Friday, November 17, 2023

NASCAR’s Unique and Forgotten Racing Divisions: Introduction

On December 14th 1947, a meeting inside Daytona Beach’s Streamline Hotel would formally establish the basis of what we know as NASCAR was formally established as a motorsport sanctioning body. It would be absurd to believe that Bill France Sr. and the other members of the gathering would fully fathom the greatness their creation would achieve over the period of over 75 years. As the technology, the athleticism of drivers and crews and finances were difficult to predict from the beginning, the journey to what NASCAR is in 2023 involved in a number of interesting tangents. 

Originally assembled with a Modified division and later the Strictly Stock series (evolving into what now is the current Cup Series), NASCAR rapidly expanded their reach with a slew of stock car series for regional as well as national racing. The opening decades of NASCAR also involved experiments into many unusual forms of auto racing competition; Some of those featured  stock car auto racing. 

In honour of three-quarters of a century being a North American motorsport staple, an opportunity arises to recognize of the more fascinating forms of racing that were held under the NASCAR banner. I originally intended for this to be a single article or post but my research on the past NASCAR divisions has proven way too interesting. Finding so many intriguing tidbits, it was impossible to maintain my original vision for this article. Instead of a single article highlighting six divisions in a brief fashion, I have decided to post individual articles about each one of the unique past track spectacles that were staged under the famous motorsport sanctioning body.  

Please click on the division titles to access article:

NASCAR’s Unique and Forgotten Racing Divisions: Baby Grand National/Goody’s Dash Series

Robert Huffman Hero Card with White House Apple Juice Pontiac Sunfire

Years of Competition: 1975-2003

Notable Drivers: Dean Combs, Michael Waltrip, Davey Allison, Larry Caudill, Robert Huffman

As was many gasoline dependent industries during the 1970s, the 1973 oil crisis caused a deep impact to NASCAR. One of the most notable consequences of the situation was the 1974 Daytona 500 being cut by 50 miles. In the crisis, NASCAR explored a new racing tour tailored to the rapidly growing interest in the compact car sector in the United States. The solution presented itself in the form of the Baby Grand National Racing Association (BGNRA) that was assembled in June 26, 1973 with NASCAR adopting the series in April of 1975.

The race vehicles featured in the series were based on domestic and foreign production cars with single overhead cam four-cylinder engines. The Chevrolet Vega, Mercury Capri and Ford Pinto proved popular during the opening season. Other cars converted to compete in the early years of the Baby Grand National series included the Dodge Colt, Ford Mustang II and Opel Kadett. In the 1975 Jaycee 320 held at North Wilkesboro Speedway, a 1973 Saab was driven by Kenny Lindell finishing 13th place in the 38-car field.

Image from Program for 1975 Jaycee 320 Baby Grand Auto Race Program of #121 Larry Caudill and #21 Larry Pearson in Mercury Capris 

Car counts were robust for many of the NASCAR Baby Grand National Series in the first year with a healthy dose of young competitors. Larry Pearson, son of Cup Series champion David Pearson, was an early draw. Other drivers such as Larry Caudill and Dean Combs would build long reputations in the series right from its inception. 23-year-old Combs won the first championship in Baby Grand Nationals and went on to take the title in the next two years as well. Combs’ would finish as the winner for a record 60 races in the series competing between 1975 and 2002. 

Focused in short tracks during its inaugural season, excursions to larger tracks such as the 1.017-mile North Carolina Motor Speedway (Rockingham) and the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway were also undertaken. In 1979, the prominence of the Baby Grand National series grew when the opening round was held on the prestigious Daytona International Speedway. Mike Watts won the 100-mile event christening what would be a regular annual show for compact cars during Speed Week. Larry Hoopaugh won the Daytona race three consecutive times from 1980 to 1982. Mike Swain Sr captured the most total victories for a series driver at Daytona with four.

Though American automakers were prominent in the Baby Grand National series in much the same fashion as other NASCAR divisions, the prevalence of compact cars offered a legitimate opportunity for European and Japanese manufacturers to regularly compete. In 1977, George Thompkins won a race at Champion Speedway driving a Datsun becoming one of the earlier occasions a Japanese auto brand won an NASCAR sanctioned race.

