Richmond International Raceway is easily one of the most historic tracks in all of motorsport. The.75-mile oval has been around since 1935 and is one of the few remaining tracks that are still operated by its original family. The track once hosted a Grand Prix motor race back in the 1960s and it was even the site of the original American Grand Prix in 1966. Since then, it has seen iconic drivers like Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Danica Patrick bring in both fans and profit for the track and its owners. However, its days of seeing some of the most famous drivers in the sport may be over. Thanks to an ongoing battle with the city over safety concerns and the fact that NASCAR doesn’t really need a small track anymore, RIR may be in jeopardy of losing its original charm and becoming just another corporate-owned NASCAR track.
The short answer to the question, “How many miles is Richmond Speedway?”, is 75. It’s a simple question, but it has a complicated answer. The long answer is a little more complicated than that, but we’ll try to break it down for you. The complicated answer comes from the fact that RIR’s original track length was 79.9 miles. Over the years, certain portions of the track were closed due to safety concerns. As a result, the track currently measures only 75.75 miles. During WWII, the track was expanded to 79.9 miles, but after the war ended, it was reduced back to its original length.
As we’ve established, Richmond is one of the most historically significant tracks in all of motorsport. The track has seen quite the lineup of drivers throughout its history, ranging from legendary pioneers like Carl Fisher to NASCAR legends like Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Danica Patrick. One of the best things about Richmond is that, regardless of the era, the track always looks the same. This is largely due to the fact that the track is situated on an old rail line and the original structures from the 1930s still remain. The layout is relatively simple but it is a testament to the skill of the designers back then. While we can’t help but marvel at how well the track keeps up with modern motorsport, we also have to respect the fact that it was built back in the roaring 20s.
Richmond is one of the tracks that helped popularize NASCAR in the first place. It was the site of the Daytona 500 for the first time in 1935, but it didn’t become an annual event until later that decade. The track continued to play an integral role in popularizing NASCAR as the sport gradually gained acceptance within the racing community. It is even considered by some to be the birthplace of stock car racing in North America. As you may imagine, a lot of fans have a special connection to the track. Before we move on, let’s take a look at a few of the historic moments that happened at Richmond.
Richard Petty’s Victory
It was in Richmond where Richard Petty became the King. The “King” is a title he earned for being the first driver to win the NASCAR Grand National Championship in 1978. Before then, he had been competing in stock cars for a number of years and he had been winning races left and right. In fact, he had already won four races in the season before he went to Richmond for his first title defense. The first of those four victories came at the Daytona Beach Road Course, which is today considered to be the first “legitimate” NASCAR race ever. It was also the first of four straight Daytona 500 victories for Petty. That is an incredible accomplishment that is probably even more impressive when you consider that it was nearly 70 years ago.
Dale Earnhardt’s Death
Sadly, we’ll never know what could have happened if NASCAR didn’t switch to a points system back in the 1970s. Dale Earnhardt’s 1976 season was nearly over when he raced at Richmond. On October 20, 1976, Earnhardt was leading a race and crashed into a wall on the back stretch. The wall collapsed on top of him and he was killed instantly. Dale Earnhardt’s death was a major blow to NASCAR, but it also marked the beginning of a new age of stock car racing. Before Earnhardt’s death, drivers would compete with each other based on who had the most glamorous car or the best paint job. These days, everyone is trying to avoid crashes like these and use proper containment methods when driving on a racetrack.
Danica Patrick’s Grand Slam
On the heels of Dale Earnhardt’s death, the sport hit a rough patch. After years of supporting women’s rights, Danica Patrick finally got her revenge on NASCAR in the form of a Grand Slam. Patrick went on to win the 1978, 1979, and 1980 NASCAR Grand National Championships. To put that in perspective, Patrick won three straight titles right after the death of legendary driver Dale Earnhardt. Her final victory in 1980 came at the same track that she avenged his death in the month before. During this time, Patrick is also remembered for being the first woman to drive a stock car radio station. Even today, she is often referred to as the queen of NASCAR.
In recent years, Richmond has seen a major revival. Due to the efforts of a dedicated group of track enthusiasts and fans, the city has made it a point to preserve the history and identity of the track as much as possible. As we’ve established, not much has changed at the track since it was first built. The same cars (with a bit of modification) still run there today and the same drivers still take to the track. This may be a rare thing these days. With the economy struggling, it’s sometimes difficult to get people to show up to work and play. However, when the going gets tough, it’s usually the history and the charm of a track that keep us coming back for more. In this regard, the track has a unique place in the hearts of its fans.