton, forcing caution 20, a tie with the record at the time. The previous record was set at South Boston the year prior. Steve Boley would have to drop out of the race, and Ward Burton was black flagged.
The race restarted on lap 208. Chuck Bown blew a wheel on the restart, and he was joined in the pits by Kenny Wallace, whose bad day finally ended with an engine failure. Kenny was so many laps down that he was scored behind Ed Ferree, who himself had had an interesting race.
On lap 216, the 21st caution flew. Tracy Leslie and Mike Wallace collided in turn three, vaulting Leslie’s car into the air a little bit. In another instance of two cars going into the pits and one of them not returning to the track, which was seemingly a recurring thing during this event, Chuck Bown and Bobby Dotter both had to pit. Bown’s Pontiac would head back out, having suffered another tire failure, but Dotter’s Oldsmobile was out of the race with more overheating issues. Embarrassingly, Jim Bown was involved in yet another incident by spinning his car under yellow in turn one.
Jim Bown’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day finally ended on the lap 226 restart when he full-speeded his car into the wall in turn two. Jim Bown was able to drive away and return to the pit lane, having been involved in eight incidents, including his black flag. A couple laps later, Robert Pressley began dragging his bumper cover, forcing him into the pits – only for the bumper to fall off in the pit entry. Jimmy Spencer took the lead.
Caution 22 flew on lap 236. Tracy Leslie and Mike Wallace collided yet again, causing Leslie to drop some debris. The restart flew on lap 244, for what was going to be the longest green flag run of the day. Steve Grissom got his lap back during this run, Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt both pitted when their cars were found to be smoking, and Ward Burton spun his car in turn two, but no caution flew.
Sadly from this point the race was just another compilation of cautions. Jay Fogleman looped the #00 on the frontstretch on lap 267, causing caution 23. The race restarted on lap 273, but on lap 277, Robert Pressley crashed in turn one, warranting another yellow. The race commenced again on lap 280. On lap 282, a three car pileup involving Butch Miller, Darrell Waltrip and Robert Pressley in turn two caused caution 25. The lap 287 restart was followed by another crash with about 10 to go when Jimmy Spencer spun his car. Spencer’s spin didn’t warrant a yellow, neither did Jeff Burton taking his sweet old time to get out of the racing line after suffering a flat tire. The last caution, caution 26, flew on lap 296 when Jimmy Spencer and Jack Sprague collided in turn two, causing the race to end under caution. This meant that Tommy Houston, who had just lost his father, had started the race in last and had been two laps off at one point, would be going to victory lane.
MOUNTAIN DEW 400 RESULTS:
#6 Tommy HOUSTON
#44 Bobby LABONTE
#63 Chuck BOWN
#87 Joe NEMECHEK
#17 Darrell WALTRIP
#31 Steve GRISSOM
#27 Ward BURTON
#25 Jimmy HENSLEY
#75 Butch MILLER
#48 Jack SPRAGUE
#77 Jimmy SPENCER
#15 Dale EARNHARDT, SR.
#59 Robert PRESSLEY (-1)
#8 Jeff BURTON (-3)
#20 Mike WALLACE (-6)
#00 Jay FOGLEMAN (-10)
#72 Tracy LESLIE (-20)
#99 Ricky CRAVEN (-21)
#08 Bobby DOTTER (-70, Overheating)
#98 Jim BOWN (-75, Crash)
#10 Steve BOLEY (-102, Crash)
#19 Tom PECK (-123, Overheating)
#49 Ed FERREE (-135, Crash)
#36 Kenny WALLACE (-139, Engine)
#23 Scott KILBY (-198, Crash)
#5 Richard LASATER (-202, Crash)
#34 Todd BODINE (-207, Engine Damage)
#1 Jeff GORDON (-238, Engine)
#4 Ernie IRVAN (-244, Overheating)
#16 Jeff GREEN (-282, Crash)
Cautions: 26 for 132 laps
Lead Changes: 8
Leaders: 7 (#6, #15, #25, #31, #44, #59, #77)
MoV: Under Caution
Race Duration: 2h01m20s
Hard Charger: #6 Tommy Houston
Winner’s Purse: $14,280
Pole Speed: 89.354 mph
Average Speed: 53.852 mph
The track conditions were heavily criticized by drivers, with slick conditions and a sand-like substance on the apron of turn three and four being noted. “All of us were out of control out there. If it had been a Winston Cup race, they’d never have tried to run it.”, Kenny Wallace told AP. The cavalry, however, continued on to their next race. This would prove to be Tommy Houston’s final win. The NASCAR Busch Grand National Series returned to the track later that year for a much cleaner race, with 13 yellows, and they’d continue to race at the track until 1998.
QUICK INCIDENT GUIDE (* means out of race)
CAUTION 1, LAP 2: #5, #99 crash turn 2 CAUTION 2, LAP 18: #16* crash turn 2 CAUTION 3, LAP 34: #6 spun turns 3/4, RED FLAG for track repair
NO CAUTION, LAP ~40: #98 spun turn 1 CAUTION 4, LAP 41: #4, #49 crash turn 4 CAUTION 5, LAP 49: #49 spun turn 4 CAUTION 6, LAP 62: #1* stalled, RED FLAG for track repair CAUTION 7, LAP 82: #98 spun turn 2, #48 spun turn 3 CAUTION 8, LAP 89: #36 spun turn 2, #34, #20 crash backstretch, #6 spun turn 4 CAUTION 9, LAP 93: #34* stalled CAUTION 10, LAP 101: #20, #23*, #5*, #34 crash turn 1 CAUTION 11, LAP 112: #49 spun turn 1 CAUTION 12, LAP 120: #98 spun turn 1 NO CAUTION, LAP ~125: #19 spun turn 2 CAUTION 13, LAP 127: #98 spun turn 3 CAUTION 14, LAP 147: #10 spun turn 1 CAUTION 15, LAP 154: #98 crash turn 2 NO CAUTION, LAP 161: #00 crash turn 4 CAUTION 16, LAP 162: #6 spun CAUTION 17, LAP 169: #49* crash turn 2 CAUTION 18, LAP 173: #8 spun turn 4 CAUTION 19, LAP 187: #44 spun turn 1 CAUTION 20, LAP 199: #10*, 27 crash turn 1 CAUTION 21, LAP 216: #72, #20 crash turn 3 UNDER CAUTION, LAP ~220: #98 spun turn 1 NO CAUTION, LAP 226: #98* crash turn 2 CAUTION 22, LAP 236: Debris
NO CAUTION, LAP ~250: #27 spun turn 2 CAUTION 23, LAP 267: #00 spun frontstretch CAUTION 24, LAP 277: #59 crash turn 1 CAUTION 25, LAP 282: #75, #59, #17 crash turn 2
NO CAUTION, LAP ~290: #77 spun CAUTION 26, LAP 296: #48, #77 crash turn 2
“Auto Racing”, February 23rd, 1992 edition of the Asbury Park Press
“Mountain Dew NASCAR lineup”, February 23rd, 1992 edition of the Hattiesburg American
“Houston breaks losing streak in complaint-marred race”, April 20th, 1992 edition of the Public Opinion (Chambersburg, PA)
Now we get into the really weird stuff, some of which is stuff you might not find online. These are 48 strange happenings and tidbits in NASCAR that few people remember. I’ve also included ARCA in here for extra fun. NASCAR will be acquiring ARCA in 2020, after all.
Transportation to Australia for the Goodyear 500k at Calder Park in 1988 took three weeks. St. James Davis’ team wasn’t willing to pay for the transport of the engine builder, a guy by the first name of Mitch, and had him sleep in the race car with a sleeping bag, a pillow, and some provisions. After about three days, Mitch got tired of it and exited the hold, where the ship captain, unaware of the stowaway, had him detained. Mitch was held in both quarantine and by Australian immigration authorities for a few days before being released to the custody of Calder Park’s owner, the late Bob Jane. Ironically enough, the 280-lap event ended on lap two for St. James when his engine failed.
Jeff Gordon admitted on Undeniable With Joe Buck in 2017 that he was, in the late 1990s, ordered by NASCAR to keep his leads to no more than four seconds so the race didn’t become boring.
There is no rule stating that a car must be facing forward to receive service in the pit lane. A backwards-facing car can still be serviced as long as all four tires are inside the box.
During qualifying for the 1982 Daytona 500, former RotY Bill Dennis’ Pontiac was traveling at 180mph when, in the span of only two seconds, it snapped out and rammed the turn four wall at full speed. Dennis was clinically killed instantly, but was successfully revived by doctors A.J. Adessa and Jerry Punch. He suffered a broken shoulder, severe internal injuries, and a damaged larynx, along with a broken foot from his attempt to slow. Dennis was out of the hospital after a month, and despite putting in an attempt to return that summer, never raced again.
In 1987, Morgan Shepherd claimed that some teams had devices that could dump oil on the windshields of the cars behind him a la James Bond. He also claimed that there was a device that could produce fake smoke with the intention of making trailing drivers believe the car in front was about to blow up, causing them to hopefully back off.
After a race at Chicagoland in 2005, Jeff Gordon was reportedly so determined to confront Mike Bliss after an incident that he commandeered someone’s golf cart so he could drive to Bliss’ hauler.