NASCAR would change the name of the division to International Sedan in 1980. Dean Combs earned two more championships in 1980 and 1981 piloting a Datsun 200SX. Datsun/Nissan’s presence in the series faded shortly after Combs’ success with General Motors products taking a firm hold of competition. Through the 1980s and 1990s, most successful competitors selected the Pontiac Sunbird and later Sunfire. Called the Darlington Dash Series in 1983 and 1984, Daytona Dash Series as well as Charlotte/Daytona Dash Series were used through 1985 to 1989.

Larry Caudill Hero Card with Pontiac J2000 Race Car

Michael Waltrip, long-competing Cup Series driver and brother to NASCAR Cup three-time champion Darrell Waltrip, claimed the 1983 title for the division that adopted the use of the Dash Series for the first time that season. Another member of a renowned racing family, Davey Allison ran a handful of Dash Series events in his formative years as he would ascend to the Cup Series. The son of NASCAR legend Bobby Allison had a series-high finish of 3rd place at the 200-mile race at Daytona in February of 1984. Winner of the 1986 NASCAR Dash Series championship, Hut Stricklin would join Michael Waltrip and Davey Allison in becoming a Cup Series regular. In addition to the Waltrip and Allison names being heard at some point during the series history was the Earnhardt name. Kerry Earnhardt, the eldest son of seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt, campaigned a #3 Chevrolet Cavalier through the 1993 season finishing eight times in the top ten over 11 race starts. 

During the 1980s, the NASCAR Dash Series served as the stage for some historical moments for women in motorsports. From Yorktown Heights, New York, racer Karen Schulz’s performance in her freshman year of the Charlotte/Daytona Dash Series earned Rookie of the Year recognition. In the opening event for the 1988 season for the series, the Florida 200 at Daytona International Speedway finished with Schulz in 2nd place and series newcomer Shawna Robinson in 3rd place. In June of 1988, Robinson would be the first woman to win an NASCAR touring event when he won a 100-mile race at New Asheville Speedway and went on to claim the Charlotte/Daytona Dash Series Rookie of the Year in her season-long performance.

For 1992, Goody’s Headache Powder became the title sponsor for the Dash Series and carried their commitment through to the conclusion of the racing division. Following the gain of the title sponsor, the tour regularly received television coverage with a number of events airing on ESPN. Thanks to the increased television coverage of the series, one of the most bizarre crashes at Daytona was captured on film. In the 1994 Florida 200, Dave Stacy’s Ford Probe spun on the backstretch caught up in a multi-car accident. The car carried its momentum before hitting an embankment that launched Stacy into Lake Lloyd. Despite his damaged race car being partly submerged in the lake, Stacy was unharmed after the incident. In 1997, the one and only father/son championship duo was cemented in 1997 when Mike Swaim Jr won the title 12 years after his father claimed back-to-back season-ending trophies.

Robert Huffman's Toyota Celica 2002 Goody's Dash Car (Toyota Motorsports) 

A series centered on four-cylinder power, the NASCAR Goody’s Dash Series would shake up the performance potential of the 100-inch wheelbase race cars for the 1998 season. In addition to the existing 191 cubic-inch four-cylinder engine, a 268 cubic inch V-6 engine option. Four-cylinder Goody’s Dash Series were allowed to run 100 pounds less weight but the six-cylinder engine proved to be rapidly popular.

In 2000, Toyota Racing Development used the Goody’s Dash Series as a first step into NASCAR for what would become their eventual climb to the Cup Series in 2007. The Toyota Celica debuted with Eric Van Cleef in 2000 before the manufacturer expanded their effort by luring reigning series champion Robert Huffman the following year. Cam Strader won the 2001 Goody’s Dash title piloting a Mercury Cougar while Jake Hobwood took the 2002 crown in a Pontiac Sunfire. 

Final season of the NASCAR Goody’s Dash Series occurred in 2003 with an eight-race schedule that wrapped with a 150-lap event on the infield oval at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Justin Hobgood won the final event while Robert Huffman grabbed a series-tying fifth championship (an honour shared with Dean Combs) before joining the Craftsman Truck Series the following year. Huffman’s championship was also the first for a Toyota Racing Development driver in NASCAR.

Instead of completely fading out, the Dash Series would survive one more season reverting back to its non-NASCAR sanctioned roots. An organization called IPOWER (International Participants of Winning Edge Racing) revived the competition format in 2004 featuring the same compact race cars and several drivers from the former series. The IPOWER Dash Series ran for one season before it transitioned into the ISCARS Dash Touring Series that operated with support from ASA (American Speed Association). 



Women in Racing by Michael Benson

NASCAR’s Unique and Forgotten Racing Divisions: Speedway Division

1952 Photo of Buck Baker and his #87 Penny Mullis Cadillac Special (ISC Archives/NASCAR Media)

Years of Competition: 1952-1953 

Notable Drivers: Buck Baker, Jack Smith, Ralph Liguori

Staging competition on race tracks, NASCAR was competing in a battle of its own at the points of its formation. Holding motorsport events since 1902, AAA (American Automobile Association) possessed a prestigious position of sanctioning many popular auto racing events in United States until 1955 from cross-country runs to closed circuit events for open wheel roadsters and stock cars. The crown jewel of AAA’s influence in motor racing competition was their role with the Indianapolis 500.  

Announced November 10th of 1951, the NASCAR Speedway Division was described in the 1953 NASCAR Record Book as a response to competitors “who wished to test their skills in the big cars”. Although NASCAR’s history is rich with competition among modified category vehicles (a race car type that could be described as open wheel), the Speedway Division featured machines using older Indianapolis-style race car chassis with some boasting past Indianapolis 500 linage. Speedway cars were powered by production car-based engines to keep the sport more economical. Cadillac, Ford, Mercury, Hudson and GMC truck engines were among the powerplants installed in the vehicles.

The auto racing public got their first taste of the NASCAR Speedway Division at Daytona Beach in February of 1952. Part of the year’s Speed Week program, Speedway vehicles competed in one-mile runs down the beach course. At the end of three days of runs, Buck Baker took the $1,000 grand prize prevailing in the showdown on February 8th. Baker’s 140.41-miles per hour average speed in his Cadillac-propelled Wetteroth beat Fireball Roberts who drove a Ford-powered machine. 

Image from NASCAR Program of Speedway Cars at 1952 Daytona Beach Speed Week

The first proper race for the 1952 NASCAR Speedway Division took place at Darlington Raceway. In the 200-mile event consisting of 19 cars and resulting in 15 lead changes, Buck Baker won the contest with a four-lap lead. The Darlington Raceway event would be the only paved oval event during the 1952 campaign. While the Indianapolis-style cars attracted crowds throughout the 1952 Speedway Division campaign, the fields were comparatively smaller to the stock car racing tours.

A total of seven races made up the inaugural season for the series with Buck Baker carrying on early momentum to take the year’s title. The Speedway Division provided crucial success for the young Baker who was still chasing a first victory in NASCAR’s Modified or Grand National series prior to 1952. Going on to named to being one of NASCAR’s 50th Greatest Drivers in 1998 (alongside his Daytona 500-winning son Buddy), Buck Baker’s career including two championship in what is currently the Cup Series.

Image from NASCAR Program of Sam Waldrop and his Hudson Special at 1952 Daytona Beach Speed Week 

Although the first year of the NASCAR Speedway Division appeared to show some promise, a number of issues almost immediately started to cripple the tour. The 1952 season was cut short due to a steel strike as well as an extremely hot summer that cancelled races past June. The NASCAR Speedway Division returned for the 1953 season but the future prospects for the tour was threatened. Not including a second visit to Daytona Speed Week where Buck Baker defended his speed trial win, only four events would be held for the tour.

Sprint car driver Pete Allen won the 1953 Speedway Division championship by a three-point margin. Runner-up in the points standing was Ralph Liguori, prolific driver with an astonishingly long racing career that included competition in multiple USAC divisions and would retire in 2008 at the age of 70. Allen also won what turned out to be the final race at Champion Speedway located in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

While the Speedway Division concluded operations, NASCAR to continue to explore the territory of AAA/USAC competition with the Midget series starting in 1953.



Rumblin Ragtops: The History of NASCAR's Fabulous Convertible Division by Greg Fielden

The Evolution of NASCAR: A Historical Collection by Deb Williams

When NASCAR Started Their Own Indy Car Series: The Speedway Division

NASCAR’s Unique and Forgotten Racing Divisions: Midget Series

Cover Image of NASCAR Midget and Amateur Auto Races Program by Ralph Liguori behind the wheel of midget car

Years of Competition: 1953-1968 (1953-1960 as National Series)

Notable Drivers: Nick Fornoro Sr., Fred Meeker, Jim Whitman, Mario Andretti

The Speedway Division wasn’t NASCAR’s only attempt to compete with the purpose-built open wheel racing series of AAA/USAC. Despite a relatively long run, the Midget series is among one of the lesser known and under-recorded competitions in NASCAR.

A form of motorsports that caught on during the 1930s, midget racing is based on small, simplistic vehicles running powerful engines. Midget racing was very popular following the second world war as it proved relatively affordable and the short-distance events could be easily staged at short ovals. Through the 1950s and 1960s, midgets ultimately served as a springboard for many great drivers. A short list of drivers who parlayed success in midget racing to become an Indianapolis 500 winner includes Bill Vukovich, Sam Hanks, Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt. 

Image of partial Midget Division field from Program for 1958 NASCAR International Safety and Performance Trials and Races at Daytona Beach 

NASCAR’s Midget racing division was first assembled as a national tour in 1953 competing on a 16-race calender held on 11 tracks. Specifications for the race cars required a maximum weight of 1,100 pounds and wheelbase lengths between 68 and 74 inches. A choice of an Offenheuser (Offy) or a Ford V-8-60 flathead engines were offered with the midget machines. The startup of the Midget Division coincided with the decline and shuttering of NASCAR’s Speedway Division that was also based on Indianapolis-style roadsters. 

Fred Meeker won the first NASCAR Midget Division event at the 0.25-mile oval of Roosevelt Stadium. Meeker would remain competitive throughout the inaugural season but Nick Fornoro who won five races en route to the 1953 championship and a $175 cash prize. Meeker would claim two series titles of his own in 1955 and 1956. During the 1955, 1956 and 1957 seasons, separate midget point championship were awarded to the top Offy-powered entrant and the highest-placed Ford-propelled driver.

Images of 1956 NASCAR Champions. Midget Champion Fred Meeker in Middle between Modified Champion Red Farmer (Right) and Sportsman Champion Ralph Earnhardt (Right) (IMS Image and  Archives via Getty Images/NASCAR)

Operating in combination with NASCAR’s Daytona Beach Speed Week, a several races for the Midget division occurred at Daytona Beach’s 0.2-mile paved Memorial Stadium. A 25-lap race held on February 21st of 1964 on the small oval was won by future motorsport legend Mario Andretti driving an Offenhauser-powered Watson. Andretti’s victory came a year before his first USAC Championship Car crown (today recognized as the IndyCar championship) and three years before he would claim the Daytona 500.

NASCAR removed the Midget Division from their national tour program in 1960 though competition continued as a regional series. The last champion for NASCAR’s Midget tour was awarded in 1963 but historical accounts show that the stock car racing sanctioning body continued to support events up to 1968.

While NASCAR divested itself from midget racing in the 1960s, this form of motorsport greatly contributed to the emergence of several of the organization’s modern stock car legends Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart as well as current drivers Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell. 



Foyt Andretti Petty: America's Racing Trinity by Bones Bourcier

NASCAR’s Unique and Forgotten Racing Divisions: National Convertible

1959 Daytona 500 Photo of Richard Petty with 1957 Oldsmobile Convertible (Photo Credit Pattie Petty/RacingOne Multimedia/NASCAR Media)

Years of Competition: 1955-1959

Notable Drivers: Don Oldenberg, Bob Welborn, Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Fireball Roberts, Richard Petty

Convertibles have always proven to be alluring automobiles. During the 1950s, the Detroit Three automakers regularly incorporated a drop top body style on the same platform as their two-door hardtops. With convertibles offered with the same V8 engine options as those with coupes, it was only natural for stock car racers of the time to want to race them. The NASCAR Convertible division was for the time of the mid-to-late 1950s a hotly-contested battleground for roofless vehicles.

