No. 1 France Family
The choice of the Number 1 ‘Storied Legend’ at Phoenix International Raceway was not difficult, but it was too big to assign to a single person. Three generations of one racing family helped influence and nurture the growth of PIR, and that makes the France family the Number 1 “Storied Legend” at the Desert Jewel.
The relationship between the Frances and PIR started in 1963 shortly after it was announced that an oval would be incorporated into the original road course design. Patriarch William H. G. “Big Bill” France, who had founded NASCAR 15 years earlier, followed the news of the track’s progress and was contacted by original owner Dick Hogue about staging a stock car race at the facility. Those discussions led to a surprising fact that was known by very few…until now.
Eventually, France and Hogue reached agreement to stage a 150-lap NASCAR Grand National (now Sprint Cup) race as the first professional race at PIR on January 26, 1964, the weekend after the season opening “Motor Trend 500” at California’s Riverside Raceway, the road course that inspired the basic PIR design.
But as the first week in January ended, construction on the outside walls around the oval and grandstands had barely been started and there were no concession facilities or restrooms, so the event was cancelled. Big Bill was disappointed that the event had to be scratched so close to race day, but he wisely used the opportunity to watch how the fans supported upcoming Indy car and sports car races at PIR. Though the racing was entertaining, small crowds gave Big Bill reason to think that the cancellation might have been a blessing in disguise.
Still, Big Bill was always looking to grow NASCAR into a truly national sport, so he kept an eye on developments at the one-mile asphalt loop in Arizona. Before he retired in 1972, Big Bill briefed his son, Bill France Jr., about opportunities for the future and the second-generation leader continued to follow events at PIR.
As attendance grew through the first decade of racing, a new promoter – Dennis Wood – added several additional series to the track schedule and persistently inquired about conducting NASCAR events at PIR. Finally, in 1977, Bill Jr. gave the okay for a trial race with a regional racing series.
France agreed to let PIR host the finale of the 20-race Winston West series on November 27, a week after the close of the Winston Cup season at Ontario, Calif. Wood convinced the track owners to pay appearance money to get some Cup stars to compete. Coal magnate Jim Stacy brought a pair of Dodge Chargers for Cale Yarborough and Neil Bonnett, Bobby Allison entered his AMC Matador, and 28 Winston West regulars prepared to wrap up their season.
Bonnett led until he broke a valve with 18 laps to go, enabling Yarborough to sail past and take the win. With a crowd of 13,000 – about two-thirds the number of fans that had attended the most recent Indy car race – both sides considered the event a success and agreed to continue the arrangement.
For 1978, Wood again offered appearance money to three NASCAR stars to race in the Winston West finale. Allison was paid $2,000 and Bonnett got $1,500 just to compete for the $5,245 winner’s share of the $31,500 purse, but Wood took a gamble and agreed to pay $5,000 to get “The King,” Richard Petty, to enter the event. The trio of NASCAR stars had to earn their money by making some media appearances in the days leading up to the race and, most importantly, agreeing to show up early on Saturday and Sunday to sign autographs for fans.
Wood got far more than he expected as a crowd estimated at 22,000 came out to see the race. While Allison and Bonnett satisfied the steady stream of spectators who wanted their signatures, the line for Petty’s autograph stretched a quarter mile and never seemed to end. As race time approached, “The King,” who had won the pole position, had to tell everyone in line that he was sorry, but he had a race to run. He added that, time permitting, he would try to sign more at the end of the day.
In the race, Petty led all but six laps and thrilled the crowd with passes of lapped cars at virtually part of the track as he ended a 44-race winless streak dating to the 1977 Firecracker 400. The crowd cheered and screamed and an obviously happy Petty kept his word and stayed nearly three hours extra to sign the autographs he had promised.
Some observers believe that Petty’s goodwill efforts that day did more to help the popularity of stock car racing at Phoenix than any other event in PIR history. And it all happened because Big Bill France had kept the track on his radar screen and Bill Jr. had decided to take a chance on PIR.
Petty won twice more in the next three years and crowds continued to grow. But the Winston Cup schedule was filled to capacity and Phoenix had no chance to gain a stop on auto racing’s most popular tour.
The situation changed in 1986 when NASCAR learned that Riverside had been sold to land developers and the track would close in 1988. To convince NASCAR to bring its premier series to PIR, then owner Emmett “Buddy” Jobe conducted a full overhaul of the facility, enlarging grandstand seating to 40,000 and constructing a brand new garage area with enclosed garages. He kept increasing the purse for the K&N West race to the point that it became the richest and best attended event in the series. The efforts persuaded Bill Jr.; in July 1987, NASCAR announced that PIR had been awarded the semifinal Winston Cup race of the season beginning in November 1988.
Before a then-record PIR crowd of 60,000 fans, Alan Kulwicki won the inaugural Cup race at PIR. Attendance continued to steadily climb and in 1995 a new standard was set as 102,000 fans turned out to see Ricky Rudd speed to victory.
In the 1990s, Wall Street discovered auto racing and independent tracks began to be purchased by larger corporations that had the resources to make major improvements and take the tracks to the level of the finest stadiums in the world. Discussions between Jobe and the France-led International Speedway Corporation (ISC) began in 1995 and culminated with PIR being sold to ISC on July 14, 1997. Key to those negotiations was another member of the France family – Jim, Bill Jr.’s younger brother – who at the time was the President and Chief Operating Officer of ISC.
PIR had joined a portfolio that soon included Daytona, Talladega, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Auto Club Speedway at Fontana, Richmond, Darlington, Chicagoland, Martinsville, Homestead and Kansas.
Jobe agreed to continue as a consultant to help the transition and Bill Jr. and Jim recruited Robin Braig, long-time Anheuser-Busch head of sports promotions, to be the new president of PIR. Braig stayed for four years before departing for Daytona. Searching within the ISC executive leaders, Jim and Lesa France, the daughter of Bill Jr. and niece of Jim who was an Executive Vice President of ISC at the time, offered the presidency of PIR to Bryan Sperber, who, in 1997 at age 30, had become the youngest NASCAR track president in history when he was given control of the track at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
In March 2002, Sperber seized the challenge and, with encouragement and support from Jim and Lesa France, began plans to modernize PIR. Over the next dozen years, he directed a series of capital improvement projects — construction and expansion of modern grandstands and suites; installation of a lighting system; excavation of a vehicle tunnel to the infield; and the reconfiguring, widening and repaving the racing surface — totaling more than $50 million.
And as a reward for continuing to improve the facility and for attracting large numbers of enthusiastic fans, Brian France – who succeeded his father Bill Jr. as chairman of NASCAR in 2003 – awarded a second annual race date to PIR for a spring event beginning in 2005.
So, as we conclude a half century of racing at PIR, it is the France family – Big Bill, Bill Jr., Jim, Lesa and Brian – we salute as the Number 1 “Storied Legend” in PIR history. They were there from the very beginning, provided support and an opportunity for fans to see stock car racing in the formative years, awarded the venue the all-important Sprint Cup dates, selected some extremely talented people to lead a major transformation, and provided the funding to convert an aging race track into a world-class motorsports facility. There is no one else who has provided more for a longer period of time to PIR, and race fans and competitors know that it is their steady guidance that has created today’s successful Phoenix International Raceway.
No. 2 A.J. Foyt
We are only two weeks away from the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway and this week PIR’s ‘Storied Legend,’ at number 2 on the countdown, is the driver of the famous No. 14 car, A.J. Foyt.
Foyt is known for many accomplishments in driving, but mostly he is known as racer who would drive anything on wheels --- and win! He is the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He was the first person to win the Indianapolis 500 four times, and his seven Indy Car Series championships remain a record. In 2000, Foyt was named, along with Mario Andretti, as the co-Driver of the Century by the Associated Press.
On March 22, 1964 Foyt won the first professional race at Phoenix International Raceway, the Phoenix 100. Although Foyt started from the second spot, he not only led the first lap, but all 100 laps of the race. Coming in second was Roger McCluskey and pole-setter Parnelli Jones finished in third place.
In PIR’s commemorative book, “Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Racing in the Desert,” writer Michael Knight recalls that day with Foyt:
“I flew my airplane over, that’s how I got my first impression of the track, and I landed on the drag strip,” Foyt said. The strip adjoined the oval in those days. …
”It was not a track that was forgiving. If you made a mistake there, you paid for it,” said Foyt, who clinched the first of his seven national championships with a victory on the old Arizona State Fairgrounds in 1960. “It was very challenging. You had to get your car to where it could run through (turns) three and four almost wide open. One and two, you had to turn in there and keep your car on the bottom. It was tiring.
“It was probably the only track in all my years of racing that you could go there and test a car for Indy, and go to Indy, and your car worked pretty good. I think it was because of the dogleg, the high-speed corner going into Turn three. Going into one and two, it was pretty tight. That’s one thing I liked about Phoenix: if our car was pretty comfortable, you could take it to Indy and run pretty fast.”
Foyt raced for 34 years in NASCAR, from 1963 to 1997. He had seven victories, 128 starts, 29 top-fives, 36 top-tens and nine poles.
Through his USAC Champ Car career, Foyt raced 36 years from 1957 to 1993. He had 67 victories, 297 starts, 144 top-5s, 181 top-10s and 52 poles.
Foyt competed in 26 races at PIR and visited Victory Lane four times, including that inaugural race in 1964. His other wins came in November 1965, October 1971 and November 1975. In those 26 starts, his average finish was 11.3, with 12 top-5s and 13 top-10s.
Thesheer brilliance of his career makes Foyt one of the most influential drivers at any track he raced on, but the fact that arguably the greatest racer of all time won the first race in PIR history puts A.J. Foyt at No.2 on PIR’s list of ‘Storied Legends.’
Be sure and check back next week as the Storied Legends countdown concludes!
No. 3 Dale Earnhardt
We are only three weeks away from the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway and this week PIR’s ‘Storied Legend,’ at number 3 on the countdown, is none other than No. 3 himself, Dale Earnhardt.
Considered one of the best NASCAR drivers of all time, Earnhardt earned seven NASCAR Winston Cup Championships, which is tied for the most all-time with Richard Petty. He won 76 races over his career including his famous Daytona 500 victory in 1998. His aggressive driving style earned him the nickname “The Intimidator.”
At Phoenix International Raceway, Earnhardt had 13 starts and he won the 1990 Checker 500 after starting the race in third and leading for 262 out of 312 laps. He beat Ken Schrader by a margin of 0.67 seconds.
Earnhardt began his career in 1975 in what was then the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Over a period of 27 years, he made 676 race starts, which included 281 top-5s, 428 top-10s and an amazing 25,684 laps led.
During the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt was involved in a racing accident that took his life. His teammates, Michael Waltrip and son Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished first and second that day, in part due to Earnhardt’s efforts to block the rest of the field. Earnhardt will always be honored by fans and fellow drivers alike for all of his contributions to NASCAR both on and off the track. He not only competed as a driver, but was a car owner and a key personality in NASCAR in an era when the sport saw tremendous growth and grew from a regional sport in the South to a national sport.
It is because of his contributions to the growth and popularity of NASCAR, in addition to his accomplishments on the track at PIR, that we honor the great Dale Earnhardt with the No. 3 place in our ‘Storied Legends’ countdown.
Be sure and check back next week as the Storied Legends countdown enters the top two!
No. 4 Jeff Gordon
We are quickly approaching the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, which is only five weeks away, and PIR’s ‘Storied Legends’ countdown is nearing the top spot. Number 4 on the countdown this week is Jeff Gordon.
