Where Is Auto Club Speedway At? [Fact Checked!]

Most NASCAR fans are pretty familiar with the name Auto Club Speedway. The historic California track is home to the Auto Club 500, one of the biggest and most important races of the season. Many consider the speedway to be an unofficial ‘birthplace of stock car racing.’

But what is the origin of this famed asphalt oval? How did it become such a legendary race track? And what makes it so special?

The story of Auto Club Speedway actually begins back in 1946 when Dr. Percy Bentley, founder and owner of the Bentley Motor Company, decided to build a paved oval track in the middle of his sprawling California ranch. The original plan was to call the track Dr. Percy Bowl, after the famous English auto maker. However, the community of Moorpark, California, did not enjoy the name of Dr. Percy so much, so he ultimately changed the name to Auto Club Speedway.

The original plan was to have the race track span 10,000 feet in circumference, with an approximate banking of 85 degrees. The track would have been completely paved and lit with electricity. But due to financial constraints, Dr. Bentley was only able to complete half of the track. The first race was held on July 16th, 1946, and was won by Frankie Scott in a time of 5 hours, 15 minutes and 15 seconds. Only eight cars finished the race due to a rainstorm which postponed it a day.

For the next seven seasons, the race was held on a Saturday night and had an attendance of approximately 15,000 people. In 1954, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series made its debut at Auto Club Speedway, and the tradition of having a large crowd every year continued.

While the original plan was to have the track completely paved, tire issues and financial constraints forced Dr. Bentley to change his mind. In 1956, a dirt track was added to the layout, and in the years that followed, the fans have still flocked to Auto Club Speedway to see some of the most legendary races in NASCAR history.

The Most Famous NASCAR Race

One of the most exciting races to ever take place at Auto Club Speedway was the 1971 edition of the Winston 500. On May 19th, 1971, the Great American Race saw the largest crowd ever to witness a sports match, with 77,000 people turning up to watch an epic battle between Richard Petty and David Pearson. The race went to overtime, with fans still going home happy after watching one of the most exciting matches ever. The race is still referred to as ‘one of the greatest sports events ever held in California,’ and it is considered by many to be the ‘birthplace of stock car racing.’

In 1988, Auto Club Speedway was visited by another American sporting icon, Muhammad Ali. During his stay in the area, the boxing great gave an interview to a local reporter and said, “I love that track. I’m going to put a new spin on the [tennis] racket and learn how to box!” Ali’s challenge was accepted, and he trained hard with a local coach to improve his punting and footwork. In an interview in 2019, Ali’s great-granddaughter said that his famous ‘Ali shuffle’ had its roots in his time at the speedway. “He would run from his car to the track, wave to the fans, then back to his car,” she said. “He called it his ‘Ali shuffle.’ We’d come out to the track with our parents and watch him do this. It was so cool.”

A Legendary Driver, A Record-Breaking Season, & Strange Occurrence

While most people are probably more familiar with the name Richard Petty than they are with the name Dan Gurney, the legendary driver and innovator more or less invented the driving technique which is still used today. It was Gurney who, in the years following World War II, first began experimenting with different driving techniques and gear shifts, which eventually led to the creation of the ‘Gurney Flap.’ The innovation made him a national hero in the 1950s and he went on to become the all-time leader in NASCAR races won with 69 victories, including victories at the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500. He also became the first driver to win the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500 in the same season, doing so in 1956.

But perhaps Gurney’s greatest feat was achieved in 1955. That year, he won the Grand National Championship, an accomplishment which many consider to be the ‘birth of NASCAR.’

Gurney also achieved something which no other driver had done before him. He won the premier circuit’s first national championship without the benefit of a gear shift, instead manually changing gears with a lever. The record books show that Gurney won a total of seven championships in his career, making him the all-time leader in NASCAR’s premier series. Sadly, he died of cancer in 1989 at the age of 68.

Even before he was famous for winning races, Dan Gurney was known for his driving abilities. He was considered a national champion before he had even entered his teens, and he went on to win several more titles in the years that followed. But perhaps his most famous feat was achieved in 1939 when he was just 16 years old. Gurney won the pole position in a race which had a time limit, but he was a few minutes late arriving at the track because of traffic jams caused by a huge storm that had damaged the roads. As a result, Gurney was disqualified from the race and had to start over. However, he went on to win the race in what was then the fastest time ever recorded. Gurney won a total of three events that year, and he was named the most promising driver of 1939.

As great as Gurney was, he was probably best known for something else. In the years leading up to World War II, rumors began to spread that Gurney was a Nazi sympathizer. Many claimed that he had once been a member of the German-American Bund, an organization which sought to unite all German Americans and promote support for Nazi Germany. Gurney always denied these rumors, though he did admit he had once owned a sword which had been used in a German military parade. In fact, he was so opposed to Nazism that he hid several books on the subject, hoping that one day they would be seen as ‘unpatriotic.’ Gurney once said, “I am an American, through and through, and I don’t care what anyone says. I want everyone to understand that.” Sadly, Gurney was not as patriotic as he claimed to be. In 1960, he said that being American was not good enough and that he wanted it to be “open to all nationalities.” In a 1992 interview, Gurney said he was just “looking for some adventure.”

The Birth Of A Legend

Even before he was a famous race car driver, Richard Petty was seen as something of a prodigy and legend. He began racing at a very young age and was soon making a name for himself. In fact, he was so good that people actually thought he was cheating. It was said that some car owners would actually ‘hide’ their vehicles from Petty so he didn’t have the chance to break down their cars.

In 1952, Petty participated in his first official NASCAR race. That year, he drove a stock car which had been designed by his father and was entered in a Grand National event held at Portland Speedway in Maine. The following year, Petty decided to move to California, where he became a huge hit at the local racetracks. By 1955, he had become one of the most promising young drivers in NASCAR and was named the Most Promising Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press.

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