HARRISBURG, N.C. — Early this year, before COVID-19 altered our way of life and up ended the racing industry, I used this space to list the 10 most-talented individuals I had watched wheel a race car.
The idea was rather simple: I wanted to start a conversation among longtime race fans. Most people my age enjoy a good argument.
I love debating obscure topics such as who was the best asphalt sprint car driver, which quarter-mile dirt track produced the best racing and which stock car mechanic had a truly golden touch with a wrench and a screwdriver?
As the dog days of summer give way to the cool breezes of autumn, I thought it was a good time to reignite the fire and start a new debate.
My relationship with SPEED SPORT, which dates to January 1983, has provided countless opportunities and I’ve been fortunate to attend many events that we consider to be marquee moments in racing history.
Here’s a list of what we consider to be the 10 most significant motorsports events we have witnessed in person:
1. Ascot Finale: The open-wheel racing landscape on the West Coast was forever altered on Nov. 22, 1990, when the lights were turned out for the final time at California’s legendary Ascot Park following the 50th running of the Turkey Night Grand Prix. Stan Fox won the 100-lap midget race.
2. Kings Royal: Eldora Speedway owner Earl Baltes upped the ante on July 28, 1984, when he paid $50,000 to win a winged sprint car race at his half-mile dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio. The intensity level was sky high as Steve Kinser took home the record prize.
3. Hooters 500: The 1992 NASCAR Cup Series finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway had more storylines than a gripping murder mystery and it is still considered by many to be the greatest NASCAR race in history. Bill Elliott won that day, while Alan Kulwicki earned the title.
4. Meadowlands GP: On July 1, 1984, major league auto racing returned to the New York area for the first time since 1937 when the CART Indy Car Series raced on a temporary circuit at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J. Mario Andretti was the winner.
5. Japanese Exit: NASCAR made its fourth and final trip to Japan as Kevin Richards won a West Series race on Nov. 20, 1999, at Twin Ring Motegi. It was the last time one of NASCAR’s American-based series has competed at an international location.
6. Flemington Dirt: Built in 1915, New Jersey’s Flemington Speedway hosted its final dirt race on Oct. 28, 1990, with modified racer Danny Johnson holding off Billy Pauch Jr. for the milestone victory. The track was paved for the 1991 season and closed for good in 2002.
7. Back on Dirt: On July 24, 2013, NASCAR returned to its roots when Austin Dillon won the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway. It was the first NASCAR national series race on dirt since Sept. 30, 1970, when Richard Petty won at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C.
8. End of an Era: North Carolina’s North Wilkesboro Speedway, part of NASCAR’s premier series since the inaugural 1949 season, hosted its final NASCAR Cup Series race on Sept. 29, 1996, with Jeff Gordon beating Dale Earnhardt to the checkered flag.
9. Dazzling Debut: The Dirt Track at Charlotte, a state-of-the-art, four-tenths-mile oval, debuted on May 25, 2000, with Sammy Swindell winning a 30-lap World of Outlaws feature. The 14,000-seat facility never met expectations and is presently used only a few times each year.
10. Watkins Glen Revival: After a 20-year absence, the NASCAR Cup Series returned to the Watkins Glen Int’l road course in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York on Aug. 10, 1986. New owners, including International Speedway Corp., had revived the troubled facility as Tim Richmond visited victory lane.
That’s my list. Now come up with your own, invite your racing friends over and let the arguing begin.