Gordon is not only one of the sport’s all-time best drivers but he remains one of the best drivers on the track every week: he led the Sprint Cup Series points standings for much of the season and is currently in the thick of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
As of this week, he is in eighth place, 17 points behind the championship points leader Joey Logano in the Chase Contender Round. In two more weeks, four drivers will be eliminated and only eight drivers will continue on into the Eliminator Round. As a father of two, Gordon is more motivated than ever to win another Sprint Cup Championship which would bring his total to five titles. Team owner Rick Hendrick has teased Gordon recently that he has found the fountain of youth. With four championships to his credit, Gordon trails only Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, with seven championships each, and teammate Jimmie Johnson with six championships.
Gordon’s resume is impressive beyond his four championships. He is also a three-time winner of the Daytona 500 and a five-time winner of the Brickyard 400; and his nine road course victories are the most in NASCAR history. He ranks third all-time in victories, with 92, and pole awards, with 76.
Gordon has four victories in three different series at Phoenix International Raceway. His first win at Phoenix was at the 1991 Copper World Classic when he won in the USAC Silver Crown Series, and in that same year he went on to win the USAC Silver Crown Championship. His next win at PIR was the first-ever NASCAR Busch Series race (now the Nationwide Series) in 1999 when he won the Outback Steakhouse 200. He started the race in third, led for 37 laps and beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. by a margin of 1.036 seconds.
In the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at PIR, Gordon has 31 starts, two victories, 11 top-5s, 21 top-10s and has led 422 laps. Gordon’s first Sprint Cup win at Phoenix was at the 2007 Subway Fresh Fit 500. He started on the pole, led 53 laps and beat Tony Stewart by the narrow margin of .697 seconds. This was not only Gordon’s first win at Phoenix but it was also his 76th career win, tying Dale Earnhardt for sixth on the all-time win list. After the race, Gordon did a victory lap around the track with a Dale Earnhardt No. 3 flag out his car window in a tribute to the late hero. Gordon’s second Sprint Cup win came again at the ‘spring race’ in the 2011 Subway Fresh Fit 500 where he started 20th, led 138 laps and beat Kyle Busch by a margin of 1.137 seconds.
Overall in the Sprint Cup Series Gordon has raced for an impressive 23 years, earning 92 wins, 317 top 5’s, 450 top 10’s and 755 race starts.
Be sure and check back next week as the Storied Legends countdown enters the top three!
No. 5 “The King,” Richard Petty
“The King,” Richard Petty
Phoenix International Raceway’s ‘Storied Legends’ moves into the Top 5 as we are quickly approaching the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500, which is only six weeks away. This week’s ‘Storied Legend’ is none other than “The King,” Richard Petty.
The foreword of PIR’s commemorative book, “Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Racing in the Desert,” provides an excellent account of both Richard Petty and his experiences racing at PIR.
“Few drivers in American motorsports have been more successful than Richard Petty. NASCAR fans know him simply as “The King,” and for good reason. His seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships are tied for the most in the sport’s history, and his 200 career victories at that level are nearly double the next-highest driver’s totals.
By the time he ran his first race on the oval at Phoenix International Raceway in November 1978 (Winston West Series), Petty already was firmly established, having accumulated six Sprint Cup championships and 185 victories. …
Petty did not compete in the inaugural Winston West race in 1977, instead making his debut at the track a year later. …
Petty was still running competitively in the Sprint Cup Series when the sport’s top circuit made its Phoenix debut in 1988. Although he never won here at that level, he saw first-hand the impact that PIR and Sprint Cup Series had on one another. …
… “It became another place for us to race out west and eventually they brought the Sprint Cup Series there. That helped us grow the entire sport. We started racing outside the south and more in the north and Midwest. We came out west and that was a big deal for our sponsors.”
“The King” was inducted into the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010. All told, Petty won a record 200 Winston Cup races. To put that into perspective, the next closest driver is David Pearson with 105 wins followed by Jeff Gordon with 92. Petty won both the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Championship seven times each. The only other driver to win seven NASCAR Championships is Dale Earnhardt.
In 1959, the same year Daytona International Speedway ran the inaugural Daytona 500, Petty was voted NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year.
Through his career, Petty accumulated racing statistics like no other driver before or since. Petty had a record 127 Cup Series poles and 712 top-ten finishes in his 1,184 starts. From 1971 to 1989, he had 513 consecutive starts.
Petty’s banner year was in 1967 when he won 27 races out of 48 race starts, including an amazing 10 victories back-to-back. If that wasn’t enough, he also finished in the top-five in 11 other races. That year he won his second Winston Cup championship.
Petty’s racing at Phoenix International Raceway includes five race starts, three poles and three victories in what was then the Winston West Series and is now the K&N Pro Series-West. His wins were in 1978, ‘80 and ’81.
From 1988 to 1992, Petty had five Winston Cup Series starts. His best finish over those five years was his final race at PIR, the 1992 Pyroil 500, where he finished in 22nd driving the car he made famous, the blue and orange No. 43 STP-sponsored Pontiac.
Despite having not won at the Cup level at PIR, Petty’s mere presence in those first Winston West races helped legitimize NASCAR in Phoenix in the late 70s, and for that, he earned one more top-5 finish in Phoenix.
Be sure and check back next week as the Storied Legends countdown enters the top four!
No. 6 Bryan R. Sperber
Bryan R. Sperber
Checking in at No. 6 on Phoenix International Raceway’s ‘Storied Legends’ countdown is the man who has shepherded the track into its modern era - PIR President Bryan R. Sperber.
With two decades of motorsports experience – more than half of which have been spent leading a NASCAR Sprint Cup venue – and originally hailing from the racing hotbed of Daytona Beach, Fla., it’s safe to say that Sperber is well-versed in the field of stock car racing.
Those deep roots in racing provided him with a wealth of experience as he has led PIR in its golden anniversary season. The track staged its first professional race on March 22, 1964, and under Sperber’s guidance, PIR will commemorate a half-century of racing with special events and celebrations throughout the 2014 season.
In March of 2002, Phoenix International Raceway announced the appointment of Sperber as President of the West’s most historic NASCAR Sprint Cup setting. In his position, Sperber is responsible for the strategic vision and operational management of Arizona’s premier motorsports venue.