Road racer Mike Borkowski did such a terrible job while running for Bill Davis’ Busch team in 2000 that sponsor AT&T sued Borkowski and Davis for the $600,000 they had paid towards sponsorship, stating that Borkowski, who had been fired after wrecking six drivers at the tragic Loudon race in May, had smeared their reputation. The case was settled out of court in November and dropped early the next year.
Jeff Gordon’s uncle, Pat Houston, was the lead trumpet player for Elvis Presley during the 1970s.
Chase Elliott’s full name is William Clyde Elliott II.
In 1956, Fireball Roberts won a race at the Raleigh Speedway in North Carolina. Opposing teamowner Carl Kiekhaefer believed Roberts’ flywheel was illegal and lodged protest. Officials, lacking a scale, had to weigh the flywheel at a nearby fish market. It was ruled legal.
According to Rubbins’ Racin’, the chassis of the truck entered by Mark Beaver’s team at the spring Martinsville Truck race in 2018 was constructed in 2000, making it one year older than the team’s driver that week, Dawson Cram.
Dale Earnhardt took the phrase ‘got the monkey off [his] back’ so literally that when he entered the press box after finally winning the Daytona 500 in 1998, he unzipped his uniform, fished out a stuffed monkey and threw it across the room.
Jordan Anderson, who founded his own NASCAR Truck team at the beginning of 2018, only had $190 in his bank account during the second week of January.
Jim Hurtubise, a popular New York-based driver who qualified a front-engine Mallard for the Indy 500 in 1968, the last time a front-engine car would qualify for Indy, lapped the field during the 1966 Atlanta 500 for his only NASCAR win. Hurtubise later admitted that he kept a wrench in the car and had found a nut he could access to change the aero from inside the car. During each caution, he gave the device a crank and lowered the car a bit, thereby improving the car’s aero. On the cool-down lap, he simply tossed the wrench from the car.
Alan Pruitt of Hickory, NC had never run a race in his life before taking the green for the AC Spark Plug 150 ARCA race in 1990 at Pocono. He started at the back and lost the engine after 15 laps.
Joe Frasson spent the start of 1975 struggling to qualify for races. By the time the World 600 rolled around, he’d had enough, and after another DNQ, Frasson destroyed his Pontiac with a sledgehammer. NASCAR suspended him for two weeks and fined him $100, but Frasson qualified for every race he is known to have attempted for the remainder of the season.
Jimmy Ingram holds the record for the longest gap between Cup starts. 28 years passed between his second Cup start, the 1952 Southern 500 at Darlington, and his third and final Cup start, the 1980 Mason-Dixon 500 at Dover.
During practice for the 1983 Richmond 400, Kyle Petty spun in practice and and knocked his Pontiac Grand Prix’s nose off. The team lacked a spare, and an attempt to procure one from a local dealership failed, as the dealer didn’t have one either. They then realized that their rental car that week was a Grand Prix as well, so they cut the rental car’s nose off, welded it onto the race car, and Petty scored a top-15 with the rental car nose.
Sean Woodside ran the 2004 NASCAR Autozone West Series season in a car sponsored by the ever-controversial ‘talk show’ host Jerry Springer.
A record low of 900 people attended a NASCAR Grand National race at the Newberry Speedway in South Carolina in 1957. Fireball Roberts won the race, the only for the Cup Series at the half mile.
According to a 1991 article in Sports Illustrated, Penthouse was interested in sponsoring Dale, Sr. at some point in the 1980s.
Kevin Harvick was originally supposed to run a #30 car part time in 2001 and then go full time the next year. His first race in the car was going to be the Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta, which he famously won.
Hickory Speedway is located across the street from a burial ground. If a burial procession is scheduled alongside a race, the race will be red flagged during the procession. Bobby Isaac is buried there, and apparently Ned Jarrett has purchased a plot there too.
California’s George Seeger crossed the country to take part in the 1951 Southern 500, which he finished 20th in. On his way home in the same Studebaker, Seeger got into an argument with car owner Tony Sampo, which ended in Sampo stranding Seeger at a Phoenix gas station.
According to the “A Race Through Time” radio show from February 2018, Elmo Langley once took the pace truck out for a test run at Pocono, only to find himself in the middle of ARCA practice.
Modified ace Greg Sacks planned to make his Cup debut at the 1981 Daytona 500 for new owner Richard Childress, but this plan was derailed when Sacks crashed into the earth wall off the inside of turn four during a test session in December 1980. The car exploded, rolling several times with such violence that Sacks’ helmet came off, but Greg’s worst injury was a broken collarbone.
Pontiac and Toyota competed together in ARCA in 2007.
The owners of Little Debbie are very religious, to the point that NASCAR teams sponsored by Little Debbie are contractually obligated to either remove or cover up any Little Debbie logos on the Sabbath (Saturday).
During a NASCAR Grand Touring pony car event at Columbia Speedway in 1968, a spectator was being waved across the track during a caution period by officials when he suddenly stopped in front of the pit road exit. Buck Baker was exiting the pits at the time and ended up smacking into the fan’s car. No one was hurt, and the spectator, who was leaving because he’d gotten word that his wife was about to give birth, continued on through the gate and towards the hospital. Baker’s car wasn’t badly damaged and he went on to win the event.
Also during the 1968 Grand Touring season was an event at the brand new Kingsport Speedway. So new, in fact, that the track was not finished when drivers arrived, leading two of them to withdraw. “They were still blasting rock out of the turns at 5 o’clock”, Buck Baker noted. The race was eventually started around 10:30 pm and was called at about 2/3rds distance at midnight.
NASCAR intended to bring the Busch and Truck divisions to Suzuka in 1997 for demonstration runs alongside the Suzuka Thunder, but these demos never occurred.
Elton Sawyer ran the 2001 NAPA 300 Busch race at Daytona using a Ford Cosworth engine. He started midfield with the engine, whose makers are best known for their Formula One involvement, and lasted six laps before a piston burned out.
Tim Richmond had a pajama line that had the words “Sleep with a winner” imprinted on it.
Alan Kulwicki was famous for his Polish Victory Lap, but in fact he only did it twice (first victory and championship) and only intended on ever doing it once more (if he ever won the Daytona 500).
Junior Johnson flipped his car at the Lincoln Speedway in New Oxford, Pennsylvania in 1958, then hopped in Jack Smith’s car as a relief driver, only to flip Smith’s car as well.
Ralph Earnhardt, Dale’s father, once drove a #188 Oldsmobile in the Grand National Series for, of all teams, Petty Enterprises.
Jim Roper, the winner of the inaugural NASCAR Strictly Stock race at Charlotte, learned about the event through a comic strip named Smilin’ Jack after the comic’s creator, Zack Moseley, incorporated the then-upcoming race into his comic’s plot for one reason or another.
Occasional NASCAR Truck Series driver Jamie Mosley is, by trade, the jailer for Laurel County, Kentucky.
Michigan Int’l Raceway used to use helicopters to dry the track surface. During a Grand National race in 1969, a chopper crashed in turn three during a yellow flag after hitting a truck antenna. No one was hurt, but the practice was discontinued.
In 2005, a short race using Oscar Meyer Weinermobiles was held at Atlanta. Kurt Busch (who later joked that his “weiner [had] never been so exhausted”) won the race by a frankfoot or three over Greg Biffle. Relishing third place was Michel Jourdain, Jr. and wurst of the four competitors was Todd Kleuver, who fell back and found himself unable to ketchup.
There have been fewer than one hundred Cup races where a car numbered 65 has competed as of the 2018 season, the most recent being 1993.
In 2001, Morgan Shepherd took part in a publicity stunt in which, during a Truck race at Kentucky, he changed his own tires, hopped over the pit wall, and downed a bag of chips and a soda before returning to the race. He dropped out soon thereafter.
According to a post he made to Twitter, Parker Kligerman’s first job was cleaning up bird dump from a dock at a gentleman’s club.
There is apparently an alarm located in a Dawsonville, Georgia pool hall that is only supposed to be pulled if an Elliott wins a race.
Eldora Speedway is famous for its very low concession prices. A hamburger, fries, and a Powerade, for example, costs less than $6.
Opel and Datsun (now owned by Nissan) competed in the NASCAR Dash Series, then called the International Sedan Series, in the early 1980s. Nissan continued to compete on and off in the early 1990s even after acquiring Datsun.
Dayton Speedway, an ARCA mainstay that also held a few Cup races, reportedly achieved its high banks by having old trolley cars buried under the turns.
While hosting the radio show “The Late Shift With Brad And Kenny” in April 2016, Brad Gillie and Kenny Wallace recalled how a driver had once lost out on a possible UPS sponsorship because they sent their contract back via FedEx. No names were provided, but the story, which has persisted on and off since about 1999, is often attributed to Buckshot Jones (who denied it).
Thanks for reading!
