Petty Last Dirt-Track Winner

NASCAR on Dirt

Richard Petty (43) and Rex White mix it up on the dirt during a NASCAR race in the 1960s. (Photo: ISC Archives)

The last time a national NASCAR division competed on a dirt track was more than 40 years ago when Richard Petty took the checkered flag.

When the Camping World Truck Series field takes the green flag in Wednesday night’s CarCash Mudsummer Classic at Eldora Speedway, it will mark the first time one of NASCAR’s top-tier series has hit the dirt since "The King" was victorious a generation ago.

The date was Sept. 30, 1970, to be exact and the NASCAR Grand National Series ... today's Sprint Cup Series ... rolled into State Fairgrounds Speedway in Raleigh, N.C., for the Home State 200.  It was the 42nd event of a grueling 48-race schedule and a field of 23 cars signed in to take part in the 100-mile race on the half-mile dirt oval.

John Sears won the pole with a speed of 71.380 mph, but he lasted only 16 laps before an engine failure doomed him to last place and a $200 payday.  Among the other names in the field that fall evening were Bobby Isaac, James Hylton, Bobby Allison, Dave Marcis, Benny Parsons, Elmo Langley and Wendell Scott.

Petty - driving a Plymouth owned by Don Robertson - started sixth, worked his way into the lead on Lap 89 and never looked back.  Neil "Soapy" Castles finished second, two laps behind Petty. Isaac, Hylton and Cecil Gordon rounded out the top five in a race completed in just one hour, 27 minutes.

An estimated crowd of 6,000 packed the tiny North Carolina track and saw Petty average 68.376 mph in a race slowed by caution just once for four laps.  Petty won 18 times that season but finished fourth in the final point standings.  Isaac won the championship.

After taking the checkered flag, Petty said what turned out to be some prophetic words.

"The dirt tracks are rapidly becoming a thing of the past," he said.  "I hope a few dirt tracks are kept on the schedule.  This is where our brand of racing started."

Little did he know it would take until July 24, 2013, for NASCAR to bring top-level racing back to a dirt track.

NASCAR's Only Dirt Racing Series

Stock car racing's history includes NASCAR's sanction of a traveling Dirt Late Model series.  The Busch All-Star Tour was run primarily in the 1980s and '90s.  Based in the Midwest, it featured some of the top Late Model racers of its era and competed at a variety of tracks throughout the country.

The national tour was the predecessor of successful circuits like the World of Outlaws Late Models, Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series and the UMP DirtCar Summernationals.

Among the officials involved with the Busch All-Star Tour were current Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby, who served as chief technical inspector, and yours truly (Pete Pistone) as public relations director for nearly four seasons.  The late Jim Hunter, then NASCAR’s vice president of competition, was a huge supporter of short-track racing and an advocate of the touring series.  Veteran racing official Jim Wilson managed the day-to-day operation of the Busch All-Star Tour for most of its existence.

Dirt RacingThe series debuted in 1985 and endured for 17 years.  The inaugural season featured eight races with the first event held at Adams County Speedway in Corning, Iowa.  The 50-lap feature was won by Steve Kosiski, who would go on to be a multi-time series champion.  Roger Dolan, Tom Hearst, Dave Chase and Kenny Walton rounded out the top five.

Over the years, some of the most prominent names in Dirt Late Model racing competed and won in the All-Star Tour including Billy Moyer, Ray Guss Jr., Gary Webb, Ken Schrader, Steve Boley, Mike Wallace and Brian Birkhofer.

While the series maintained its central United States base, it did expand outside the Midwest to a variety of tracks.  Lakeside Speedway, I-80 Speedway, Eagle Raceway, I-70 Speedway, Hawkeye Downs Speedway and Iowa State fair Speedway were just a few of the tracks on the schedule of races run throughout the division’s history.

Kosiski wound up being the winningest driver in series history with 50 victories and seven series titles.  His brother, Joe, was right behind with 45 wins and five career championships when the series finally ended in 2001.  Both brothers have several children competing in NASCAR-sanctioned racing today.

After its 17-year history, the Busch All-Star Tour had made its mark on the world of Late Model dirt-track racing.  But although NASCAR still sanctions several weekly dirt tracks through its Whelen All-American Series, the Busch All-Star Tour remains the only national dirt touring division in the sanctioning body’s history.

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