When it comes to social media, Thursday is, perhaps, better known as “Throwback Thursday.” It’s the day when folks post old photos of themselves on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. Today, I’m celebrating “Throwback Thursday” here in my blog space on AutoRacingDaily.com. No, I’m not going to post old, embarassing photos of myself, here, on an auto racing website. I have no plans to ever subject you to that. Instead, we’re going to throw it back to the first-ever race for what’s now known as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Why am I doing it this Thursday of all Thursdays you may be asking? Easy, I just found out that it was on this date (June 19) in 1949 that the first race, ever, was held for the forerunner of the Sprint Cup Series.
I did already know that the series ran its first race in 1949 and that the race was held in Charlotte, N.C., but I have to admit, the exact date isn’t something that I’ve easily remembered. Considering I’m borrowing the “Throwback Thursday” idea from social media, it’s fitting that I was reminded of the date of that first race by a link to a FOX Sports article on Facebook.
That aside, I figured it would be fun to take a walk down memory lane with a comparison between that first race 65 years ago and the most recent race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. That first race was held at a three-quarter-mile dirt track, while today’s Richmond has a similar three-quarter-mile length, but it’s, of course, paved. There are no more dirt tracks on the Cup schedule, and haven’t been since the 1970s, for comparison.
Bob Flock won the pole for the 1949 200-lap Strictly Stock Series (now known as the Sprint Cup Series) race at Charlotte with a speed of 67.985 mph. Glenn Donaway took the checkered flag, but was disqualified for having illegal springs. Jim Roper, driver of the No. 34 Lincoln, was declared the winner of the race and a cool $2,000.
The series now known as the Sprint Cup Series visits both Charlotte and Richmond twice a year, and we’re at a point in the season where the circuit has made one of its two yearly points-paying visits to each track. I’ll compare using the April 26, 2014, race at Richmond.
DISTANCE: The Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond in April was, as the name suggests, 400 laps in length, double the distance of the “Whatever It Was Called” 200 at Charlotte in 1949. I’m guessing races didn’t have title sponsors back then.
SPEED: I wonder if folks considered the 67+ mph by Flock in qualifying at Charlotte in 1949 some kind of blistering speed. I realize that that speed was on dirt and modern speeds at Richmond are turned on asphalt, but it’s still a fun comparison. We can’t make that comparison, though, using qualifying speeds for the April race at Richmond, because qualifying was rained out. Here’s a number for you — the track qualifying record at Richmond was turned in by Dale Jarrett in 1997 at 109.047 mph. The closest comparison I could come up with using the April race weekend was the average race speed, which was 93.369 mph.
PAYOUT: As I previously mentioned, Roper won a whopping $2,000 for his win at Charlotte in 1949. I’m not sure how much of that $2,000 he kept. Whether or not he was the owner of the car, and who else he may have had to pay, I’m not sure. Joey Logano was listed as winning $274,081 for his win at Richmond earlier this season. I’m not sure what percentage of that he got, but I’m guess it was more than $2,000. Team costs have gone up, I’m sure, since 1949. Teams now have more personnel, more travel expenses, R&D expenses, etc. Some drivers drove their race cars to the track, raced them and then drove them home in 1949, and I don’t mean loaded them on a trailer and then hauled them home themselves. I mean they drove the actual race car to and from the race. And wind tunnel testing? Someone in 1949 might’ve asked, “What’s that?” By the way, the total race purse at Richmond in April was $5,178,199.
ATTENDANCE: I don’t have the attendance numbers for 1949, but according to the FOX story, the crowd for that first race was so large, some of the fans from the grandstands had to be moved to the infield, because there wasn’t enough room in the grandstands for them all. I’m not sure about the attendance at Richmond, but I’m guessing if you look at numbers alone, the attendance now would be larger. The grandstands now are much larger, I’m sure, but there are more people on the earth now, too. Granted, there’s more interest in something when it’s new. If I didn’t already know that, I learned it recently when Meijer celebrated the grand opening of a store in my town (Bowling Green, Ky.). Anyway, having to find room for all the fans in attendance is a stark contrast from all the talk of low attendance these days.
DISQUALIFICATION: You sure don’t hear about drivers being disqualified and stripped of race wins anymore, or at least not at NASCAR’s national level. At your local short track? Sure. But at NASCAR’s top level? Not so much. Sure, every now and again a driver’s qualifying speed is disallowed and, as a result, he/she will start in the back. Usually when an illegal part is found on a race-winning car, the win stands while the driver and team are docked driver and owner points and a fine is levied. When NASCAR gets really serious, maybe a crew chief and car chief will be suspended. But disqualification? Not so much. The closest thing to a disqualification I can recall would be Matt Kenseth being stripped of bonus points for wins in 2013 because of an engine issue.
Something else worth noting: Women competing in NASCAR is nothing new. And I’m not just talking Janet Guthrie, Patty Moise and Shawna Robinson, here. I had heard of Ethel Flock racing in the early days of the sport, but my research for this blog also introduced me to Sara Christian. Christian finished 14th in that 1949 race at Charlotte. At the end of the year, she was 13th in points. Meanwhile, her husband Frank ended the year tied for 26th. Gives new meaning to the term, “better half.”
Hope you enjoyed this NASCAR-themed “Throwback Thursday.” I sure did.
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