Stock Car Racing magazine
“AT&T Broadband sues over bad show on track”, December 10th, 2000 issue of the Denver Business Journal
“NASCAR’s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Outrageous Drivers, Wild Wrecks and Other Oddities”, book by Jim McLaurin
“100 Things NASCAR Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die”, book by Mike Hembree
“The Official NASCAR Trivia Book: With 1001 Facts And Questions To Test Your Racing Knowledge”, book by John C. Farrell
“LANGLEY TO HONOR DEAD (ALMOST) RACER”, May 13th, 1989 article in the Daily Press (Newport News, VA)
“1001 NASCAR Facts: Cars, Tracks, Milestones, Personalities”, book by John Close
“Childress Racing teams with AOL”, February 15th, 2001 article on motorsport.com
“Wild Night at Columbia as Baker Wins GTC”, August 22nd, 1968 article in National Speed Sport News
Includes tracks that have been on the Turismo Carretera schedule since 2013 plus a few extra; this is far from every track in Argentina; tracks that have held Turismo Carretera races since 2013 are marked with (TC)
Since I’ll be providing locations, here is a map of where each province is in Argentina.
ALTA GRACIA (TC)
Full Name: Autódromo Oscar Cabalén
Location: Villa Parque Santa Ana, Córdoba
Primary Track Length: 2.514 miles
Notes: Used to have an outfield layout; a previous now-demolished infield layout used a crossover bridge
BALCARCE Full Name: Autódromo Juan Manuel Fangio
Location: San José de Balcarce, Buenos Aires
Primary Track Length: 2.852 miles
Opened: 1972, closed 2011
Notes: Has been closed since the fatal crash of Guido Falaschi in 2011
BUENOS AIRES (TC) Full Name: Autódromo de Buenos Aires Juan y Oscar Gálvez
Location: Villa Riachuelo, City of Buenos Aires
Primary Track Length: 2.614 miles (No. 6), 3.708 miles (No. 15)
Notes: Saw the Argentine Grand Prix on and off for several decades; currently hosts Turismo Carretera’s annual endurance race
CONCEPCIÓN DEL URUGUAY (TC) Full Name: Autódromo Concepción del Uruguay
Location: Concepción del Uruguay, Entre Rios
Primary Track Length: 2.659 miles
Notes: Very close to the Uruguayan border, hence the name
Full Name: Autódromo Ciudad de Concordia
Location: Villa Zorraquín, Entre Rios
Primary Track Length: 1.96 miles
Full Name: Autódromo Eusebio Marcilla
Location: San Martín, Mendoza
Primary Track Length: 2.610 miles
Notes: Named for Eusebio Marcilla, an early Turismo Carretera competitor
LA PAMPA (TC) Full Name: Autódromo Provincia de La Pampa
Location: In between Toay and Cachirulo, La Pampa
Primary Track Length: 2.577 miles
Notes: The picture below was taken while the track was being built
LA PEDRERA (TC)
Full Name: Autódromo José Carlos Bassi
Location: Villa Mercedes, San Luis
Primary Track Length: 2.625 miles
Notes: A semipermanent circuit a la Montreal
LA PLATA (TC)
Full Name: Autódromo Roberto José Mouras
Location: Near Abasto, Buenos Aires
Primary Track Length: 2.65 miles
Notes: Named for former Turismo Carretera champion Roberto Mouras
MAR DE AJÓ (TC) Full Name: Autódromo Luis Rubén Di Palma
Location: Mar de Ajó, Buenos Aires
Primary Track Length: 2.917 miles
Notes: Named for TC2000 and Turismo Carretera champion Luis Rubén Di Palma
Full Name: Autódromo Jorge Ángel Pena
Location: General Alvear, Mendoza
Primary Track Length: 2.589 miles
Notes: Famous for its last turn; Called “Peraltada”, it’s a full speed banked corner with little slowdown
Full Name: Autódromo Parque Provincia del Neuquén
Location: Centenario, Neuquén
Primary Track Length: 2.683 miles
Notes: Was in the planning stage for 27 years
NUEVE DE JULIO
Full Name: Autódromo Ciudad de Nueve de Julio
Location: Nueve de Julio Partido, Buenos Aires
Primary Track Length: 2.869 miles
Notes: A frequent test track for Turismo Carretera
OBERÁ Full Name: Autódromo Oberá
Location: Oberá, Misiónes
Primary Track Length: 2.722 miles
Notes: Located on a panhandle sandwiched by Brazil and Paraguay
OLAVARRÍA (TC) Full Name: Autódromo Hermanos Emiliozzi (Autódromo Dante y Torcuato Emiliozzi)
Location: Sierra Chica, Buenos Aires
Primary Track Length: 3.156 miles (full), 2.558 miles (Turismo Carretera layout)
Notes: The Turismo Carretera layout uses the 90 degree left hand sweeper in the center followed by the double apex at the top center, while the full layout uses the twin 180 degree bends
Full Name: Autódromo Ciudad de Paraná
Location: Near Sauce Montrull, Entre Rios
Primary Track Length: 2.622 miles
Notes: Very high speed with plenty of banked corners
Full Name: Autódromo Rosamonte
Location: Posadas, Misiónes
Primary Track Length: 2.715 miles
Notes: Has a spectacular and massive hill on the frontstretch
POTRERO DE LOS FUNES
Full Name: Circuito de Potrero de los Funes
Location: Potrero de los Funes, San Luis
Primary Track Length: 3.896 miles
Opened: 1987 (originally), 2008 (reopening)
Notes: Semipermanent, used once in 1987 and sat dormant before being restored in 2008
RAFAELA (TC) Full Name: Autódromo Ciudad de Rafaela (facility), Autódromo Juan Rafael Báscolo (Turismo Carretera layout)
Location: Rafaela, Santa Fe
Primary Track Length: 2.873 miles (oval), 2.897 miles (Turismo Carretera layout)
Notes: Only the Turismo Carretera layout (which uses the three chicanes) is named for Báscolo; Is banked at about 9 degrees in the turns; Opened as a dirt track, and was paved in 1966
RÍO CUARTO Full Name: Autódromo Parque Ciudad de Río Cuarto
Location: Río Cuarto, Córdoba
Primary Track Length: 2.515 miles
RÍO GALLEGOS (TC)
Full Name: Autódromo de Río Gallegos José Muñiz
Location: Río Gallegos, Santa Cruz
Primary Track Length: 2.613 miles
RÍO NEGRO Full Name: Autódromo Parque Ciudad de General Roca
Location: Río Negro, Río Negro
Primary Track Length: 2.25 miles
Full Name: Autódromo General San Martin
Location: Comodoro Rivadavia, Chubut
Primary Track Length: 2.548 miles
Notes: The turn at the left hand edge is right on the coastline
Full Name: Autódromo Municipal Juan Manuel Fangio
Location: Rosario, Santa Fe
Primary Track Length: 1.613 miles
Opened: 1981 (originally), 2012 (reopening)
Notes: Closed in 2009, receiving the Juan Manuel Fangio name when it reopened
SAN JUAN Full Name: Autódromo Eduardo Copello “El Zonda”
Location: Villa Basilio Nievas, San Juan
Primary Track Length: 2.013 miles
Notes: Situated in the mountains; Famous for its 270 degree corner, separate start and finish lines, and its many earth walls
SAN LUIS (TC)
Full Name: Autódromo Rosendo Hernández
Location: San Luis, San Luis
Primary Track Length: 2.796 miles
Notes: Was rebuilt into a new high-speed circuit in the late 2000s to attract Turismo Carretera, with the old layout still standing, but not being used
TERMAS DE RÍO HONDO (TC)
Full Name: Internacional Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo
Location: Termas de Río Hondo, Santiago del Estero
Primary Track Length: 2.986 miles
Notes: Saw the WTCC for several years, and currently sees the Argentine Motorcycle Grand Prix
TRELEW (TC) Full Name: Autódromo de la Ciudad de Trelew “Mar y Valle”
Location: Trelew, Chubut
Primary Track Length: 2.433 miles
Full Name: Autódromo Viedma
Location: Viedma, Río Negro
Primary Track Length: 2.579 miles
There was a day when that old dirt road in your backyard could be used as part of a very long closed circuit race track. Of course, those days are gone, but they did not end very long ago. In fact, there was a day where the sight of stock cars on those old dirt roads was nothing to drop your jaw at, but instead was something to love and cheer on. And cheer the fans of the day did! Watching race cars go neck and neck maybe a kilometer away from your house? It was every fan’s dream. This is exactly what Argentina’s Turismo Carretera series did.
Turismo Carretera, literally road touring, is the world’s oldest active racing series. The series started in 1939 and has been going strong since, despite a rocky beginning and a lack of virtually any safety integration until the late 1960s at the earliest.
Motorsport reached Argentina around 1910, but instead of permanent circuits, Argentina frequently used open road courses made of gravel, dirt, and asphalt, something the United States had mostly done away with for its major events by the First World War. The first Turismo Carretera event, however, is often considered to have been held in 1937, though the series was named Campeonato Argentino de Velocidad, literally Argentine Speed Challenge. The first race of the new championship was the Gran Premio Argentino, an event that was already on its 20th running by 1937. This open road race saw 72 drivers on the entry list with an assortment of cars, mostly Fords, Chevys and Plymouths, though Dodge, Hudson, Lincoln, Hupp, Graham, Hillman, Peerless, and Continental also saw some use. Entered in a #58 1935 Ford Voiturette was a young Oscar Alfredo Gálvez, the namesake of the track in Buenos Aires.
The Gran Premio Argentino, at least in its earlier years, was held alongside pedestrian traffic, though speed limits were often ignored. In 1936, speed limits had begun to be enforced on some roads, leading to a decreased amount of heavy accidents. The 1937 running was much the same, with few major accidents despite safety regulations so relaxed that some drivers were actually seen wearing pajamas at points during the 13 day, 6894km race.
