Every week, we highlight one significant historical event that took place at NASCAR racetracks.
Many events have been well-documented, while others remain obscure events that only diehard fans may know about.
For example, what is the significance of the “no-hitter” at Talladega Superspeedway? That’s one for the books.
Or how about the fact that the original Brickyard 400 was sponsored by Coca-Cola and was attended by baseball legend Babe Ruth? Also notable.
We will explore some of the more significant moments that took place at NASCAR venues, but before we begin, let’s take a step back and discuss the history of race tracks in North America.
The Evolution Of Race Tracks
The history of race tracks in North America is a long and winding road that can be traced back to the 1800s. It wasn’t until the 20th century that tracks started becoming more commonplace, with the majority of them not appearing until the 1950s and 1960s.
It was during this time that tracks transitioned from military compounds to sports and entertainment complexes. The creation of a “modern” track had many pioneers, with the most significant figure being Walter Brennan. He is credited with designing the original Indianapolis Speedway in 1909.
Many of you may be familiar with the term “Indianapolis race,” as it is often used to describe the Indianapolis 500. While the Indianapolis 500 has always been the official kick-off to the IndyCar season, the race itself was actually the culmination of a three-day event that started on Tuesday, May 30, 1911. Known as the “World’s Fastest Two Days,” the Indianapolis 500 was first established to serve as a fundraiser for victims of the 1919 Seattle Gilded Age riot. The first 500 miles of pavement were actually made from the debris of the formerly richest city in the country.
This was also the time that fans started standing in line for blocks just to get a glimpse of their favorite drivers as they prepared to make their way to the starting line. For most of its first two decades, the Indianapolis 500 was considered a prestigious event. However, that all changed in the late 1940s, when military-surplus equipment made its way onto the track, transforming it into something that looked more like a war zone than a sporting event.
The Impact Of The Korean War
While the world was focused on the Korean War at the time, the Vietnam War was also playing out in the background. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that Vietnam started to creep into the narrative of the Indianapolis 500. For many years, the Indianapolis Speedway had served as a military base, and it wasn’t until the Korean War that it started hosting larger gatherings. At the time, there were more than 70,000 members of the United States Armed Forces that were stationed at the track. During this time, the track was literally transformed from a war zone into a sports and entertainment complex.
However, that was only the case for the surface streets and military bases surrounding the track. Even the track itself was decommissioned and turned into a storage facility for supplies. Fortunately, the Federal Government stepped in and bought the land. They turned the facility into a federal prison, which still stands today as the Lucas Oil Raceway.
The Influence of The Civil Rights Movement
One of the major events that helped shape the modern day Indianapolis Speedway was the Civil Rights Movement. In the 1960s, people across the United States started standing up for their rights and challenging the status quo. It was during this time that the Indianapolis 500 started becoming a more relevant event. The controversy surrounding the Vietnam War was slowly diminishing, and more and more people were joining the fight for civil rights.
Many famous artists, activists, and politicians were present at the Indianapolis 500 during these times, adding an extra layer of relevance to an already historic event. While the track still serves as a military base today, its connection to the Civil Rights Movement has not been forgotten. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum even goes as far as to say that the track was “born in a riot” and was later “legitimized by King George.”
The Brickyard 400: A Relevant And Re-invented Event
It wasn’t until the late 1960s that the Brickyard 400 was truly established as one of the defining events of the American racing season. That year, NASCAR decided to cancel the rest of the season because of the Vietnam War. However, when the dust settled, the Brickyard 400 became more relevant than ever before. The track was actually used for training purposes by the U.S. Army and was also the site of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. That alone makes the event one of the most significant in the history of the sport.
Since its inception in 1969, the Brickyard 400 has gone through several transformations. It started out as a 400-mile race, but today it is much longer. In fact, the longest race in the history of NASCAR was first held at the Brickyard and lasts for three days. It was initially contested over 500 miles, but today’s version is much longer than that. The Brickyard 400 is currently contested over 600 miles and is one of the most significant historical events in NASCAR. It’s also one of the most relevant events today as well, with the majority of the field being filled with prominent and upcoming NASCAR drivers. The Brickyard 400 is often cited as one of the most significant events in the sport’s history and is often referred to as “The Granddaddy Of Them All.”
Other Significant Events That Occurred At The Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has hosted many significant events over the years, with many more yet to come. Some of the most notable events include:
- The World 600 – The World Record-Breaking Grand National Championship, first held in 1960 and organized by R.J. Reynolds. It’s named after the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where it is held each year. It is the longest-running NASCAR event and currently holds the record for most grueling week of any sporting event. Over the years, it has grown from a 300-mile race to a 600-mile monster. It is currently the third-largest NASCAR event, behind only the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400.
- The United States Grand Prix – An annual road race that is part of the Formula One series. It was first held in 2014 and will take place later this year in Indianapolis.
- The St. Jude Classic – A golf tournament that is part of the PGA Tour. It was established in 2010 and is named after the late St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Its mission is to raise awareness and funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It is currently the fourth-largest tournament in the country.
- The Spring 500 – An annual NASCAR race that was first held in 1961 and is named after the time of year when it takes place. It was originally organized by the Army and was originally contested under the rules of the LeMons Series. However, today it is a three-day classic that features multiple races and close to 200 laps around the track. It also hosts the Hoosier Hundred, an event that serves as a preview to the main race. This was the original “Granddaddy Of Them All” and still one of the most prestigious events in the sport.
In addition to the aforementioned events, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has also hosted some of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all-time. As you might expect, many of these guys were also great drivers before they came to the Speedway, proving that you don’t always need to be “fast” to be impressive. Some of the more prominent names that have raced there include: