Gone But Not Forgotten NASCAR Tracks

Ontario

Billed as the “Indianapolis of the West,” Ontario was a replica of the famed 2.5-mile Brickyard and featured the same distinct square-shaped layout. (Photo: ISC Archives)

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There are a number of tracks no longer on the NASCAR landscape that created many memorable moments during their existence.

Since the sport’s inception all three of NASCAR’s top divisions have competed at a variety of venues literally from coast to coast as well as north and south of the border. Although in some cases the facilities have completely disappeared these five made their mark in their NASCAR days:

ISC ArchivesNorth Wilkesboro Speedway
The North Carolina short track was on the NASCAR scene from the very start and hosted the eighth and final race of the inaugural 1949 NASCAr season. It remained a fixture on the schedule until its untimely demise in 1996 when Bob Bahre and Bruton Smith purchased the facility and harvested its dates to New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway respectively. New ownership brought the beloved facility back to life in 2010 but a handful of regional touring series races were not enough to keep North Wilkesboro alive. Jeff Gordon will go down as the final NASCAR race winner at Wilkesboro in 1996 while Richard Petty set the mark of 15 career wins at the .625-mile track.

ISC ArchivesTexas World Speedway
Long before Texas Motor Speedway opened its gates in 1997, NASCAR had a major presence in the Lone Star State out in College Station at Texas World Speedway. The two-mile superspeedway was built in 1969 and was considered the sister track of Michigan Int’l Speedway featuring a similar length and layout. However TWS had steeper banking than its counterpart in the Irish Hills and speeds for both stock cars and open wheel cars climbed because of it. Bobby Isaac won the first NASCAR race in 1969 when he took the checkered flag in the Texas 500 while Richard Petty was victorious three times in the eight races held at the track. The facility fell into disrepair in the early 1980’s forcing NASCAR to discontinue sanctioning races at the facility.

ISC ArchivesRiverside Int’l Raceway
One of the world’s most famous road course venues residing in southern California for years and Riverside was a major part of the NASCAR world. Many years the season would start at Riverside in mid-January and then end in November as the finale. Eddie Gray won the first NASCAR-sanctioned race at the twisting road circuit in 1958 and the list of Riverside winners reads like a “Who’s Who” of motorsports; Dan Gurney, Richard Petty, A.J. Foyt, Bobby Allison, Mark Donohue, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace were some of the names that took NASCAR checkered flags. In all 37 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races were held at Riverside with Wallace the final winner when he was victorious in the 1988 Budweiser 400.

Ontario Motor Speedway
Although it didn’t have anywhere near the life span of its southern California cousin Riverside, Ontario made its mark on the NASCAR world in a relatively short period of time. Billed as the “Indianapolis of the West,” Ontario was a replica of the famed 2.5-mile Brickyard and featured the same distinct square-shaped layout. The track came to life in 1970 hosting the USAC Championship Car California 500 and was the scene of more open wheel racing until NASCAR made its debut in 1971 with A.J. Foyt taking the checkered flag in a 1969 Mercury. “Super Tex” would repeat in the event the following season with Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, David Pearson, Neil Bonnett and Benny Parsons following him to Victory Lane. Eventually the track was shuttered when attendance dipped dramatically and 1980 was the final year for racing. Several years later Auto Club Speedway was built in nearby Fontana in nearly the shadows of what was at one time a Taj Mahal of auto racing.

Flemington Speedway
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has a colorful history of competing at some of the most unique tracks in auto racing and Flemington was certainly one of them. The New Jersey facility was originally a horse racing track and was created as a four-cornered dirt oval. Auto racing became a staple and in 1990 the track was paved and hosting weekly as well as regional tours including the modifieds. When what was then known as the Craftsman Truck Series was born in 1995, Flemington found a spot on the schedule and that summer Ron Hornaday put his name in the record books as the first winner. As if the basically circled layout wasn’t unique enough, Flemington also had the distinction of using Styrofoam blocks against the walls to lessen the impact of crashes, in many ways a predecessor of today’s SAFER barrier. While the system worked it also created the memorable scene of Styrofoam snow showers when a truck made contact with the barrier. The Truck Series held four races at Flemington and the track finally was shut down in 2002. 

MRNNazareth Speedway
As unique layouts go Nazareth was near the top of the list. The five turn track located in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania was born as a dirt track in 1910 before undergoing a transformation and repaving in 1987, when it debuted at slightly less than a mile in length. Nazareth was the scene of many open wheel races on both its dirt and asphalt incarnations with NASCAR also playing a prominent role in track history. Both the NASCAR Busch (now XFINITY) Series and Camping World Truck Series competed for years at Nazareth as did the Whelen Modified Tour. Rick Mast won the inaugural Busch race in 1988 with Martin Truex Jr. taking the final appearance by the series in 2004. The Truck Series debuted in 1996 with a Jack Sprague win with Greg Biffle won the last race held for the series in 2001. The track stopped holding major events shortly thereafter and by 2004 ceased operation.

I-70 Speedway
A high-banked half-mile track in Odesssa, Missouri just outside Kansas City, I-70 was one of the most legendary short tracks in the country. Late model stock car racing was king at I-70 with some of the sport’s top stars competing at the track over the years including Dick Trickle, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and Larry Phillips. The Camping World Truck Series found its way to the track and produced some of the most memorable short track racing in series history with Mike Skinner winning the inaugural race in 1995. In all the series competed at I-70 five times and the track fell on hard times before finally shutting down in 2009.

Pikes Peak Int’l Raceway
The mile -ong PPIR track sits in Fountain, Colorado and had a strong run on the NASCAR schedule for many years. Both the Busch (now XFINITY) Series and Camping World Truck Series debuted at Pikes Peak in 1998. Matt Kenseth won the first of what would a total of eight Busch Series races at the track. Ron Hornaday Jr. was victorious in the Truck Series race that same year. NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series West also competed at Pikes Peak for many seasons with the likes of Michael Waltrip and Kevin Harvick finding Victory Lane. The track ceased operations for some time but has been brought back to life in recent years as a home for driving schools and training.

Chicago Motor Speedway
NASCAR’s history of racing in the "Windy City" dates back to Solider Field in the 1950s. Today the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois hosts all three of NASCAR’s top series every year including theMRN Chase for the Sprint Cup opener. But a now defunct track just outside the city limits in Cicero also played host to NASCAR racing when Chicago Motor Speedway was alive and well. The one-mile speedway was built on the grounds of the former Sportsman’s Park horse racing track and current team owner Chip Ganassi was part of the ownership group. In addition to a CART race, CMS also was on the Camping World Truck Series schedule for two years. Joe Ruttman won the first race in 2000 and Scott Riggs the following year. Attendance fell dramatically in a short period of time and when Chicagoland Speedway opened its gates in 2001, its neighbor track to the north closed its gates.

Louisville Motor Speedway
Another unique short track from the early days of the Camping World Truck Series, Louisville was located in the Bluegrass State. The track first opened in 1988 as weekly venue with regional touring events also on its schedule. The Truck Series made its debut in 1995 and ran there until the 1999 season. Louisville was three-cornered track and almost a smaller version of Pocono Raceway. It featured elevation changes as well and although it was only 3/8-mile in length, some drivers felt it drove like a road course. The track’s fate was sealed when Kentucky Speedway opened in nearby Sparta and Louisville is now the site of an industrial park.

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