Under Sperber’s leadership, PIR was successful in acquiring its second NASCAR Sprint Cup event in April, 2005, which placed Phoenix International Raceway in select company as one of only 14 tracks to host two Sprint Cup races a year. Today PIR is the only West Coast raceway to maintain two Sprint Cup weekends annually.
During Sperber’s tenure, Phoenix International Raceway has completed a comprehensive capital improvement plan that has resulted in more than $50 million of reinvestment into the venue. The improvements to the facility include: a new interactive midway, modification of Turn 2 to improve racing action, a state-of-the-art lighting system, the construction in Turn 1 of 14,000 new seats, 26 new suites and the debut of the industry-leading luxury lounge Octane. Additionally, PIR has added several groundbreaking fan amenities under Sperber including the Budweiser ROLL-BAR, a fan hospitality area with a full concert stage and unique centerpiece that features a suspended Budweiser stock car.
Perhaps the most visible improvement to take place under Sperber’s watch was the $10 million repave of the racing surface in 2011. Jeff Gordon broke ground on the project immediately after winning the 2011 Subway Fresh Fit 500TM, and the project was completed in time for the November 2011 Kobalt Tools 500. Sperber and the PIR team went to great lengths to ensure that the new surface would meet the expectations of the Sprint Cup Series drivers, who in 2007 ranked PIR as their second-favorite facility in the series. Sperber hired retired drivers to run laps continually, eight hours a day for several days, in order to get rubber down on the track and create a good racing groove.
The reaction to the new track was overwhelmingly positive at the time, and the drivers’ opinion of the track remains as high as ever.
“I like it. The pavement keeps aging a little bit more; the groove moves up a little bit more,” 2003 Winston Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth said earlier this week during a visit to Phoenix. “It makes it a little bit easier to pass. It’s a great race track.”
Prior to his arrival at PIR, Sperber served as President of Watkins Glen International in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Named to that position at the age of 30, he became NASCAR’s youngest track president when he was promoted from his previous position as International Speedway Corporation’s Director of Sponsorships in 1997. Sperber began his career at ISC – parent company to PIR and Watkins Glen – in 1990.
Be sure and check back next week as the Storied Legends countdown enters the top five!
No. 7 Alan Kulwicki
Phoenix International Raceway’s ‘Storied Legends’ is now inside the top 10 and headed into the front stretch as we approach the final weeks before the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500. This week’s ‘Storied Legend’ is 1992 Winston Cup Champion Alan Kulwicki.
One of the most beloved and longstanding traditions in NASCAR was first performed by Kulwicki at the inaugural Winston Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway on November 6, 1988. It was the next-to-last race of that season, the Checker 500. After winning his first Winston Cup race, Kulwicki turned his car around and drove the track the opposite way (clockwise) and performed what he called a “Polish Victory Lap.”
Kulwicki later explained, “This gave me to opportunity to wave to the crowd from the driver’s side.” In true Kulwicki-style, he always liked to do things his own way. In fact, Kulwicki owned his own race team, making him one of the few driver-owners in the sport.
Kulwicki started his Zerex Antifreeze-sponsored Ford Thunderbird in 21st spot, led 41 laps and beat Terry Labonte by a margin 18.5 seconds. Only five other cars finished on the lead lap.
In PIR’s commemorative book, “Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Racing in the Desert,” Kulwicki’s first victory and PIR’s first Winston Cup race winner is recounted:
“Proof of Kulwicki’s enormous talents emerged on a November day in 1988 at Phoenix International Raceway, when he unexpectedly snatched the Checker 500 checkered flag by more than half a lap ahead of runner-up Terry Labonte.
It was the first NASCAR Winston Cup (now the Sprint Cup Series) race at PIR. It also was Kulwicki’s first of five lifetime victories. …
Former PIR owner Buddy Jobe, who lobbied heavily for years to convince the NASCAR hierarchy to reward the Valley one-mile oval one of its coveted race dates, called Kulwicki’s victory a perfect marriage for two first timers.
Jobe said, “I don’t think another driver winning could have made it any more special. I thought it was a perfect day."
In 1985, Kulwicki sold virtually all of his belongings and loaded his pickup truck and his trailer to move to Charlotte, N.C. Two days before he was to leave, an electrical fire burned his truck and destroyed it. He ended up borrowing a pickup truck from a friend to make his move. He was driven to succeed where others might have turned back. In a sport dominated by southern drivers, Kulwicki stood out like a sore thumb coming all the way from Wisconsin. He had a degree in mechanical engineering while few drivers had even thought about attending college.
In his rookie season in 1986, he won the NASCAR Rookie of the Year. He was a one-man team filling the roles the driver, owner, crew chief and chief mechanic. He had trouble keeping staff because he was known as a control freak. Future crew chief and car owner Ray Evernham only lasted six weeks with Kulwicki. Evernham later said, “That man was a genius. There’s no question.”
When Kulwicki won the Winston Cup Championship in 1992, he entered the final race of the season with the Championship up for grabs. It was the Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and six drivers were close enough to win the Championship. It is still considered one of the most eventful races in NASCAR history: it was the final race for Richard Petty and the first for Jeff Gordon.
Bill Elliott ended up with the victory and Kulwicki finished second and earned five bonus points for leading the most laps. With a 10-point lead on Elliott, Kulwicki won the championship that day. He celebrated in Kulwicki style with his second-ever Polish Victory Lap. It was the closest title win in NASCAR history until the implementation of the Chase for the Sprint Cup format in 2004.
On April 1, 1993 Kulwicki died in an airplane crash when the Hooters corporate plane went down the week of the Bristol race. In a final tribute to Kulwicki his racecar hauler was driven slowly around the track with a black wreath fastened to the grille, giving Kulwicki one final Polish Victory Lap. Later in 2008, Kyle Petty described the tribute as “the saddest thing I’ve ever seen at a racetrack… We just sat and cried.”
Over his nine-year career in the Winston Cup Series (now NASCAR Sprit Cup Series), Kulwicki had 207 starts, five wins, 38 top-5s, 75 top-10s and 24 poles. His average finish was 16.4.
