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March 24 in NASCAR History: Buddy Baker breaks 200 mph barrier

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Earlier this year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the pole for the Daytona 500 with a qualifying speed of 194.582 mph.

That’s fast.

But that’s how fast today’s Cup Series cars go on superspeedways with tapered spacers restricting engines.

On this day 50 years ago, Buddy Baker got to go really fast.

On Tuesday, March 24, 1970, Baker strapped into a blue Dodge Daytona during a tire test at Talladega Superspeedway, the largest oval track in NASCAR. During the test, Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier on a closed circuit.

His fastest lap around the 2.66-mile oval was recorded at 200.447 mph.

“Gosh, it’s the most wonderful feeling I’ve had in a long, long time,” Baker said after the test. “This is something nobody can ever take from you, being the first guy to run 200 mph on a close course circuit. Gosh, I’m just tickled to death.”

Baker said when you’re going 200 mph, the track’s high-banked turns “feels just like it’s flat. Because it takes every bit of the banking to run this speed. ”

Of course, stock cars would only get faster over the ensuing decades.

By 1987, Bill Elliott would establish the qualifying speed records at Daytona (210.364 mph) and Talladega (212.809 mph).

In 1988, following a violent Bobby Allison wreck at Talladega in 1987, NASCAR instituted restrictor plates for races at Daytona and Talladega. They’d be used through the 2019 Daytona 500 before being replaced by tapered spacers.

Other tracks have seen the 200 mph qualifying barrier broken since then, but we’ll likely never see it again at Daytona and Talladega.

UPDATE: According to, Larry Rathgeb, the Chrysler engineer who led the test session to reach the 200 mph barrier, died Sunday as a result of the coronavirus.

Also on this date:

1991: Kenny Wallace, the younger brother to Rusty and Mike Wallace, won his first career Xfinity Series race at Volusia County Speedway in Barberville, Florida. The series would make its fourth and final visit to the half-mile track the next year.

2002: Kurt Busch executed a bump-and-run on Jimmy Spencer with 56 laps to go to take the lead in the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch led the rest of the way, surviving a restart with 15 laps to go, and scored his first Cup Series win. Busch would win three of the next four Cup races at Bristol.

Kyle Larson wins, advances to tonight’s Gateway Dirt Nationals finale

Gateway Dirt Nationals
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NASCAR Cup star Kyle Larson captured Friday night’s Main A feature in the second night of the three-night Gateway Dirt Nationals at The Dome at America’s Center in downtown St. Louis.

After winning his heat race earlier in the evening, Larson powered on to take the checkered flag again in the main event, holding off Cannon McIntosh, Michael Pickens, Tanner Thorson and Cole Bodine.

NBC Sports’ reporter Dillon Welch finished sixth, Gio Scelzi (son of four-time NHRA drag racing champ Gary Scelzi) was seventh, followed by Jonathan Beason, Sean McClellan and Robert Digby.

Two other NASCAR notables, Chase Briscoe and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 12th and 16th, respectively.

Larson took home a $5,000 prize and advances to Saturday’s main event.

Joining Larson, Welch, Briscoe and Stenhouse in tonight’s midgets main event will be Ryan Newman and Christopher Bell, who both competed in Thursday night’s Main A, finishing 11th and 15th, respectively.


In the evening’s late model Main A event, Tyler Carpenter won a close battle with Tanner English by .02 of a second to take home the $5,000 winner’s prize and advance to Saturday’s big showdown.


Lastly, veteran NASCAR driver and St. Louis native Kenny Wallace finished 15th in the Modified class Main A feature due to a blown motor.


The main event for all three categories – midgets, modifieds and super late models – begins Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET. The winner of each race will take home $10,000 apiece.

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Ryan Newman 11th, Christopher Bell 15th in first night of Gateway Dirt Nationals

Photo courtesy Ryan Newman official Twitter page
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Even though he hasn’t driven a midget car on dirt for nearly 20 years, it was like getting back on a bicycle for NASCAR Cup star Ryan Newman in Thursday night’s midget Main A event on the first of the three-night Arizona Sport Shirts Gateway Dirt Nationals at The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis.

Newman finished 11th  in the 17-car field, 9.543 seconds behind winner Thomas Meseraull, who pocketed $3,000 for taking the checkered flag.

Budding NASCAR star Christopher Bell was knocked out of the race after just five laps when something broke in his suspension, relegating him to a 15th-place finish, 15 laps down to Meseraull.


As for the other competitors in the midget Main A, Justin Grant finished second, followed by Blake Hahn, Chris Windom, Logan Seavey, Anton Hernandez, Tyler Courtney, Andrew Felker, Paul Nienhiser, Austin Brown, Newman, Tim Crawley, Ace McCarthy, Sam Johnson, Bell, Karter Sarff and Daniel Robinson in 17th.

The three-day Gateway Dirt Nationals feature midget cars, modifieds and super late models. Four more familiar names will put the pedal to the metal on Friday, including Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chase Briscoe and NBC Sports reporter Dillon Welch will compete in the prelims.

In addition, former NASCAR driver and St. Louis native Kenny Wallace is entered in Friday’s modified preliminary race.

The main event for all three categories is scheduled to begin Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET. The winner of each race will be awarded $10,000.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Ryan Newman among NASCAR drivers entered in Gateway Dirt Nationals

Ryan Newman
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Several NASCAR drivers are entered into this weekend’s Arizona Sport Shirts Gateway Dirt Nationals in St. Louis, which features midget cars, modifieds and super late models.

The three-night event runs from Thursday through Saturday and will be held at The Dome at America’s Center and will feature the likes of Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., incoming Cup Series rookie Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe and NBC Sports reporter Dillon Welch.

All six of them will be competing in the midget portion of the event.

Newman and Bell will race in the Thursday night preliminary. Larson, Stenhouse, Briscoe and Welch are entered in the Friday night preliminary.

Former NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace is competing in the modifieds portion of the event. He is in the Friday night preliminary event.

On-track activity for both nights begins at 4 p.m. ET

The main event for all three categories is scheduled for Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET. The winner of each race will be awarded $10,000.

NASCAR community mourns death of former Truck owner Mike Mittler

Photo: Jamie McMurray
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Former and current NASCAR drivers mourned the passing of former Truck Series owner Mike Mittler on Friday. Mittler was 67.

Mittler’s Truck teams competed in 301 series races from 1995-2018. Although his team never won a Truck race, it made an impact in NASCAR, providing rides for such drivers as Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Justin Allgaier and Brad Keselowski, among others. Copp Motorsports announced before the season it was dedicating the year to Mittler. The team changed its number from 83 to 63.

“If it wasn’t for people like Mike who have paved the way, we wouldn’t have the opportunities that we have now to participate in NASCAR,” Copp Motorsports owner DJ Copp said.

Mittler stated Oct. 3, 2017, on his Facebook page that he had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. He stated in that posting that he had his first chemo treatment that day and was at the shop after the treatment.

Many in the sport paid tribute to Mittler on Friday.

Chris Blair, executive vice president and general manager of World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois, stated about Mittler: “Mike was special. He was a great man who inspired many. I value each moment shared with him through the years, especially those in the garage along with my son.”

Here is what others in the sport said about Mittler: