Who Won the Last Time the NASCAR Cup Series Raced on a Track as Short as the Los Angeles Coliseum, Site of the Busch Light Clash?
Few fans who tune into Sunday’s Busch Light Clash will be able to say they’ve witnessed a NASCAR Cup Series race anything like what the track at the Los Angeles Coliseum will offer.
That’s because you must go back more than half a century to find races on ovals even remotely as short as the Coliseum’s quarter-mile layout. Those tracks went by the wayside during the Nixon Administration, with a couple of all-time NASCAR greats closing out the super-short tracks era in style.
NASCAR made changes after the 1971 Cup Series schedule
The 1972 season was the year that NASCAR grew up by getting smaller. From 1955-71, the Cup Series schedule encompassed between 44 and 62 races, which scarcely left time for an offseason. The 1971 schedule opened on Jan. 10 on the 2.62-mile Riverside International track in California and concluded on Dec. 12 at Texas World Speedway, a two-mile layout in College Station. In between were 46 more races of various lengths.
That season was the first year of racing under the Winston Cup Series banner. Tobacco company R.J. Reynolds, looking to promote its cigarettes after the national ban on television ads took effect, embraced stock car racing. However, the company sought a more polished look, which brought about the changes that have led to labeling 1972 as the start of the modern era.
Beginning that year, NASCAR abandoned dirt tracks and established a minimum distance of 250 miles for races on ovals, a rule that doesn’t apply to the Bush Light Clash, which began in 1979. The revisions led to dropping 11 tracks of half a mile or shorter that had hosted a combined 14 races in 1971.
Bowman Gray Stadium played host to the last quarter-mile race
Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is a beloved part of NASCAR history, having played host to Cup Series races from 1958-71. Even after the series left, Bowman Gray remained a popular minor-league track. When NASCAR needed to test its Next Gen car in preparation for going to the Busch Light Clash on the quarter-mile Los Angeles Coliseum track for the start of the 2022 season, Bowman Gray was the logical venue.
On Aug. 6, 1971, the Cup Series came to Bowman Gray for the Myers Brothers 250, a 62.5-mile race. Actually, it was two races within one. Facing sponsorship cutbacks, NASCAR combined its Grand National and Grand American Series into a single race several times that season.
Though he finished second by three seconds, Richard Petty earned credit for the Cup Series victory. Bobby Allison, driving in the Grand American Series, led the final 138 laps to score the overall victory and take home the $1,000 top prize. Petty earned $600.
Twenty-nine starters on a quarter-mile track left little room to maneuver. Only 13 were still running at the checkered flag, and only Petty and Allison finished on the lead lap.
Bowman Gray wasn’t the shortest track used in 1971
Not even factoring in the difference in cars, the NASCAR Cup Series in 1971 would barely be recognizable to fans today thanks to the shorter schedule and the selection of tracks. At just over half a mile, ovals at Bristol and Martinsville look tiny compared to the cookie-cutter 1.5-mile intermediates that dot the modern schedule. However, they’re huge compared to some of the others on the 1971 schedule or the Busch Light Clash circuit making its debut this weekend.
Here’s the rundown of races in 1971 on tracks that were three-eighths of a mile or shorter:
- March 21, Hickory (North Carolina), 0.363 miles, won by Tiny Lund.
- May 9, South Boston (Virginia), 0.375 miles, Benny Parsons.
- May 21: Asheville (North Carolina), 0.333 miles, Richard Petty.
- May 23: Kingsport (Tennessee), 0.337 miles, Bobby Isaac.
- July 14: Malta (New York), 0.362 miles, Petty.
- July 15: Islip (New York), 0.2 miles, Petty.
- Aug. 6: Bowman Gray (North Carolina), 0.25 miles, Bobby Allison.
- Aug. 28: Hickory, 0.363 miles, Petty.
Not surprisingly, Petty won the third of his seven Cup Series championships that season. He drove in 46 of the 48 races and won 21 of them, finishing in the top five in 17 others. “The King” finished in the top three in 21 of the final 22 races, the exception being fourth place at Charlotte in early October.
And, no, that’s not a typo. The track at Islip Speedway on Long Island really was two-tenths of a mile. The race consisted of 250 laps. Had the facility stayed on the schedule the following season under the rule requiring all races to be at least 250 miles, drivers would have had to complete 1,250 laps.
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.