Join the conversation with fellow PIR Fans by visiting Facebook www.facebook.com/PhoenixRaceway or on Twitter @PhoenixRaceway #PIR50TH #STORIEDLEGENDS.
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 6 on the list!
No. 8 Kevin Harvick
Phoenix International Raceway’s ‘Storied Legends’ is now inside the top 10 and headed into the front stretch as we approach the final weeks before the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500.
This weekend NASCAR begins the Chase for the Sprint Cup and this week’s ‘Storied Legend’ is the winningest Sprint Cup Series driver at Phoenix International Raceway, Kevin Harvick.
The first of Harvick’s five Sprint Cup wins came in 2006 at PIR’s second-ever Saturday night Sprint Cup race, the springtime Subway Fresh 500, when he drove the No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet and beat Tony Stewart by a margin of 2.774 seconds. He went on to sweep the 2006 season at PIR, winning the Checker Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil in Novmeber. He was dominant in that race, leading 252 of the 312 laps.
Harvick has won three of the last four Sprint Cup races at PIR. If he wins the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 on November 9, he would raise the bar to three consecutive, matching Jimmie Johnson as the only drivers to three-peat at PIR.
With his two wins this season, one at Phoenix and the second at Darlington, he is seeded sixth going into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He also has eight top-fives, 13 top-10s and a series-best six poles this season.
Harvick’s first stock car race in Phoenix was the 1998 Winston West Series Phoenix 150 where he started from the pole and finished second, driving the Spears Motorsports Chevrolet. To this day, Harvick speaks about coming to Phoenix for the Copper World Classic in his youth and says that at the time it was like running the Daytona 500 for him.
Harvick had one of the most interesting starts to his Sprint Cup career. His first Sprint Cup race was in 2001 in Rockingham when he drove the No. 29 GM Goodwrech Chevrolet filling the spot for the late Dale Earnhardt. The number on the car was changed from the legendary No. 3 following Earnhardt’s fatal last-lap wreck at the 2001 Daytona 500.
Harvick’s first Sprint Cup victory came in only his third race, which was at Atlanta, where he beat Jeff Gordon by just six one-thousandths of a second!
Over a 14-year Sprint Cup career, Harvick has 25 wins, 108 top-5s, 222 top-10s, 12 poles and 492 starts. His average finish is 14.3.
Join the conversation with fellow PIR Fans by visiting Facebook www.facebook.com/PhoenixRaceway or on Twitter @PhoenixRaceway #PIR50TH #STORIEDLEGENDS.
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 7 on the list!
No. 9 Buddy Jobe
Coming in this week at number nine on PIR’s list of ‘Storied Legends’ is long-time owner Buddy Jobe.
A former rancher from Chandler, Jobe purchased the track from Dennis Wood on September 15, 1985 and oversaw many of the most significant changes in PIR’s history. Shortly after buying the facility, Jobe had the asphalt race surface repaved for the first time in more than 20 years; and after a lightning strike set off a devastating fire that destroyed the grandstands, Jobe had a new structure built that more than tripled the reserved seating capacity to approximately 30,000.
Jobe’s biggest impact on PIR, however, was in bringing the NASCAR Winston Cup Series to Phoenix in 1988 and catapulting the track into a new era and a new stature. Over the following 27 years, race fans across the country and around the world have gazed at the Estrella mountains rising beyond the track and the gorgeous Arizona sunsets behind the grandstands.
The following excerpt from “Phoenix At 50: A Half-Century of Racing” describes that first Cup race:
Prior to the start of the 1988 event, a large overflow crowd occupied Monument Hill above Turns 3 an 4 with blankets, tarps, chairs and coolers shaded by pop-up umbrellas and shelters. Fans were excited to see firsthand what this new phenomenon called NASCAR Winston Cup racing was all about. Special vantage points were staked out, that is after large sweeps were made by track workers to gather the rattlesnakes that have called the area home for generations. …
Those looking for an exciting and memorable inaugural Winston Cup Series afternoon that November day in 1988 certainly got what they paid for. Fans also witnessed a surprise move never before done by a driver in NASCAR history.
The emotional victory by Greenfield, Wisconsin, native Alan Kulwicki is still talked about in race circles. Kulwicki formed his own Winston Cup Series team three years earlier, in 1985, using a handful of rather determined crewmen and one second-hand Ford Thunderbird that was refurbished from week to week. Little by little, he poured his winnings into the team, improved as a driver and became a prominent force with a very limited budget. He held a desire to win against NASCAR’s elite.
After taking the first Winston Cup Series checkered flag of his career in his 85th start during the first top-series event at PIR, Kulwicki turned his white No. 7 Thunderbird in a clockwise position and took to the track surface the wrong direction to the delight of all in attendance – the now-legendary “Polish Victory Lap.” Doing so was the perfect adition to an already heart-warming story of victory against all odds.
Jobe was inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame earlier this year for his role in promoting and growing motorsports in the state.
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 8 on the list!
No. 10 Tony Stewart
Phoenix International Raceway’s ‘Storied Legends’ countdown enters the top 10 this week with the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart. Known as simply as “Smoke” to his fans, he is an all-around-driver who is known for racing virtually anything on wheels.
In another era of motorsports, going back to the late 1960’s drivers such as A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Al Unser Sr. would compete in multiple series including IndyCar, stock cars and sports cars. Emulating Foyt, his childhood hero, and using the same No. 14, Smoke is today’s version of “that type” of driver.
Stewart has driven competitively in virtually all forms of motorsports, including racing in the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Daytona. In 1999 and 2001, he completed the “Indy/Charlotte double” on Memorial Day Weekend competing at both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. He is the only driver to win championships in NASCAR, IndyCar, IROC and USAC open wheel cars.
Stewart’s racing history at Phoenix International Raceway includes not only winning in the Sprint Cup Series but also winning the pole in an IndyCar and winning the Copper World Classic multiple times.
In 1999 he won in the then-NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series at PIR at the Checker Auto Parts / Dura Lube 500 driving the No. 20 Home Depot sponsored Pontiac owned by Joe Gibbs Racing. He started the race 11th and beat Mark Martin by a margin of 2.081 seconds.
Stewart’s IndyCar experience at PIR predates his success in NASCAR. In 1997 he won pole position at the Phoenix 200 driving an Oldsmobile-powered, Glidden/Menards-sponsored G-Force chassis. He finished second to Jim Guthrie by a margin of .854 seconds. That same year, he went on to become the IRL IndyCar champion.
In 1997, 1998 and again in 2000 Stewart won the USAC Midget races at Copper World Classic at PIR. In 1998 he won both the USAC Silver Crown and the USAC Midgets becoming the first driver to win two feature events at PIR in the same day. In 2000 Stewart served as the Grand Marshal for the USAC Midget race and gave the command, “Gentlemen, start your engines,” from the driver’s seat. He went on to win that same race.
After joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 1999, he was awarded NASCAR’S rookie of the year. However, Stewart is most known for his three Sprint Cup titles earned in 2002, 2005 and 2011. His third title was earned after winning the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami in 2011. The win tied him with Carl Edwards for first place in the Sprint Cup Championship standings, but Stewart won the tie-breaker by virtue of having more wins (5) than Edwards (1) that season.
To date Stewart has competed for 16 years in the NSCS and he has 542 career starts, 48 victories, 81 top-fives, 296 top-10s and 15 poles. Stewart has started 24 NSCS races at PIR and in addition to his win in 1999; he has eight top-fives and 12 top-10s.
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 9 on the list!
No. 11 Mario Andretti
Mario Gabriele Andretti
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Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 10 on the list!
No. 12 Roger Penske
The Captain – Roger Penske
Phoenix International Raceway’s ‘Storied Legends’ countdown nears the top 10 this week with longtime race team owner Roger Penske checking in at No. 12. Known throughout the motorsports community as “The Captain,” Mr. Penske is the head of a racing empire that encompasses both stock car and open-wheel racing.
Penske Racing has fielded cars in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Phoenix dating back to 1991, starting with NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace in the famous No. 2 Miller Lite machine.
Wallace delivered Penske Racing’s only win at PIR in the 1998 Dura Lube/K-Mart 500. He started sixth, but took over the lead on Lap 54 and went on to lead a race-high 196 of the 257 laps that day. That race is notable as the only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race to be shortened by rain in PIR’s history. Originally scheduled for 312 laps and 500 kilometers, rain moved over the track and halted the race 55 laps shy of the full distance. In fact, it is one of just three NASCAR races in PIR’s history to be shortened by rain.
Wallace’s 2005 No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger is on display in the Penske Racing Museum in North Scottsdale. That car, from Wallace’s final year in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, depicts the fitting “Last Call” paint scheme that accompanied his farewell season.
Mr. Penske’s cars have been particularly successful in qualifying at PIR through the years, earning seven poles and qualifying in the top five a collective 19 times in 65 starts. Keselowski won the pole in this spring’s The Profit on CNBC 500 at PIR and led the first three laps in the race en route to a third-place finish. Wallace won the first pole at Phoenix for Penske Racing in the 1992 Pyroil 500K with a speed of 128.141 mph and led a race-high 161 laps.
Penske Racing has long been a force in open-wheel racing, claiming a staggering 15 Indianapolis 500 victories – three times more than the next-most successful owner, Lou Moore. Penske’s first trip to Victory Lane at the Brickyard came in 1972 thanks to Mark Donohue in the No. 66 McLaren M16B car. A replica of that vehicle is on display at the Penske Museum.
Penske cars won the Indy 500 twice in the 1970s, five times in the 1980s, three times in the 1990s and five times in the 2000s, making Mr. Penske the only team owner to win the 500 in four different decades.
Now we want to hear from you! Which team owner do you think will be celebrating in Gatorade Victory Lane after the Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500 in November?
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 11 on the list!
No. 13 Al Unser Sr.
Al Unser Sr.
Coming in at Number 13 on PIR’s Storied Legends countdown is legendary open-wheel driver Al Unser.
Unser is the most accomplished driver of the Unser family, which arguably is America’s leading racing family. Over the years the Unser family has had six members start the Indianapolis 500, which included Unser’s older brother Bobby Unser, his son Al Unser Jr., his nephews Johnny and Robby Unser, and his late brother Jerry Unser, who was the first of the Unsers to race in the Indy 500 when he finished 31st in 1958.
Around the track, Al Unser Sr. is known among friends as “Big Al” while his son is known as “Little Al.” Big Al won the Indianapolis 500 four times, his older brother Bobby won three times and his son is a two-time Indy champion. The trio racked up nine Indy 500 victories between 1968 and 1991, which accounted for more than 25 percent of the wins at the Brickyard during that period. The only other two drivers to win four times at the Indy 500 are A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears.
While racing at Phoenix International Raceway Unser Sr. had a total of six wins out of 37 starts from 1965 to 1991.
Al Unser’s wins at PIR include:
United States Auto Club, Champ Car Series (USAC)
1969 Bobby Ball 200, avg. speed: 109.8 mph
1970 Jimmy Bryan 150, avg. speed: NA
1971 Jimmy Bryan 150, avg. speed: 111.5 mph
1976 Bobby Ball 150, avg. speed 107.6 mph
Championship Auto Racing Teams, (CART)
1979 Miller High Life 150, avg. speed 123.2 mph
1985 Dana 150, avg. speed 120.6 mph
In 1970 Unser won a record 10 out of 18 races for the season which were on ovals, road courses and dirt tracks. That year he won the USAC National Championship.
With 39 career victories, Unser is ranked third in all-time Indy Car wins behind A.J. Foyt with 67 and Mario Andretti with 52.
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 12 on the list!