The foundation for the division was founded in 1955 but was originally not part of NASCAR. Originally founded under Indianapolis-based SAFE (Society of Autosports, Fellowship and Education), the convertibles initially raced as the All Star Circuit of Champions. Competitors were required to win at least five races in hard top events before being eligible to drive in a race-prepped convertible. Don Oldenberg claimed the first and only title for the SAFE All Star Circuit of Champions. By the end of 1955, NASCAR and SAFE agreed to a merger that saw the tour to become the NASCAR Convertible division for the new year. Oldenberg’s championship is historically recognized as part of NASCAR.

The first official NASCAR Convertible Division event was a 39-lap event at Daytona Beach on the beach and road course. Curtis Turner driving a 1956 Ford won the race by more than a lap ahead of Fireball Roberts. A busy 47-race schedule shaped the 1956 Convertible Division’s season that included a visit to Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition Speedway (Don Oldenberg won the 150-lap race finishing ahead of future NASCAR Grand National champion Joe Weatherly). Turner stormed to victory in 22 races but the 1956 championship was  Bob Welborn driving a Chevrolet. Welborn would repeat as winner of the season-ending crown in 1957 for what was a 36-race tour. 

Bob Welborn #49 1957 Chevrolet running at Bowman Gray Stadium (Bowman Gray Archives/NASCAR Media) 

Following the tragic crash at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans, a group called the AMA(Automotive Manufacturers Association) consisting of the major car companies sought to cease open support for auto racing in the middle of 1957. NASCAR was justifiably concerned for the quality and quantity of fields for both the Convertible and the Grand National series. For 1958, an innovative “zipper top” (a removable steel top) could be run by competitors to allow them the same car to run in both major NASCAR divisions. Convertibles would often compete in Grand National races unaltered in a handful of events going back to 1956. 

The 19-race 1958 season for the NASCAR Convertible Division included Richard Petty’s first NASCAR outing at Columbia Speedway in South Carolina on July 12th (his proper Grand National/Cup debut took place in Toronto at the CNE Grounds on July 18th). The season ended with Bob Welborn as series champion for the third time taking eight race wins.

With the opening of the Daytona International Speedway in 1959, the NASCAR Convertible Division staged a 100-mile, 40-lap event. Shorty Rollins took the victory by two feet over Marvin Panch. A 1958 Edsel was among the 21-car field for the convertible event. A sizable number of convertibles also took part in the 59-car field that competed in the inaugural Daytona 500.

Joe Weatherly Drives #12 Ford Thunderbird Convertible in 1959 Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway (NASCAR Media)

Hosting Grand National stars such as Lee Petty, Junior Johnson and Fireball Roberts, the NASCAR Convertible Division also served as a launch pad for many greats including Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett and Joe Weatherly who ran in the open-top series early before earning champions in what is now the NASCAR Cup Series. 1963 Daytona 500 winner Tiny Lund and Glen Wood (a founding member of the legendary Wood Brothers team that many drivers drove for including Lund) were also drivers in the NASCAR Convertible Division.

1959 was the last season for the NASCAR Convertible tour where Joe Lee Johnson took the final series crown. Although the series was popular with fans and competitors early on, decreased entries and lack of interest from promoters led to its demise. The Rebel 300 race at Darlington Raceway would run from 1960 to 1962 as the last convertible events but Grand National points were awarded.

With convertibles growing scarce through the 1970s ultimately ended any possible chance to revive NASCAR’s prominent open-top stock car division.



