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Tracks of Yesterday - Riverside International Raceway
September 14, 2007
Riverside International Raceway was a nine-turn road course built on the site of a chicken farm in the desert of California. It opened in 1957 hosting the first of many road-course events. Riverside was only the third permanent road course constructed helping to usher in the modern era of road course racing in the United States.
The main straightaway was 1.1 mile long. The track’s famous “esses” started out of turn two and ended with an uphill right-hander in turn six. Cars then entered a downhill off camber turn seven. Cars completed the long straightaway and entered a very tight turn nine. Pit road was located to the right coming out of turn nine. Cars exiting pit road would blend onto the short straightaway just past turn one. For infield access, there was a bridge that crossed the straightaway opposite turn two and a tunnel in turn one.
The track was reconfigured in the 1970s. The major change in the layout was the addition of a dogleg transitioning the cars from the long back straightaway into a more sweeping turn nine.
Riverside hosted events for European Sports Racers, Formula One Grand Prix, NASCAR, Can-Am, USAC, IMSA, IROC, and CART. Les Richter served as the president of Riverside International Raceway and was the visionary behind the IROC Series pitting the top drivers of NASCAR, SCCA, USAC, and F1 against each other in equally prepared Porsche (pronounced poor-sh-uh) Carreras at Riverside and Daytona.
The legendary Dan Gurney grew up near Riverside and began his racing career at Riverside International Raceway.
NASCAR held its first event at Riverside on June 1, 1958. Eddie Gray won the Crown America 500 driving a 1957 Ford. NASCAR did not return to Riverside until 1961. That year Lloyd Dane won the 100-mile event driving the No. 44 Chevrolet. NASCAR did not return in 1962, but competed at Riverside twice in 1963. Dan Gurney won the Riverside 500 in January driving Holman-Moody’s No. 28 Ford. Darel Dieringer won the Golden State 400 in November driving Bill Stroppe’s No. 16 Mercury. Dan Gurney then claimed a lock on the NASCAR competition at Riverside scoring the win in the 1964, 1965, and 1966 running of the Motor Trend 500 at Riverside driving the Wood Brothers’ No. 121 Ford. Parnelli Jones won the event in 1967 driving Bill Stroppe’s No. 115 Ford and then Dan Gurney won it again in 1968 for the Wood Brothers. Richard Petty scored the win in 1969 driving the famous No. 43 of Petty Enterprises, that year it was a Ford.
In 1970, Riverside became the first NASCAR event on the schedule each year until the season opener was moved to Daytona in 1982. A.J. Foyt won the 1970 Motor Trend 500 at Riverside driving Jack Bowsher’s No. 11 Ford. Richard Petty won the Falstaff 400 at Riverside in June that year in the No. 43 Plymouth. Ray Elder recorded the win in the Motor Trend 500 in 1971 driving the No. 96 Dodge holding off Bobby Allison who returned to win the 1971 Winston Golden State 400 in June driving the Holman-Moody No. 12 Dodge with Elder finishing second to him. Richard Petty returned for the win in the 1972 Winston Western 500 at Riverside and Ray Elder chalked up the win in June in the Golden State 400. Mark Donahue recorded the win in the 1973 Winston Western 500 driving Roger Penske’s No. 16 AMC Matador. Bobby Allison won the June running of the Tuborg 400 that year in his Coca Cola sponsored No. 12 Chevrolet. Cale Yarborough won both the Winston Western 500 and the Tuborg 400 at Riverside in 1974 driving Richard Howard’s Kar-Kare No. 11 Chevrolet.
Bobby Allison won the 1975 Winston Western 500 driving Penske’s Coca Cola sponsored No. 16 AMC and Richard Petty won the Tuborg 400 that year. David Pearson then staked his claim to Riverside Speedway by winning the 1976 Winston Western 500 in January, the Riverside 400 in June, and the 1977 Winston Western 500 driving the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Purolator Mercury. Richard Petty nipped Pearson for the win in June in the NAPA 400 and Pearson was forced to settle for second place.
Cale Yarborough won the Winston Western 500 in 1978 driving Junior Johnson’s No. 11 1st National City Travelers Checks Oldsmobile with Benny Parson’s finishing second driving L.G. DeWitt’s No. 72 1st National City Travelers Checks Chevrolet. Parson’s returned in June to score the win in the NAPA 400.
Big talker Darrell Waltrip scored the win in the 1979 Winston Western 500 at Riverside driving DiGard’s No. 88 Gatorade Chevrolet. Waltrip finished second in June in the NAPA Riverside 400 to Bobby Allison driving Bud Moore’s No. 15 Ford. Waltrip then won the 1980 Winston Western 500 and the Warner W. Hodgdon 400 at Riverside. Bobby Allison took the checkers in the 1981 Winston Western 500 driving Harry Rainer’s No. 28 Tuf-Lon Chevrolet in January. Waltrip scored the win in the Warner W. Hodgdon 400 in June, and Allison won the November running of the Winston Western 500 driving Harry Ranier’s No. 28 Hardee’s Buick.
Tim Richmond won the 1982 Budweiser 400 and the Winston Western 500 at Riverside driving J.D. Stacy’s No. 2 Buick. Bill Elliott claimed the win in the 1983 Winston Western 500 at Riverside driving the Harry Melling No. 9 Melling Oil Pumps Ford. Terry Labonte won the 1984 Budweiser 400 driving Billy Hagan’s No. 44 Piedmont Airlines Chevrolet, and Geoff Bodine won the Winston Western 500 driving Rick Hendrick’s No. 5 Northwestern Security Life Chevrolet. Labonte won the Budweiser 400 again in 1985 while Ricky Rudd won the Winston Western 500 that year driving Bud Moore’s No. 15 Motorcraft Ford.
Darrell Waltrip returned to win the 1986 Budweiser 400 at Riverside driving Junior Johnson’s No. 11 Budweiser Chevrolet with Tim Richmond finishing second. Richmond returned in November to win the Winston Western 500 driving Rick Hendrick’s No. 25 Folger’s Chevrolet fending off Dale Earnhardt. Richmond then won the 1987 Budweiser 400 in June. Rusty Wallace recorded the win in the Winston Western 500 driving Raymond Beadle’s No. 27 Kodiak Pontiac.
In 1988, NASCAR would only visit Riverside once. It would be the last NASCAR event held at Riverside. Rusty Wallace, driving Raymond Beadle’s No. 27 Kodiak Pontiac won the Budweiser 400 at Riverside.
Later in 1988 Riverside International Raceway was torn down and eventually replaced by a shopping mall approved by the then newly formed City of Moreno Valley.
You can contact Allen Madding at .. Insider Racing News
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