19 cars finished the event, which was won by Angel Lo Valvo’s Ford. Two more races were held that year, the Circuito Correntino, won by Raúl Melo Fojardo in a Dodge, and the Mil Millas Argentinas, a one day, 1000 mile event held at Avellaneda won by Eduardo Pedrazzini in a Ford Coupe.
The series’ first fatality was during the 1937 Mil Millas, when newcomer Américo Traba flipped his Ford on approach to the small town of Tres Lomas, Buenos Aires Province. Traba, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, was killed in the crash, though his co-driver survived. The first co-driver to die was Héctor Moisello, the co-driver to Angel Lo Valvo, whose car rolled during the 1938 Gran Premio Del Sur Argentino. Moisello suffered injuries that he would die from a few days later.
As stated earlier, events in these days were usually multi-day events, with very long stages making for a format reminiscent of a very long rally race. Co-drivers, or as they were called, acompañantes, served both as a voice of reason and a guide, though again they were fully optional. Also optional in the early days of the series were roofs on the cars, as while few teams used them, convertibles were permitted.
In 1939, the Campeonato Argentino de Velocidad received a name change to Turismo Carretera, a name it has kept to this day. The first race with the new name was the Gran Premio Internacional del Sur, won again by the Ford of, again, Angel Lo Valvo.
Drivers in these days would use a variety of tactics to improve themselves, their vehicles, and their times. A common way of practicing was tiradita, possibly derived from either tirado, the Spanish equivalent of easy-peasy, or tirar, to launch. These were straight line dashes down a stretch of public road, often done with traffic still running in the opposite direction. Despite incredible danger, these dashes were legal for several years in Turismo Carretera. As expected, several fatalities occurred during tiraditas, including an incident in 1939 where three people died when their car was hit by a train.
Also seen was la técnica del bidoneo, or the technique of bidoneo, which I was unable to fully translate. This was functionally a way to refuel without stopping. A service team would place itself at a naturally slow part of the track such as a hairpin, and would throw fuel cans into the car through the co-driver’s window. The co-driver would then unbuckle his seat belt and refuel the car while it was still running. It was a dangerous technique and was completely against the rules, but many teams did it anyway.
The Turismo Carretera was one of the very few motorsport series to actually be run in 1942, with most of the world fighting World War II. Two races were held in 1942, though no champion was crowned. Being as Argentina was not directly involved in the War, competition continued, though it still took a hiatus from 1943 to 1946. The competition resumed in 1947.
The competition had proved itself dangerous in the early years, with six competitor fatalities, three drivers and three acompañantes, during events, in the pre-War years, and it was about to get even more dangerous.
One of the series’ most influential moments came during the Gran Premio de la America del Sur in 1948, a 20-day race from Buenos Aires to Caracas by way of La Paz, Lima, Quito and Bogotá. A massive 138 car field made up of Chevys, Fords, Buicks, Nashes, DeSotos, Lincolns, Mercurys, Plymouths and Dodges took the start of the 6,000 mile race. All eyes, however, were on the red #1 Chevrolet of Juan Manuel Fangio and acompañante Daniel Urrutia. While traversing a narrow pass in Peru, Fangio lost control and flipped down an embankment. First on the scene was Oscar Gálvez, who stopped his race to assist the stricken duo. Fangio was found injured but awake and alert, and reportedly asked Gálvez to get back in his car, to which he refused. Gálvez soon thereafter found an unconscious Urrutia, who’d been ejected through the windscreen. Urrutia suffered a basilar skull fracture and died later that night. Several drivers, Gálvez included, wanted to retire from the event, but Fangio made a radio message from his hospital bed and managed to convince most to continue. Fangio, on the other hand, was heavily contemplating heading home to Balcarce and opening up a garage, but decided to give his motorsport career another shot, a move that would pay off considerably.
Urrutia was one of six fatalities during the race, alongside driver Julián Q. Elguea and his acompañante Heriberto Román, whose fatal fall down a Bolivian gorge made them the first duo to be killed in Turismo Carretera, and three spectators.
With the 1950s under way, motorsport in Argentina was growing more and more popular. Juan Manuel Fangio had begun racing in Europe, and the inaugural Argentine Formula One Grand Prix was a few years on the horizon. In 1952, two new circuits were opened in Argentina, the Autódromo Diecisiete de Octubre, a circuit basically built for the Argentine Grand Prix, and the Autódromo Ciudad de Rafaela, a literal three mile ribbon of dirt in the shape of an oval.
In the meantime, Turismo Carretera was doing what it did best, providing racing in the backroads of Argentina. Chevrolets and Fords were still the primary cars of choice, though again there were other manufacturers that saw use.
1951 however saw another tragedy when 1938 champion Ricardo Risatti crashed during the Vuelta del Norte race. His car overturned about fifteen times, not badly injuring his acompañante but fatally injuring Risatti. Risatti, who had begun racing as a way to raise money for his critically ill wife, was apparently running his last race before retirement.
In 1953, the inaugural Formula One Argentine Grand Prix was held at the Diecesiete de Octubre circuit, and 300,000 spectators showed up to the track after the ultra-popular Argentine leader Juan Perón guaranteed free admission for everyone. Despite the death of 13 spectators when Nino Farina spun into an enclosure, the race was successful in showing the world Argentina’s love for motor racing.
That same year was marred by another death, as Eusebio Marcilla, the same driver who had stopped his race and helped transport Juan Fangio and the fatally injured Daniel Urrutia to the hospital in 1948 and a noted anti-Peronist whose views kept him out of the newspapers, was killed in a crash during the 1953 Vuelta de Santa Fé. Beloved by the fans, Marcilla’s death left the community in mourning, but the race kept going.
By 1956, Perón had been overthrown, and the Autodromo Diecisiete de Octubre had been renamed. Around this time, motorsport had been growing more and more popular, though the roads on which they were run weren’t getting better, in fact they were getting worse. The tiradita had begun being cracked down on, and the la técnica de bidoneo was distinctly illegal, with threat of disqualification, though drivers still did it. One co-driver was actually fatally burned during a failed bidoneo in 1960.
The 1960 Gran Premio Argentino demonstrated well the dangers of the series. The Gran Premio had remained on the schedule and had, in terms of safety, improved very little if at all.
Exactly how many spectators died during the 1960 Gran Premio will never be known, though the lowest estimate is 12. A cyclist was struck and killed halfway through the event, a young boy died after a guidebook error sent the race leaders skidding into a crowd while making a U-turn, and with about 20 miles to go, another driver failed to negotiate a bend and went into a group of fans, instantly killing seven and injuring many, some of whom likely died in the hospital later. Just a half mile up the road from this accident, another occurred when a racer struck a pedestrian motorcycle carrying two people and veered into an enclosure. One of the motorcycle riders died, as did two spectators in the enclosure. All drivers involved in these accidents as well as their acompañantes were unhurt. Police blamed the spectators for the two larger accidents, as crowds were stated to be so thick that drivers couldn’t see the apexes of corners.
Not even the death of one of the series’ mainstays was enough to halt the madness. By 1963, Juan Gálvez, who had started as his brother’s acompañante before hopping behind the wheel himself, had proven himself as the best driver in series history to that point, with 59 wins and nine championships. His brother Oscar possessed five championships. In fact, between 1947 and 1961 (inclusive), there was only one year in which a Gálvez brother did not win the title.
Unfortunately, Juan himself would be fatally injured behind the wheel. Oscar Gálvez refused to compete at the 1963 Vuelta de Olavarria, his reason being the terrible weather and the rowdy fans, who had in fact thrown stones at him the last time they had been in town. Juan hopped into his 1939 Ford Coupe and started the race, but while approaching an ess bend just past the race’s halfway point he hit a pile of mud and rolled. Juan, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, was ejected from the car and killed instantly, though his acompañante survived. This crash was blamed on poor road conditions. Not even the Juan Gálvez memorial run one month later on a completely paved circuit went without tragedy, though the race itself was remarkable, being the first broadcasted Turismo Carretera event in history. During the race, Joaquín Deporte and his acompañante Joaquín González were both killed when their car rolled. Ford had been dominating Turismo Carretera as of recent, and the death of Gálvez ended that dominance.
By the mid 1960s, the 1930s coupes that had been used for so long were beginning to look outdated. Turismo Carretera needed better, and they quickly found it in a variant of the muscle cars that were popular during the times. Sleek and powerful, these cars, sometimes developed in house and sometimes not, were expensive, leading to decreased fields. However, it did also cause something else: the introduction of the manufacturer IKA. During the 1960s, IKA was a subsidiary of Kaiser, though it has since been purchased by Renault. IKA cars lined the grids during the mid to late 1960s, their powerful engines leaving the cars of old in the dust. The introduction of a sports prototype partially owned by IKA called the Liebre Tornado made the usage of other manufacturers silly for a short time.
1968 started off poorly for the Turismo Carretera. A disagreement had caused fields to dwindle, and only around 25 cars, mostly series fulltimers, showed up to the opener at Buenos Aires, by this point renamed the Autódromo Juan Gálvez. The frontrunners had started using the new Liebre Tornado, with Fords, Chevys, and Peugeots filling a few positions as well. Unfortunately, Turismo Carretera would have more important things to worry about, as the fifth race of the year, the Vuelta De Balcarce-Loberia, proved to be a game changer.