No. 14 Bobby Allison
Robert Arthur 'Bobby' Allison
This week on Phoenix International Raceway's list of ‘Storied Legend’ is No. 14 Robert Arthur “Bobby” Allison. Throughout Bobby’s illustrious career he logged over 2,400 starts and 717 wins in NASCAR, Busch, ARCA, IROC, USAC, Indy, late models, modifieds, dirt and ice. This includes being a key part of NASCAR’s early history at PIR. Before the Winston Cup Series began racing at Phoenix in 1988, the now-K&N Pro Series West staged eight races from 1977-1984; Allison himself was involved in seven of those races.
“I did feel really good about that,” Bobby said while visiting PIR in March, 2014. “I was conscious of the crowds early on – you see, back in my early days, I bought the promoting rights to Birmingham [Ala.] International Raceway and I really learned what it meant to have people in the stands versus not having full stands.
“So it meant something to me to encourage people to come to the races [in Phoenix]. I made a lot of friends doing that, I had some success along the way, and I feel like I’ve really contributed to this.”
As part of PIR’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, Bobby visited PIR and helped kick off the spring race weekend. Check out a recap below and hear Bobby talk about his experiences racing at PIR!
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 13 on the list!
No. 15 Rick Hendrick
Joseph Riddick "Rick" Hendrick III
Phoenix International Raceway’s ‘Storied Legends’ countdown moves into the top 15 this week with longtime race team owner Rick Hendrick. Best known as the owner and namesake of Hendrick Motorsports, Mr. Hendrick has won more NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at PIR – nine – than any team owner in the track’s 50-year history.
Hendrick Motorsports drivers have a combined 132 Cup Series starts at Phoenix since 1988 and have registered 67 Top-10 finishes and 40 Top-Fives. Hendrick cars have claimed the pole for Cup races at Phoenix nine times, most recently by Jimmie Johnson for last fall’s AdvoCare 500.
Mr. Hendrick put three cars in the field for the inaugural Winston Cup race at PIR on Nov. 6, 1988, including pole-sitter Geoff Bodine. Bodine led the first two laps of the Checker 500 before giving way to Rusty Wallace en route to a fifth-place finish on the day. PIR legend Ken Schrader gave Hendrick two consecutive pole sitters at Phoenix when he qualified first for the 1989 Checker 500.
Hendrick Motorsports’ first win at Phoenix International Raceway came in the 1994 Slick 50 500 courtesy of Terry Labonte in the No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet. “Texas Terry” worked his way through the field after starting 19th and claimed the lead for the first time on Lap 192. He gave up the lead after eight laps, but regained it on Lap 208 and stayed out front for 104 of the final 105 laps on the way to a 3.09-second victory over Mark Martin.
Without a doubt the most memorable of the nine wins by Hendrick drivers came in the 2007 Subway Fresh Fit 500TM. Jeff Gordon, driving his famous No. 24 DuPont Chevy, beat Tony Stewart to the start/finish line by less than a second, giving Gordon the 76th win of his storied career and tying him with the late Dale Earnhardt on NASCAR’s career wins list. Gordon celebrated the win by doing a victory lap while holding a No. 3 flag out of the window in tribute to the seven-time champion.
Mr. Hendrick’s most successful driver at PIR has been six-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who has four wins here. Johnson is the only driver to register three consecutive Cup Series wins at Phoenix, capturing the November 2007 Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil and then sweeping both races in 2008. He got his fourth win in the November 2009 Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. In fact, only a fourth-place finish in the April 2009 Subway Fresh Fit 500TM prevented him from capturing five in a row.
The last win by a Hendrick driver at Phoenix came in the 2011 Subway Fresh Fit 500TM when Gordon captured the checkered flag and celebrated by hopping in a backhoe and tearing up the first chunk of asphalt to kick-start PIR’s track repaving project.
Hendrick drivers have continued to knock on the door of Gatorade Victory Lane in the six races since Gordon’s win, and with top finishes of 14th, fourth, fourth, second, second and second by team members, it seems like merely a matter of time before Rick Hendrick picks up win no. 10 at PIR.
Now we want to hear from you! Which team owner do you think will be celebrating in Gatorade Victory Lane after the Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500 in November?
Check out the slide show of some of the greatest moments for Hendrick Motorsports drivers at Phoenix!
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 14 on the list!
No. 16 Les Richter
Coming in at No. 16 on PIR’s ‘Storied Legends’ countdown is Les Richter, better known by his close friends in the garage area simply as “Coach.”
Prior to his career in motorsports Richter’s “first career” was in the National Football League. In 1952 he was a first-round draft pick for the New York Yanks. The Yanks ended up folding before the 1952 season and the Dallas Texans assumed the rights to Richter’s contract. He was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for 11 players, which was the second-largest trade ever made in the NFL for a single player. Richter played for nine years with the Los Angeles Rams where he was a star linebacker and played in eight Pro Bowls. He was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
Once he retired from playing football, Richter worked in motorsports in a variety of roles. In 1961 Richter became the President and General Manager at Riverside International Raceway and ran the track until 1983. Because of his leadership, the NASCAR Grand National division, predecessor to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, ran at Riverside from 1962 until 1988 when the track was sold to real estate developers.
Although Richter never had a direct role at Phoenix International Raceway, he was a motorsports pioneer who brought both NASCAR racing and Indy Car racing to the West Coast.
In 1983, NASCAR hired Richter and he became one the most important advisors to then-NASCAR CEO Bill France Jr. at a time when NASCAR’s popularity was growing. In 1989, he was the Vice President of Competition and in 1992 he became the Senior Vice President of Operations at NASCAR. He was replaced as the Vice President of Operations by Mike Helton, who is now the President of NASCAR. Helton gives credit to Richter for teaching him how to be firm but to also be fair in his own management style.
In the mid 1990’s when Roger Penske was beginning to build Auto Club Speedway, he brought Richter back to southern California to lead the project. ACS opened in 1997 and at the time hosted two NASCAR Sprint Cup races per year. His last job was the Vice President of Special Projects for ACS.
Richter has been among the nominees for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in each of the last three years.