Rumblin' Ragtops: The History of NASCAR's Fabulous Convertible Division by Greg Fielden

NASCAR’s Unique and Forgotten Racing Divisions: Grand Touring/Grand American Division

Years of Competition: 1968-1972

Notable Drivers: Tiny Lund, Darrell Waltrip, Richard Childress, Bobby Allison

Through the 75 years of NASCAR, many automotive trends have come and gone (some even return years later). In the mid-1960s, Ford unleashed a cultural phenomenon inside the American motoring world introducing the Mustang. The Ford Mustang spawned the pony car segment  as its inexpensive performance and practicality proved tempting for younger drivers. The SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) was immediately positioned to take advantage of a newly-formed rivalry formed between the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro by hosting the cars on track in the Trans-Am Series. 

Running shorter distance races to the NASCAR Grand National series, the Grand Touring Division was born in 1968 as a support event to the more prestigious tour; eventually reshaping the premier series with its talent and ideas. While the NASCAR Grand Touring served as a battleground between pony cars with the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, AMC Javelin and the before-mentioned Mercury Cougar mainstay models in the 1968 field. Smaller capacity engines of 305 cubic inches or less differentiated the competition from the Grand National cars and allowed for a more assorted variety of race machines. Other vehicles taking part in Grand Touring races included Dodge Darts, Porsche 911s and an Austin Cooper Larry Newton drove in the 1968 Darlington 250 event. A Fiat participated in the 1969 Paul Revere 250 held on the Daytona road course while a pair of Alfa Romeos was part of a possible entry list but didn’t compete.

The opening year of the NASCAR Grand Touring division featured a heavy-hitting charge from legend team owner Bud Moore. In 1967, Bud Moore Engineering had been campaigning Mercury Cougars in the SCCA Trans Am series but was had support cut off as Ford Motor Company at the end of the year fearing the team was cannibalizing the auto manufacturer’s efforts showcasing the Mustang. Moore’s race-ready Cougars quickly found a new home in the early years of the new NASCAR series.

Tiny Lund won the first Grand Touring Division title with Bud Moore’s Mercury and would settle into becoming a series superstar capturing the champion again in 1970 as well as 1971. Buck Baker, acclaimed road racer Peter Gregg, Donnie Allison and country singer Marty Robbins were notable competitors during the first season. For the 1969 season, 22-year-old Kentucky native Darrell Waltrip would make a handful of starts in Grand Touring. Though Waltrip would have limited success in the series, he would go on to become a stock car legend with three NASCAR Cup series championships. Hall of Fame car owner Richard Childress compiled some of his earliest NASCAR experience racing in the Grand Touring. Childress’ best result was a 3rd place finish in the 1970 Casey 200 at the 0.5-mile dirt track on the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. 

Future NASCAR Cup Series Car Owner Richard Childress Inside Chevrolet Camaro for NASCAR Grand American Competition (ISC Archives/NASCAR) 

The Grand Touring Division would compete at the Daytona International Speedway since its inception, the series races were staged on the road course. The Paul Revere 250 took place on July 4th of 1968 with Lloyd Ruby taking the win. A second Daytona road race for the Grand Touring division would be added the following year during Speed Weeks festivities named the Citrus 250. 

In addition to featuring a handful of foreign vehicles, Grand Touring also welcomed drivers from outside of the United States. Japanese driver Seiichi Suzuki made three starts in the series at the Daytona International Speedway with a best finish of 4th place coming in 1969 in a Bud Moore prepped Mercury.

Although the Daytona International Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval was off limits to the Grand Touring cars, they would be instrumental in NASCAR’s christening of the all-new 2.66-mile Alabama International Motor Speedway (known today as Talladega Superspeedway). The 151-lap NASCAR Grand Touring race called the ‘Bama 400 held on September 13th 1969 was won by Ken Rush staged one day before the planned inaugural Talladega 500 for the NASCAR Grand National series. However, prior to the running of the Talladega 500, concerns arose from drivers that the high speeds experienced by the more powerful Grand National cars would lead to tire failures and major accidents that made the race too dangerous. The Professional Drivers’ Association (effectively an attempted union by major NASCAR drivers helmed by Richard Petty who served as president) decided to withdraw from the event on the evening before race day. With 32 drivers leaving the Alabama International Motor Speedway, only a handful of Grand National entrants remained. Despite having already run a 400-mile competition on Saturday, NASCAR invited the Grand Touring division cars to participate in Sunday’s Talladega 500. With 36 cars starting the Grand National event won by Richard Brickhouse, 23 were Grand Touring machines. 