Over a hundred cars lined up for the Gran Premio Lubricantes Celinoil through the backroads of Balcarce and Loberia, in Buenos Aires province, a slight decrease from the 120s when coupes were being run, but still a healthy grid nonetheless. The disagreements which had marred the beginning of the year had been resolved and older machinery was still usable and fairly competitive on the dirt and decrepit asphalt roads of Argentina. On lap one of two, Raúl Salerno veered off course and into a crowd, killing one and injuring several. Later that lap, Jorge Kissling and acompañante Quique Duplán were both killed when their car’s steering arm broke on a gravel stretch, sending their IKA Torino rolling.
On lap two, while passing by the property of Juan Manuel Bordeu, a one-time F1 starter and good friend of Juan Fangio (who himself was the race director), the cars of Plinio Rosetto and Luis Gargiulo collided and went off course. Both cars flipped, and both drivers and their acompañantes were injured. Rosetto’s co-driver, Rubén Barra, died of his injuries a few days later. Finally, while approaching the finish line, Segundo Taraborelli and acompañante Hugo Bonavento lost control at full speed and spun into a stationary lorry. The car exploded, killing both Taraborelli and Bonavento. Two occupants of the lorry were also killed.
The toll of the race caused the intervention of the Argentine government. All motorsport events in the country were prohibited for the next month. During this time, Turismo Carretera, recognizing the danger of brand new equipment running on roads which likely hadn’t seen an inspection since the 1940s, chose to replace all of the wide open backroads races with ones on permanent tracks and street circuits, with the exception of the Vuelta de Allen, which had very high-quality roads to begin with while they conducted inspections of potential circuits. The rest of the calendar consisted of races at Rafaela, which had since been paved, Buenos Aires, Alta Gracia, San Juan, and a trip to the El Pinar circuit in Uruguay, alongside the remaining road race, the Vuelta de Allen.
At year’s end, Turismo Carretera made their decision. Races on the open road circuits, known as semipermanente circuits, would remain, but roads had to be of a much higher quality, and gravel roads, while still used for several more years, were banned in any races held in the Buenos Aires province. This also spelled the end of the classic rough-n-ready Gran Premio Argentino, though it would remain on the schedule for another decade as an all-asphalt race.
By 1971, Turismo Carretera had found a rhythm. Grid sizes were still small for the most part, as cars were being updated so quickly that even the Liebre Tornado was growing outdated, but competition was fierce and manufacturer involvement was strong. The series ran their 500th race that year, the Vuelta de Hughes. Races by this point lasted no more than two days for the most part, though the Gran Premio still lasted around five. That same year, the USAC Indycars made a very rare international trip, stopping by the large oval at Rafaela for a pair of 150 mile races, both won by A.J. Foyt.
The dangers of Turismo Carretera hadn’t exactly faded, however. This was realized once again by the series in 1973. Nasif Estéfano was a popular face in Turismo Carretera who also ran a couple of races in Europe on occasion, and he had dominated early 1973. Going into round 13 of 15, an event known as the Gran Premio de la Reconstrucción Nacional, his points lead was looking insurmountable, and by the end of the first leg, it mathematically was, as the points Nasif had gained for winning the leg combined with the failure of his main rival to finish had given him enough of a buffer. On day two of the race, however, Nasif’s car shot off into a sandbank near Aimogasta, and Nasif was fatally injured. His co-driver was not hurt. Despite missing the last two rounds of the schedule, Nasif brought home the title.
The tiradita had become a no-no by this point according to Argentine traffic rules, and the organizers of Turismo Carretera had started cracking down on them, though a little sporadically. A fatal crash in 1974 caused the Turismo Carretera to outlaw tiraditas on public roads, though tiraditas on semipermanente circuits were permitted. Also in 1974, Octavio Suárez, a longtime competitor in Turismo Carretera, became President of the series’ sanctioning body, ACTC. Interestingly, despite his new position as President, Suárez continued to compete in Turismo Carretera.
One of the most interesting events of the 1970s occurred at the Vuelta de Salto, Buenos Aires province, in 1976. A field of 64 teams lined up for the event, all of them using cars that were, by the day’s standards, modern. The Ford users ran the Falcon, which had been sold in the United States for several years, but had been discontinued by 1976. The IKA representatives ran the Torino, which is even today considered the ‘national car’ of Argentina, but has no American equivalent. Those running Dodges mostly used the GTX, a car with a design that was heavily derived from the original Dodge Dart. Lastly, Chevrolet users ran the Chevrolet Chevy, which was based off of the American Chevrolet Nova. All of these cars were extremely popular with the Argentine public. The Chevrolet 400, Dodge Polara, and Peugeot 404 saw limited use.
On lap four of the first heat, which was to be followed by a second heat and a final, Luis Rubén Di Palma blew his engine while running a part of the track that ran through a small village called La Blanquita. Enrique Bravi skidded in the oil and struck a marshal’s post, terribly injuring a marshal. The post collapsed into the middle of the circuit, and Carlos Nani and his acompañante were injured when they crashed in an attempt to avoid it.
The competition continued, and a cavalcade of people entered the circuit in an attempt to flag down drivers and assist Nani and his co-driver. Even the entry of an ambulance wasn’t enough to stop the cavalry of cars. After a short while, backmarker Eugenio Cali collided with another car while passing the accident site and flipped into the crowd, killing three spectators. Cali and his co-driver were not injured, and despite the violence of their hit, Enrique Bravi and his co-driver also weren’t injured. The marshal at the post that had been collapsed survived.
The reason why the race hadn’t been stopped immediately soon became apparent: the timing and scoring platform had collapsed in a separate incident. The race was finally called on lap eight. The round was cancelled, and while racing returned to the area, it wouldn’t be on the same circuit.
With the arrival of the 1980s, the series’ Ford representatives had begun looking into a new model for the car, believing they could go even faster. However, even with the discontinuation of most of the models either by the 1980s or in the early 1980s, the Chevy, Falcon, GTX and Torino had proven themselves so popular that the series kept using them. Once again, not everything was sunshine and rainbows for the series.
Octavio Suárez was a burly man and a fairly older one too, but behind the wheel of his Dodge GTX he fit in with his fellow competitors, despite being head of the ACTC. Sadly, he would become another victim of the Turismo Carretera.
On lap one of the Vuelta de Benito Juárez in 1984, Suárez’s car blew a tire and the car shot off the track on a very long straightaway. The car went end over end and landed on its wheels, completely destroyed. The car soon burst into flames, forcing Norberto Torre, his co-driver, to evacuate out the windshield. Suárez, however, was pinned.
Torre turned around and asked Suárez if there was a bar or something he could use to help get his driver out of the burning vehicle. Suárez’s arm was pinned against the door, but when Suárez saw a spectator approach with a flashlight, he, smelling fuel, ordered the spectator away. As Torre backed up to try and find a resolution, he noticed officials approaching the scene, who he beckoned to the scene, but the moment they arrived at the car, the Dodge GTX exploded. The race continued for a few more laps, though it was halted early. The series had lost its leader, and no one wanted to race. Eerily, the year prior, Octavio’s wife had passed away, leading Octavio to ask his brother, who had usually been his acompañante to that point, to retire, as if the pair had both been killed in a crash, his children would have been orphaned.
Even more tragedy was down the road, however. By 1988, semipermanente circuits were making up about half the calendar. Ford had found their alternate model in the Fairlane, which was just starting to be used in Turismo Carretera. Most semipermanente circuits were fully paved, the Gran Premio had been discontinued, and even then the semipermanente circuits were much smaller than they had been, at usually no more than ten kilometers long. Grid sizes often totalled in at around 50 to maybe 60, and the 750th Turismo Carretera race, which was held that year at the Circuito Semipermanente de Benedicto Campos, at Necochea, Buenos Aires province, was no exception.
On lap 14 of 21, Edgardo Caparrós, the son of Raimundo Caparrós, who had been killed in a Turismo Carretera accident in 1965, was running down the track’s longest straight when the car threw a tire. Caparrós, who’d been the winner of the previous season’s last two events, veered off the road and into the crowd. It demolished a caravan, a parked car, and flattened a tent before digging in and rolling five times. Edgardo Caparrós survived the accident, which stopped the race immediately, but he suffered severe head injuries that would force his retirement. Worse off was his acompañante, Alberto Belloli, who was killed, as were twelve spectators and an unborn child. At 14 confirmed dead, it was the worst accident in the history of Argentine motorsport, and finally led to the discontinuation of spectator enclosures being directly off the road. All tracks had to be closed off, though semipermanente circuits survived.
The next year was the year of the Ford Fairlane, which was used alongside the Falcons during the season by a few drivers. Oscar Angeletti was the frontrunner of the Fairlanes, winning three races and finishing second in the championship chase. Angeletti, however, was very badly injured during the 1990 season opener at Santa Teresita when his car went off and struck a pole at high speed. He would survive, but never raced again. The Ford Fairlane was eventually phased out at year’s end, and the cavalry went back to the Falcons.
Through death and excitement, semipermanente circuits had survived. They didn’t make up the bulk of the schedule any longer, but they were still being run. Gravel roads had been phased out after 1968, and dirt roads had been done away with in the late 80s, but the old remnants of the past had survived into the 1990s. A pair of fatal crashes, however, spelt their end.
