Indycar History is as Varied as the Tracks… Part 2

Last week I looked at historic first visits to the different types of track configurations the indycars have raced on in the past. Here is part two as well as the final time the series visited the respective tracks.

Final open street course – AAA returned to championship racing following WW I in 1920. Although this year has been a source of confusion for historians for many years, one event that did take place for points was the final open road street race in Elgin, Illinois. This 8.5 mile road course was a ghost from the past, as board track racing had taken hold of the racing world and nation by storm. During the depression, after board track racing was no longer financially feasible, there was a one year engagement in 1935 at Mines Field, now home to Los Angeles International. The event ran one time and was the only time between 1920 and 1965 that points were paid to top machinery on a road event.

Final Board Track – Board track racing was changing the face of American racing until the onset of the depression. Increasing costs and rising fatalities at the so-called “murderdromes” saw its culmination in 1931. Altoona speedway, the site of many deaths three being Indy 500 winners, was the location of the final points race on board tracks. This type of racing did continue in scarcity through the 1930’s but never for points.

First paved oval – in 1946, the first championship year back from WWII, AAA was worried about car counts and schedule length. They combined the sprint car schedule with the champ car schedule, bringing the total to 77 races for the year reverting back to strictly championship rules for 1947. Although Indy was in the process of being paved, it still had stretches with bricks and would not become a true paved facility until the 1962 race. Thompson International Speedway was built as a paved track in 1938 and holds the crown of first paved oval that championship points were awarded on as it was run to sprint rules.

The first paved oval run to champ car rules was Darlington Raceway in 1950, marking the first step towards the demise of dirt racing in the championship. Johnnie Parsons won the season ending event. The second paved oval to the schedule did not happen until 1952 with the addition of Southland Speedway, now known as Raleigh Speedway or the Dixie Speedway.

Final Dirt Oval – California State Fairgrounds hosted the final dirt oval to award championship points in 1970. Al Unser was victorious, and would never race again on dirt at the top level. Although championship dirt track racing had been dead for a decade, USAC’s ill-fated Gold Crown Championship resurrected them for six races between 1981 and 1983, with Gary Bettenhausen capturing the final dirt win at the historic mile in DuQuoin State Fairground, Illinois.

Final Point-to-Point – The venerable Pikes Peak Hill Climb was the final time drivers took the checkers in a different location than the green. Ending a storied past in open wheel racing, Pikes Peak crowned its last points paying champion in 1969. Continuing his reign of terror, Mario Andretti claimed the last victory. The race was included as a non points event the following year.

Those are all of the different types of tracks that I can think of to include on a list such as this. With a history so varied it has been difficult to discern fact from fiction and official from non. I am only an armchair historian trying to learn as much about our sports storied history as possible. DO NOT take my writing as gospel as I am sure Donald Davidson would have a thing or two about what I have said. It was exciting reading about these particular races. Some were dropped at the height of their popularity while others were merely a sign of the changing landscape of motorsports. Knowing the history of our hundred year old sport helps us gain perspective on the “world ending” decisions that are made about the future of indycar racing. The scheduling now is not much different than it ever has been, the game of pleasing everybody all the time.

As we look to the possibility that a 50/50 schedule may, unfortunately, not be in our immediate future, I thought I would add these two in as reminders that nothing is ever constant and for indycar racing to survive, the sport as well as all of us fans need to be dynamic and flexible as we charge into new waters next year.

First IRL Road Course – The IRL stepped its first foot into the wild side, in 2005, at St. Petersburg Florida with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. This race marked a turning point in the marketability big time open wheel oval racing in the US. St. Pete is still on the schedule today and one of the better attended street races the current series visits. Dan Wheldon won the inaugural event.

Final ChampCar Oval – The historic Milwaukee Mile held the last ChampCar oval event in 2006. The unbeatable robot Sebastien Bourdais took the series’ final oval honors. With the IRL running its first street race the year before and ChampCar ending its long history with ovals, Open wheel racing would never be the same. The very track that has its roots in racing may have seen its last tire turned in 2011 as continued dismal oval attendance plagues a combined series.

As always thanks for reading, we will return to our regularly scheduled programming later in the week.

Eric Hall

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