1972 Postcard for NASCAR Grand American Mainstay Tiny Lund with Pepsi-sponsored #55 Pontiac Firebird

For 1970, NASCAR changed its name from the Grand Touring to the Grand American series with focus for firmly devoted to American-produced pony cars. Although car counts remained relatively steady in NASCAR’s Grand National Division, competitors in the top tier Grand National series during the early 1970s began to diminish due to the reduction of factory financing from auto companies as well as an economic recession. In an effort to bolster the car count for select races in 1971, Grand American cars were permitted to compete alongside the heavier Grand National vehicles. Six NASCAR short track races would be run with the mixed division format with two races won by Tiny Lund driving a Chevrolet Camaro. A regular Grand National series competitor, Bobby Allison drove a Grand American Ford Mustang at the Myers Brothers 250 at Bowman Gray Stadium recognizing a potential performance advantage with the smaller, lighter vehicle. Those victories by Allison and Lund are not recognized as Grand National/Cup Series wins proving controversial among some NASCAR fans when reflecting on Bobby Allison’s career record officially standing at 83 Cup series wins.

The 1972 tour was final season for the NASCAR Grand American series with Wayne Andrews taking the championship title. 

In addition to providing a springboard for Hall of Fame drivers and owners, the Grand Touring/Grand American series would serve as a division where the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro would find NASCAR success decades before the vehicles’ adoption in the modern Cup series.



Legends of stock car racing by John Albert Craft

NASCAR The Complete History (2003 Edition) by Greg Fielden

NASCAR’s Unique and Forgotten Racing Divisions: Drag Racing Division

Image of Val LePorte's All-American Dragster from NASCAR Newsletter for June 15, 1966 

Years of Competition: 1966-1967

Notable Drivers: Dan Smoker, Connie Kalitta, Chris Karamesines, Richard Petty

NASCAR was often associated as a sport where turning left is common with the occasional road courses break that monotony of traditional stock car racing. As hard as it is for many of us to envision NASCAR competitions where the turn of a steering wheel wasn’t required, straight line racing was part of the foundation of the sanctioning body. When Daytona Speed Week was held on the beach/road course, time trials and flying mile races were officiated by NASCAR. 

During Speed Week in the late 1950s, drag races took place at Flagler Airport in Bunnell, Florida under the NASCAR banner. In 1960, NASCAR partnered with the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) to co-host a drag race named the Winter Nationals. On February 13th of 1960, Lewis Carden won the Top Eliminator competition in the joint NASCAR/NHRA event. This alliance between the stock car racing sanctioning body and the drag racing organization was short-lived as allegedly the ambitious founders of their respective groups Bill France Sr. and Wally Parks didn’t enjoy a comfortable working relationship. NHRA’s Winternationals settled in Ponoma, California the year following their joint venture with NASCAR becoming a staple for the drag racing season.

Through the 1960s, NASCAR organized their own drag racing program with regional divisions covering areas across the United States and Canada. East Coast, Mid-West, Northern, Southern and West Coast divisions would host a wide variety of vehicles from dragsters, Altered Coupes as well as street cars in stock and custom trim. One of the requirements in the drag racing division’s rule book was a requirement that only publicly available gasoline with no additives allowed. 

Image of cover for 1966 NASCAR Drag Racing Division Rule Book

NASCAR increased their profile in drag racing in 1966 by staging a series of international meets for a national championship. A total of six championship events were held with Fueler Circuit and Grand Stock Circuit categories competing for a season-ending title. The NASCAR Drag Racing championship series was headed by National Field Director Walt Mentzer who was also instrumental in the formation of the AHRA (American Hot Rod Association) under the guidance of NASCAR vice president Ed Otto. In 1966, Joe Jacono claimed the Fueler Circuit championship and Melvin Yow took honours for the Grand Stock Circuit. Ron Rivero would be the champion of the Fueler Circuit in 1967 while Dan Smoker took the crown in the Grand Stock Circuit. NASCAR Drag Racing division would fold after the 1967 season. 