Roberto Mouras was a very frequent frontrunner in the series, as he had been since the 1970s. He had three titles to his name, and had almost won the championship in his first fulltime year in 1971. Even in the 1990s, he was still a frontrunner, and he had a championship shot going into the penultimate round of the championship, the Vuelta de Lobos, in 1992.
During practice, Mouras stepped out of the car, and expert tuner Jorge Pedersoli, who had once been Mouras’ acompañante, stepped in. He ran a couple of laps to see if he could diagnose a nagging problem with the left front of the car that the team had been enduring. Mouras had lost a recent race due to a failure of the left front, and the problem hadn’t been going away. Pedersoli had a scary moment behind the wheel, but the problem was not addressed much further. During the main event, the left front again gave way, and Mouras skidded the car off at full speed, hitting an earth wall with so much force that the roll cage was shattered. The car went skyward, landing with a sickening thud. Mouras died on the spot, and his co-driver Amadeo González was terribly injured. He died a few days later. The race was ended, with Mouras being declared the winner.
In 1994, Osvaldo Morresi, a former teammate of Mouras, slipped in another car’s oil during a race at La Plata and crashed into another earth wall. Morresi was pronounced dead within a few hours, and Jorge Marceca, his acompañante, was badly injured. Marceca died of his injuries two days later. Morresi, one of the best drivers in the series and one of the most successful to never win a title, also won the race he was killed in posthumously. This crash was the last straw, and semipermanente circuits were prohibited. They continued for three more years, but the very last semipermanente circuit to be used was the Santa Teresita circuit in 1997. Turismo Carretera had done away with something so influential it had given the series its name. That same year, Dodge and IKA both introduced new models to run in Turismo Carretera to slowly replace the Dodge GTX and IKA Torino, prototype models known as the Dodge Cherokee and Torino Cherokee. The pair of Cherokees, developed hand in hand, were based off the GTX and IKA Torino respectively and were created solely for racing. Their goal was to end the dominance of Chevrolet and Ford, which proved somewhat successful, though it would take a few years.
Dodge still struggled, however, while they attempted to get their Cherokees up to speed, and yet another tragedy would make the time before the Cherokees were competitive enough even more miserable. During a practice session for the round at Rafaela in 1998, Raúl Petrich, a Dodge mainstay, told his team that he detected an issue with the car’s undercarriage that was holding him back. His normal co-driver hopped out, and Oscar Lafeudo, a chassis expert, hopped into the passenger seat, a legal maneuver in practice. On his last lap of the day, however, the Dodge went straight on into a corner. Rafaela had seen very few updates since USAC had stopped by in 1971, so rather loose steel guardrails were still being used in the corners. When the Dodge hit the wall, it broke off the guardrail support, and the steel guardrail entered the cabin, instantly and graphically killing both occupants. The round was completely cancelled, and Rafaela built proper barriers for the series’ next visit.
By the beginning of the 2000s, Turismo Carretera had hit a rhythm. Circuits were all permanent with the occasional air base or closed street circuit event. Acompañantes were still being used. They were completely optional, however. The classic look of the cars also remained, and they were both loved by and popular with the public.
However, there were still more changes to be made, and again it would take tragedy to change them. Turismo Carretera has many junior series, one of which is TC Pista. During a race at Rafaela in 2006, Alberto Noya spun his car in a chicane and was hit full-bore by Hugo Fayanás directly in the passenger door. Both Noya and his acompañante, Gabriel Miller, died, forcing the cancellation of the Pista race and the Turismo Carretera Final. Rather famously, the fans, well past drunk by this point, were not pleased with the race’s cancellation. They set fire to tires and banners in protest, but officials did not budge.
Turismo Carretera, in a historic ruling, ruled that acompañantes would be done away with at the beginning of 2008, only for their discontinuation to be made immediate after a bizarre crash at Rivadavia in mid-2007 claimed the life of Turismo Carretera competitor Guillermo Castellanos, who was fatally injured when his car was struck while he attempted to navigate a crash. Even though his co-driver wasn’t injured in the accident, the Turismo Carretera prohibited the use of them immediately. There was another thing that was done away with in 2008: the tiradita, which was completely outlawed by the ACTC.
The beginning of the 2010s was marred by one last tragedy for the series. Guido Falaschi had worked his way from Argentine Formula Renault in 2008 to Turismo Carretera in 2011 at the age of 22. Going into the semi-final race of the year at Balcarce, he had an outside shot at the championship, which was further helped by Guido qualifying pole position.
Balcarce had proved itself a dangerous circuit, using primary tire barriers and earth walls instead of concrete. A pair of Fiat 600s had once flown over the fence in the same turn during a race in separate accidents, and even during the 2011 race weekend Agustín Canapino utterly destroyed his car during practice, though he was surprisingly not injured.
With two to go in the main event, leader Mauro Giallombardo encountered the lapped car of Leonel Larrauri with Guido Falaschi running a close second. Rounding a small bend, Larrauri bailed out of the leaders’ way with too much speed and ran off. Guido Falaschi found Larrauri’s car bouncing in front of him and darted to the side to the track in an attempt to avoid Larrauri. Falaschi’s car hit the tires and spun into the middle of the circuit, being hit by Guillermo Ortelli and then Nestor Girolami, whose Torino struck the Ford in the driver’s door. The race was red flagged and ended a lap early as rescue crews worked to extricate Falaschi, who was pronounced dead of a basilar skull fracture an hour later, the 126th competitor fatality in Turismo Carretera. Guido’s race team, HAZ Racing Team, closed down immediately after his death. It would reopen the next year as Por Siempre Guido (Forever Guido) 16 Team, running touring cars.
Balcarce was closed down in the aftermath of the crash, organizers deciding the track simply was too unsafe. As of 2018, it has not reopened.
Today, Turismo Carretera continues on. Turismo Carretera is currently considered a stock car series, in a way the Argentine equivalent of NASCAR complete with double-file restarts and high speed banked turns, and even a playoff system. Grids often clock in at about 45 per event. Races usually consist of practice and qualifying, followed by a series of three short heats to determine starting grid and, if there is a need for DNQs, who they will be. Afterwards is the Final, which is often between 100 to 120km, though there is an annual 1000km endurance event held at Buenos Aires. The season usually starts early, in February, and ends in December.
There are a myriad of series that drivers can use to step up to Turismo Carretera, however drivers who want to move right to Turismo Carretera start in the TC Pista Mouras series, which began in 2008. Drivers who move up from this series go on to TC Mouras, which began in 2004, after which is the TC Pista series, which was created in 1995. These, along with an Argentine Porsche GT3 series, are the series run by the ACTC.
The series is supported by a myriad of other series. TC2000 and Súper TC2000 are a pair of touring car series that usually run their own race weekends, but will occasionally support Turismo Carretera. Both series are very high-ranked, especially Súper TC2000. The two series use cars such as the Citroën C4 Lounge, Toyota Corolla, Renault Fluence, Peugeot 408, Fiat Linea, Chevrolet Cruze, and Ford Focus.
Another popular series in Argentina is Top Race, another high-ranked touring car series that used to be owned by the ACTC, but no longer is. Top Race has three levels, Top Race, V6, and Junior, and uses its own regulations, regulations which can best be described as a mix of Supertouring and S2000. In it run the Ford Mondeo, Mitsubishi Lancer, and Volkswagen Passat.
Yet another big series in Argentina is Turismo Nacional, a production car series with two separate classes. C2, the secondary class, consists of segment B cars, usually seen as subcompacts by American definition, such as Renault Clios and Peugeot 208s. C3, the primary class, uses segment C cars, the American equivalent of which are compact cars. Cars used include the Honda Civic, Renault Mégane, and Volkswagen Vento.
These are only some of the series. Also popular is GT2000, a sports prototype series a la IMSA Lights, Turismo Pista, a fairly similar series to Turismo Nacional with three classes, a Formula Renault series, and many more. These series all help contribute to Argentina’s love for motor racing, but of course racing’s popularity is best seen in Turismo Carretera.
Oval racing in the rain is very rare, though it does occur. The Pickup Truck Racing Championship in Britain, the only series that still used the oval at Rockingham between about 2008 and its closure in 2018, was willing to run the big oval in the rain, and the Tours Speedway, being a track built out of a parking lot with drainage systems, can hold rain races, as it did in 2014, and undoubtedly several short tracks have held races in a light drizzle.
In 1963, however, the most unexpected track held a rain race on its oval: Daytona.
The American Challenge Cup, also known as the NASCAR Challenge Cup, made its debut in 1963. Somewhat confusingly, there had already been a race called the American Challenge Cup, which had begun in 1961 and was a ten lap dash at Daytona for the prior season’s winners. In 1963, the last year this ten lap dash was held, it was renamed the Race of Champions.
The new race that usurped the moniker, however, was no quick dash. It was a 250 mile race for GT cars and sports cars alike. From Pontiacs to Ferraris, the race was open to all sorts provided their engine displacement was under 427.2 cubic inches. Its organizers are currently unknown. Several different cars entered the event, from a pair of Jaguars and a Maserati entered by sports car enthusiast Briggs Cunningham, Sr., grandfather of the former ARCA teamowner, to several self owned privateer teams such as a Ferrari 250 GTO entered by Britain’s David Piper and a Chevrolet Corvette owned and driven by American Tony Denman.
