In 1950, NASCAR added its first speedway to the schedule. The high-banked 1.366-mile Darlington Raceway was a departure from the traditional direction of the sport.
“The first time they went to Darlington, a mile race track, … guys ran the whole race and never got off the apron,” Kyle Petty said during Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America. “Never got up on the bank because they were afraid to because they’d only run half-mile dirt, quarter-mile dirt, stuff like that.”
Today, tracks more than a mile in length make up the vast majority of NASCAR races.
Nine years after Darlington hosted its first race, the top division of NASCAR left the Daytona Beach and Road course and headed to the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. Once again, the drivers were nervous about this major change.
“Then they come off the beach at Daytona and they went over there (to Daytona International Speedway) in ’59 and they say, ‘look at this place.’ ” Petty continued. “And my Dad (Richard Petty) said the talk in the garage was they were going to take off like airplanes, because it was so different. Look what that’s evolved to.”
Those examples from the past are not the only times NASCAR has made a major change. Nor are they the only times that drivers have worried about the consequences of a bold move.
The NASCAR All-Star race was first run under the lights in 1992.
“They were paying so much money, we had to say this was the greatest thing since sliced bread,” Petty said. “And we all had that fear we were going to outrun the lights.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted those types of changes are still happening.
“Even more recently: the All-Star race from this year,” Earnhardt said. “That would be another Hail Mary … that everybody thought was crazy. All the drivers hated the idea, and it turned out to be one of the best All-Star races we’ve seen in years.”
The future of oval and road course racing will come down to its reception by fans and the competition the track creates. Just as 1.5-mile tracks exploded in the early 2000s, there are other opportunities to run Roval races.
“At the same time, it’s begged the question – and we’ve seen it on social media this week with Daytona International Speedway – would fans want to see a race on the road course of Daytona?” Earnhardt asked. “It’s started this whole new conversation of what’s down the pipe for this sport?”
The Charlotte Roval is not only a hybrid oval and road course – it has elements of the two existing road courses. The interior may be as technically challenging as Sonoma, but the oval portion is going to make the track behave like Watkins Glen.
“When you incorporate any of the oval into the race track, the cars are going to tend to spread out,” Earnhardt said.
“If you look at the difference between Sonoma and Watkins Glen. The Glen is a faster road course and they get a little more spread out there. We still have great battles … but over time, they do put some distance between one another and we’ll see even more of that with this Roval.”
For more, watch the video above.