Despite its short run, the NASCAR Drag Racing championship series lasted long enough to make a contribution to the sport’s history. Within a one-month span at the start of 1967 (between January 29th and February 19th), a young Connie Kalitta secured final round victories in an NHRA, AHRA and NASCAR top fuel event. 

Image from 1965 NATAC Daytona Beach Winter Nationals Drag Racing Program of Richard Petty's 43/JR Plymouth Barracuda 

An NASCAR drag race was also one of the last occasions where NASCAR Grand National/ Cup Series legend Richard Petty would compete in a major straightline battle. In 1965, Petty competed in a number of drag racing competitions across several sanctioning bodies. The King of stock car racing even has a final round victory in NHRA competition. Driving a 43/JR Plymouth Barracuda, Petty win the B/Altered Coupe category at the 1965 Springnationals at Bristol Motor Speedway. On February 27th of 1966, a match race final was held at DeLand Airport between Richard Petty and fellow stock car driver Fred Lorenzen. In the quarter-mile bout, Mopar’s greatest driver lost to the fantastic blue oval competitor as Lorenzen’s Ford Mustang won.

Since the late 1960s, NASCAR largely maintained a strict stock car racing mandate while the NHRA has grown to be a respected body for drag racing. Clearly, there can be moments where it proves best to stay in your own lane. 


High Performance: The Culture and Technology of Drag Racing 1950-2000 by Robert C. Post

Super stock : Drag Racing the Family Sedan by Larry Davis

1965 NASCAR Drag Racing Division Rule Book

1966 NASCAR Drag Racing Division Rule Book

Monday, September 18, 2023

Honda Indy Toronto Receives Approval for 2024 Return

William Ashley Co Display with IndyCar at 2023 Honda Indy Toronto
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/Car FYI Canada/XSL Speed Reporter 

On Friday September 15th, a vital meeting for the 2024 Honda Indy on the street of Toronto concluded in favour for welcoming back the headlining sounds of twin-turbocharged Honda and Chevrolet engines next summer. The Board of Governors of Exhibition Place decided to approve the application submitted by Green Savoree Toronto for a one-year license to extend the popular auto racing event. 

In the agreement, the 2024 event is tentatively slated to be held over four days starting July 18th and extends to July 21st. Billing itself as an event that generates $47 million for the economy of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), according to report from the Chief Executive Officer of Exhibition Place Don Boyle, the Honda Indy Toronto also supports more than 450 full time jobs in the GTA. The race weekend also contributes heavily to the hospitality industry of the city accounting for over 33,000 hotel room nights between the race teams as well as race spectators with 34 percent attending from outside Toronto. During the 2023 edition of the event, more than $100,000 was raised for Make-A-Wish Canada with the total after 12 years of the partnership cresting above $1 million.

A somewhat concerning detail about this recent application is the deal only covers a single year of the Honda Indy Toronto. The previous four times when negotiating with Exhibition Place, Green Savoree Toronto sought three-year extensions for the race event. It’s unclear why the decision was made to not pursue a multi-year agreement for 2024 and beyond. The reason for requesting a one-year agreement is unclear. Financial terms for the 2024 agreement are confidential.

Since its 1986 inception, the street race within Exhibition Place had been missed on only three occasions with two (2020 and 2021) caused as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. The 2008 event was not held as the Champ Car open wheel racing series planned to run at the venue entered unification with the Indy Racing League/IndyCar. Along with IndyCar being the headliner, a number of additional racing series support the race weekend in Toronto including the NASCAR Pinty’s Series as well as Sports Car Championship Canada in recent years. 

With the 2024 edition of the Honda Indy Toronto passing by its approval hurtle, the schedule for the upcoming NTT IndyCar Series is slowly taking shape. Though a complete 2024 season tour has not been announced by the open wheel organization there have already been several set. Already teased by IndyCar is a season finale on the streets of Nashville for September 15th as well as $1-million to win non-points event on March 24th at California’s Thermal Club.