On February 14th, 1963, disaster struck. Marvin Panch had been tapped to run a Maserati Tipo 151 for the team owned by Briggs Cunningham, Sr. The Maserati had been previously used at Le Mans the year prior, and hadn’t done very well, but it was looking quick at Daytona. Control was lost, however, and Panch flipped the beautiful Maserati down the banking before landing on his lid. Several men rushed to Panch’s aid, saving him from the inferno. One of the men, Tiny Lund, would be asked by the Wood Brothers, for whom Panch was planning on running the Daytona 500, to take his place. Lund went on to famously score a Cinderella victory at the 500.
The Maserati, of course, was a total loss. Panch had been one of the quickest drivers in practice, and one less competitor put a large damper on the starting grid, as, while about 30 drivers attempted the race, only 16 ran laps surpassing the magical mark of 130mph to make the show.
1963 American Challenge Cup Starting Lineup
#3 Bill KRAUSE (Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray)
#4 Rex WHITE/Mickey THOMPSON (Chevrolet Corvette)
#22 Fireball ROBERTS (Ferrari 250 GTO)
#50 Paul GOLDSMITH (Pontiac Tempest)
#26 David PIPER (Ferrari 250 GTO)
#17 A.J. FOYT (Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray)
#19 Tony DENMAN (Chevrolet Corvette)
#28 Joe WEATHERLY (Ferrari 4.9)
#41 Bob BROWN (Chevrolet Corvette)
#14 Count Huschke VON HANSTEIN (Porsche 356B)
#1 Ed CANTRELL (Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray)
#6 Jeff STEVENS (Chevrolet Corvette)
#15 Joachim BONNIER (Porsche 356B Carrera Abarth GTL)
#7 Don CAMPBELL (Chevrolet Corvette)
#16 Bob HOLBERT (Porsche 356B Carrera Abarth GTL)
#44 Bill BENCKER (Porsche 356B Carrera 2) Note: #15 may have started 10th and #14 13th. Exact car models beyond the manufacturer and basic model may be inaccurate.
Dick Lang* (Corvette SR), Johnny Allen* (Corvette), Bill Krause* (Corvette SR), Doug Hooper* (Corvette SR), Bill Storey (Lotus Elise), Mike Kurkjian (Porsche 356B Carrera), Delmo Johnson (Corvette), Pedro Rodriguez (Ferrari 250 GTO), Bob Grossman (Ferrari 250 GTO), Innes Ireland (Ferrari 250 GTO), Charlie Kolb (Porsche 356B Carrera), Paul Richards (Alfa Romeo Giuletta SZ)
WD: Junior Johnson (Corvette SR, car driven by Krause), Marvin Panch (Maserati Tipo, crash), Art Huttinger (Corvette SR, car driven by Cantrell)
DNA: Walt Hansgen (Jaguar), Augie Pabst (Jaguar)
* these drivers failed to qualify due to finishing outside the top 3 in a 7 car, 5 lap qualifying race, the others were too slow during time trials
Junior Johnson had easily been the fastest in practice, setting a 162.220mph lap and putting his car on pole. However, the crew which owned his Sting Ray was more of a drag racing team and couldn’t find a great handling setup, to the point where Johnson didn’t feel comfortable driving and pulled out. Bill Krause, who had finished outside the top 3 in a qualifying race, hopped in at the last minute. Art Huttinger also pulled out, and his place was taken by Ed Cantrell.
14 cars took the green on a very cold and wet Saturday, February 16th, as Stevens and Weatherly did not start. Paul Goldsmith quickly took the lead and had a decent gap by the end of the lap. Disappointingly, the cold and steady rain provided little excitement for the spectators, as while the sight of sports cars rounding the big oval in the rain was interesting, not much passing took place beyond cars being lapped. All 100 laps were led by Goldsmith, who brought home a dominant win. Virtually nothing that reporters found to be worth accounting for happened in the race, save for the interesting sight of sports cars slowly lapping the speedway.
1963 American Challenge Cup Results
#50 Paul GOLDSMITH
#17 A.J. FOYT (-2)
#3 Bill KRAUSE (-6)
#22 Fireball ROBERTS (-7)
#26 David PIPER (-8)
#19 Tony DENMAN (-13)
#14 Count Huschke VON HANSTEIN (-15)
#15 Joachim BONNIER (-15)
#44 Bill BENCKER (-15)
#16 Bob HOLBERT (-15)
#1 Ed CANTRELL (-16)
#41 Bob BROWN (-41, DNF)
#4 Rex WHITE/Mickey THOMPSON (-62, Visibility)
#7 Don CAMPBELL (-93, DNF)
#28 Joe WEATHERLY (DNS)
#6 Jeff STEVENS (DNS)
This would be the only running of the American Challenge Cup oval race. Another race of the same name was held the next year, won by A.J. Foyt, but it was a 250-mile road race. Goldsmith’s incredibly fast Pontiac was used again by Goldsmith in the Daytona Continental 3-hour road race the next day, a race which would soon develop into the 24h of Daytona, but the car’s fuel pump gave out a few minutes after the start. Mercedes quickly found an interest in the Pontiac and purchased for use in ‘competitive reconnaissance’, never to be seen again. Even still, this race remains an interesting footnote in Daytona’s long history, showing that racing on a large oval is possible…though usually ill advised.
“Cunningham To Have Three Cars In Daytona Speed Test”, January 27th, 1963 edition of The Bridgeport Post
“Racer Burned In Daytona Spill”, February 15th, 1963 edition of The Hillsdale (Michigan) Daily News
“Now It Can Be Told! The True Story of How Mickey Thompson Was the First to Race the Big-Block Chevy”, September 10th, 2015 article on Hot Rod Network
“1963 Pontiac LeMans Wins the 1963 NASCAR Challenge Cup”, October 4th, 2015 article on Hot Rod Network
Despite its high banks, Daytona Int’l Speedway is actually suitable for open wheel racing. Indycar tested at the track’s motorcycle course in 2006 and 2007, and the SCCA frequently holds regional events at the full road course, including the prestigious Runoffs in 2015. Even Formula One cars have run the road course at Daytona, as in 1984, a secret tire test was conducted at the circuit to little coverage or fanfare. However, open wheelers have shied away from the oval, and for good reason: their one attempt went terribly.
Daytona International Speedway was, in 1959, possibly the most modern racing facility in the world. Everyone wanted to race at the beautiful new 2.5 mile oval or one of its three road courses. USAC was one of these series, and in August talks began. USAC wanted to hold a 100 lap, 250 mile race on July 4th. However, in anticipation for such a long event, USAC scheduled a 40 lap, 100 mile event on April 4th, so drivers could acclimate to the new facility. This race would be held alongside a non-championship Formula Libre race, also 100 miles and on the oval, and a 1000km road race on the facility’s 3.81 mile primary road course. The Formula Libre race was open to Championship Cars, as the day’s Indycars were called, and select sports cars, while the road race counted for the USAC Road Racing Championship.
When USAC officials visited the speedway, they were impressed. Speeds were expected to be around 180mph during the event. For reference, the qualifying track record at Indianapolis at the time was 145 mph, set by Dick Rathmann in 1958, and the one lap record in an Indycar, then referred to as a Championship Car, was set at Monza’s high banked oval in 1957 during the Race of Two Worlds weekend, when Tony Bettenhausen, Sr. set a lap with an average speed of 177.045 mph.
Upon the speedway’s completion, Bill France asked USAC to run a full exhibition at the facility. USAC declined, but permitted teams that wanted to run unofficial familiarization tests to do so. One of these team owners was Chapman Root, who owned a Sumar Streamliner, a modified Championship Car roadster with a removable canopy (canopy not seen in the below photo).
Root’s driver was Marshall Teague, who ironically enough had once been a NASCAR star. On February 9th, Teague ran nine laps, his best being at 171.821 mph, the fastest lap ever set in the United States. His test session on February 10th ended early due to a cut tire, his best lap being a little slower than day one. Day three, February 11th, ended in tragedy when Teague’s car skidded in turn one while he was warming up for the day’s first flying lap. The car overturned, and Teague, still strapped in his seat, was ejected through the canopy, dying instantly of a skull fracture. Testing continued throughout the ensuing days, but no one set a better lap time than Teague.
Thirty entries were expected for the inaugural USAC Daytona 100, and 26 cars showed up at the speedway. Practice was to begin on March 25th and last throughout the ensuing days, with both the USAC and Formula Libre races planned for April 4th, the sports car race being the following day. All of the Formula Libre entries were also USAC Championship Car entries with the exception of Carroll Shelby in a Maserati, however Shelby withdrew from the Formula Libre race midweek, deciding to only run the sports car event.
Chief Steward Harlan Fengler imposed a speed limit during practice as a safety precaution. Drivers were to keep their speed to 150mph during their first ten laps. After that, their speed limit was 160mph, which would last for another ten laps. At the start of their 21st lap, they could run as fast as they pleased. Jim Rathmann quickly shattered Teague’s best time, but it was 1958 Indy 500 Rookie Of The Year George Amick atop the final leaderboard with a 176.887 mph lap, which would remain the fastest at Daytona for eight years. He set the time during the second day of time trials, however, so he only lined up ninth.
Mother Nature was a frequent nuisance during the race week, frequently cancelling practice and qualifying sessions to the point where officials, despite not having any additional Formula Libre entries to hold sessions for, called off sports car qualifying, deciding to line the 28 entries up by engine size.
Practice, however, was marred by a huge crash on the 29th. Bob Veith, who ironically was one of the region’s top highway safety experts, lost control due to a gust of wind and struck the outside wall on the backstretch. His car flipped over and slid on its lid down before eventually rolling back onto its wheels. Veith was injured, but not critically, and he was released after a night in the hospital. Veith credited his survival on his car’s roll bar, a new requirement as of the 1959 season. The car was a write off and had to be withdrawn. No other massive incidents occurred during pre-race sessions, though two crashes on April 3rd sent both Jerry Unser and Al Keller’s cars airborne. Neither driver was hurt, but both cars were damaged, and Unser had to withdraw.
Out of the 26 entries, only 20 cars ended up qualifying for the USAC Daytona 100. Two drivers failed to qualify, and the others withdrew.
1959 USAC Daytona 100 Starting Grid:
#41 Dick RATHMANN
#16 Jim RATHMANN
#5 Rodger WARD
#24 Dempsey WILSON
#21 Elmer GEORGE
#65 Bob CHRISTIE
#9 Don BRANSON
#44 Eddie SACHS
#2 George AMICK
#75 Tony BETTENHAUSEN, SR.
#8 Len SUTTON
#25 Bill CHEESBOURG
#4 Jud LARSON
#10 A.J. FOYT
#3 Johnny THOMSON
#82 Al KELLER
#84 Pat FLAHERTY
#22 Jim PACKARD
#95 Bill RANDALL
#53 Jimmy DAVIES
DNQ: #77 Mike Magill, #71 Chuck Arnold
WD: Jerry Unser (practice crash), Bob Veith (practice crash), Bob Said (car driven by Randall), Paul Russo (car driven by Bettenhausen, Sr.)
The field took the green around 2:00 p.m. on April 4th, a Saturday. Winds were fairly substantial, at about 20mph, but otherwise it was a warm and sunny day. Only about 10,000 spectators filled the stands, a huge drop from the 47,000 that had attended the inaugural Daytona 500. Jim Rathmann’s Watson took the lead early, and held it for six laps before Rodger Ward, in the field’s other Watson, passed him. On lap 12, Jim Rathmann, using Ward’s slipstream, shot by Ward and took the lead back. Rathmann and Ward would run 1-2 the rest of the race, which went by quickly and without major incident – or so they thought.
As Rathmann and Ward crossed the line to finish the race, the battle was still fierce for third place. Bob Christie in the Kurtis chassis and George Amick were neck and neck in turn two, a half lap behind the leaders. As Amick dropped in behind Christie, his car made a sudden swerve, possibly due to dirty air combined with Amick’s quick turn to get behind Christie. The sleek Epperly chassis hooked up the track and into the wall at the exit of turn two at full speed. It flew into the air, landed, and bounced once down the track before doing a dozen violent rolls.
Dick Rathmann and Jim Packard swerved hard and missed the accident, and Bill Cheesbourg spun his Kurtis out in avoidance. He ran over to Amick’s car, which had come to rest upright, before realizing that there was no chance of reviving him. Amick, 34, had died instantly of catastrophic back and head injuries, the entire front and left side of his car sheared away.
The race was red flagged, and all racers who had not already crossed the line (i.e. everyone but the two leaders) was waved off the track. For third place on back, their results were taken from how they had been running the last time they had crossed the line.
Guardrail repairs took about two hours, and sunset was approaching. Despite the ever-increasing winds and the fact that drivers were both heavily fatigued and in mourning, the Formula Libre race was squeezed into the schedule, though it was shortened to 20 laps. Six drivers did not take the start. Dempsey Wilson, his car wrecked, hopped into Tony Bettenhausen, Sr.’s car. Though Bettenhausen, Sr.’s Kuzma was repairable, Tony himself refused to race at Daytona ever again.
Formula Libre Race Starting Grid:
#41 Dick RATHMANN
#16 Jim RATHMANN
#5 Rodger WARD
#21 Elmer GEORGE
#65 Bob CHRISTIE
#9 Don BRANSON
#75 Dempsey WILSON
#25 Bill CHEESBOURG
#3 Johnny THOMSON
#22 Jim PACKARD
#82 Al KELLER
#84 Pat FLAHERTY
#95 Bill RANDALL
#53 Jimmy DAVIES
WD: George Amick (deceased), Tony Bettenhausen, Sr. (driver choice, car driven by Wilson), Jud Larson (driver choice), A.J. Foyt (driver choice), Len Sutton (mechanical), Eddie Sachs (mechanical)
Right out of the gate, Jim Rathmann got the jump and he led lap one. Rodger Ward led lap two through four, but spun out on lap five while dueling Jim Rathmann. Ward was unhurt. The caution flag came out for this, and the race only restarted on lap 10.
With Ward having fallen by the wayside, Jim Rathmann and his brother Dick were home free. The pair dueled one another fiercely, with Jim Rathmann prevailing in the end. Very little occurred in the Libre race, possibly due to Jim’s main competitor for the lead spinning out and everyone else simply pacing their cars.
Formula Libre Race Results:
#16 Jim RATHMANN
#41 Dick RATHMANN
#65 Bob CHRISTIE
#3 Johnny THOMSON (-1, Flagged)
#22 Jim PACKARD (-1, Flagged)
#21 Elmer GEORGE (-1, Flagged)
#25 Bill CHEESBOURG (-1, Flagged)
#9 Don BRANSON (-3, Flagged)
#75 Dempsey WILSON (-3, Flagged)
#53 Jimmy DAVIES (-4, Flagged)
#82 Al KELLER (-10, Piston Failure)
#95 Bill RANDALL (-10, Oil Leak)
#5 Rodger WARD (-16, Spun, Turn 2)
#84 Pat FLAHERTY (-16, Out)
Lead Changes: 3
Leaders: 2 (#5, #16)
Race Speed: 160.694mph Relief Drivers: Mike Magill (Magill relieved #75 Dempsey Wilson from lap 11 to the finish)
With that, one of the most bizarre and yet tragic race weekends in American open wheel history was over for most drivers. However, there was still the sports car race, which counted for the USAC Road Racing Championship. Only about 6,000 spectators were there to watch the sports car race, however. The race was scheduled for 164 laps for 1000km, but was shortened to a six hour race due to darkness. It ended up lasting 147 laps. No major incidents were reported.
Carroll Shelby led the race early, but a bad pit stop ruined his day, which was eventually ended by a driveshaft failure. From there, the Porsche 718 RSK of Roberto Mieres and Count Antonio Von Döry dominated the show. They won handily despite being penalized a lap for running out of fuel.
1959 Daytona 1000km Results (Car, Laps Off, Reason Out if any)
#86 Roberto MIERES/Count Antonio VON DÖRY (Porsche)
#68 Jim RATHMANN/Chuck DAIGH (Maserati, -136, Piston)
#88 Chuck DAIGH (Ferrari, -140, Differential)
#3 Paul GOLDSMITH (Kurtis Corvette, -140, Engine)
#49 George CONSTANTINE (Aston Martin, -146, Piston)
The response by USAC was maybe even swifter than the speeds they had been running. Daytona was too fast, the banking was too steep, the local winds were too fast, attendance levels were too low, and driver fatigue levels were through the roof. By April 8th, USAC had cancelled the planned July 4th race, which was quickly snatched up by NASCAR Grand National. The Firecracker 250, now known as the Coke Zero Sugar 400, would become one of NASCAR’s most successful races. USAC gave sports cars at Daytona another try despite low attendance, and the 1000km of Daytona eventually turned into a successful event, being lengthened to 24 hours a few years later.
In 1971, USAC ran a much larger oval than even Indianapolis or Daytona. That year, the speedsters travelled down to the 2.874 mile oval in Rafaela, Argentina. The twin 150 milers on the standard back-and-forth oval’s low banks, though successful and held without tragedy, were never repeated. USAC also had Talladega, of all tracks, on its calendar after merging with CART in 1980, but when the merger fell through halfway through the season and CART split off, the race was cancelled.
Even today, all sorts of vehicles continue to lap the high banks of the famous tri-oval and its road course, including SCCA open wheelers on its road course. However, open wheelers at Daytona’s oval has been something no series has been willing to try again – except for a few parade laps of vintage USAC Championship Cars in 2009.
“Testing!!”, April 12th, 2006 article on Daytona’s website
“Duane Carter”, August 13th, 1958 edition of the Indianapolis Star
“Speeds Of 175-180 MPH Predicted For Daytona”, February 6th, 1959 edition of the Indianapolis Star
“Experts Divided On Wreck Cause”, February 12th, 1959 edition of the Daytona Beach Morning Journal
“Pit Chatter – Death Strikes Early”, February 12th, 1959 edition of The Spartanburg Herald
“Ferrari Factory Enters Car In Sunday’s Race”, April 1st, 1959 edition of the Daytona Beach Morning Journal
“Indy Cars Made One Tragic Attempt At Daytona Oval”, February 2nd, 2010 article on Speedsport
“Stocks Replace Speedway Cars July 4th At Daytona”, April 8th, 1959 edition of The Palm Beach Journal