Richter passed away on June 12, 2010 at the age of 79.
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 15 on the list!
No. 17 Johnny Rutherford
'Lone Star JR'
Coming in at No. 17 on PIR’s ‘Storied Legends’ countdown is John Sherman Rutherford III, better known as Johnny Rutherford. The Texas native is most well known for being one of nine drivers to win the prestigious Indianapolis 500 at least three times (1974, 1976 and 1980), Johnny also left a lasting impact on Phoenix International Raceway.
From a fist fight in 1977 to a massive crash in 1980, Johnny enjoyed racing at PIR starting in the 1960’s. During an interview for PIR’s commemorative book “Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Racing,” Johnny admitted that when he traveled to PIR for the first time it seemed like the speedway “was in the middle of nowhere,” however he felt that “Phoenix was a good race town. The fan base, with the Manzanita track; then ran the night before and then Phoenix the next day. It was a fun weekend.”
During Johnny's racing career at PIR, he competed in the first-ever pro race at the track in 1964 and was a four-time winner (1975,1977,1978 amd 1979).
Check out some images of Johnny running at PIR below!
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 16 on the list!
No. 18 Dick and Nancy Hogue
In The Beginning...
Phoenix International Raceway’s ‘Storied Legends’ countdown continues with the man and woman who started it all – Dick and Nancy Hogue – at No. 18. A strong case could be made for the Hogues to rank first on the list, such was their impact on PIR.
Before Alan Kulwicki debuted the ‘Polish Victory Lap,’ before Richard Petty visited PIR in the NASCAR Winston West Series, before Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt and Al and Bobby Unser raced here, there were the Hogues. They were the ones who had the idea to create Phoenix International Raceway; they were the ones who scouted the location; and they were the ones who carved the track out of the desert 20 miles west of Phoenix.
The following excerpt from “Phoenix At 50: A Half-Century of Racing,” PIR’s commemorative coffee table book, tells the story:
After World War II, the popularity of small European sports cars grew as returning veterans imported them by the thousands. Having seen legendary European tracks like Le Mans in France or the Nurburgring in Germany, many Americans sought places where they could play with their new “toys.”
Scottsdale, Arizona, real estate developer Richard Hogue was an avid road-racing competitor who reasoned that his background and the financial support of his wife Nancy (a wealthy socialite from a long-time Arizona family) could combine to create a racing showcase in the Copper State. He began to search for the location to build a permanent road course.
Indy cars already had a home at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, the one-mile dirt oval west of Phoenix. A 100-mile race was a fixture on the tour until 1962, when Elmer George crashed through a flimsy fence onto a pedestrian concourse and injured 23 spectators. Fair directors realized the track, built for horse racing, was unsuitable for 1960s auto racing and ended motorsports there when the existing contract ended at the start of 1964.
Hogue was already moving on plans for what he had decided to call Phoenix International Raceway – modeling the name and concept after Riverside International Raceway, a multi-purpose facility built in 1957 outside Los Angeles. It featured a 3.275-mile road course with 1.1-mile long back straight that could be used as a drag strip.
The search for the right location led south and west of Phoenix. At the intersection of what was then known as 115th Avenue and Baseline Road, south of the Gila River and at the base of the Estrella Mountains, Hogue had identified a 314-acre parcel of land. There were hills and dips to provide the topographical changes that road racers wanted, and, those same characteristics helped to keep the price low since they limited the lot’s suitability for farming.
Hogue signed final escrow papers to buy the land and formally announced the project on July 10, 1963. Grading began immediately for a 2.75-mile, 10-turn road course that featured a long return straight that could be used for drag racing. Costs were estimated at $500,000.
The Hogues owned the track for 10 years before selling the facility to a wealthy car dealer named Malcolm Bricklin, who had founded Subaru of America, in 1973.
As an aside, Bricklin briefly renamed the facility FasTrack International Speedway, but after he declared bankruptcy, a group of investors led by Bob Fletcher purchased the track and restored the track’s original name.
To learn more about the Hogues and how they built PIR from the ground up, including a hilarious first-hand story from Bobby Unser about driving on the track in Dick Hogue’s personal car, pick up a copy of “Phoenix At 50: A Half-Century of Racing” on Amazon.com.
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 17 on the list!
No. 19 Kenny Schrader
PIR's Winningest Driver
Coming in this week at number 19 on PIR’s list of ‘Storied Legends’ is Ken Schrader who is PIR’s winningest driver with 15 wins.
Schrader has long and diverse racing history; he is driver who has raced virtually anything on wheels. The following excerpt from the new book ‘Phoenix at 50; A Half-Century of Racing’ sums up some of Schrader’s best memories racing at Phoenix International Raceway.
Racing Diversity Prevails at PIR
By Ben White
“I have four Midget wins, four Silver Crown wins and a lot of others,” Schrader said. “We’ve won 15 or 16 out there. It’s been our best race track. It’s been really good to us. You’re smoking pretty good when you come off of Turn 3 in a Silver Crown car there. It’s a fun track to drive. A good track is fun to drive no matter what type of car you’re racing. It used to be so multi-grooved and the turns were different, and the back straightaway was unique. The view is so awesome with all of the people sitting up on the hills. I just love going out there.”
In a recent phone interview, Schrader commented about going to PIR. “Our first time out to Phoenix was back in 1979,” he said “I couldn’t believe we drove all the way out from Missouri, right off the start; to go that far for a race made it a very special trip. We didn’t do much that race but we came back later and won our next race there. Phoenix has been special ever since. ”
Out of the 15 wins Schrader has in Phoenix, he has four in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, five in the Spears Southwest Tour Series, three in Midgets and three in the USAC Silver Crown Series. The next closest driver is Kevin Harvick with 10wins.
In 1988 Schrader drove the No. 25 Folgers Chevrolet owned by Hendrick Motorsports and in his first race in that car he won the pole for the Daytona 500. This began a three-year streak of winning the pole at Daytona. In 1989, driving the same No. 25 Folgers Chevrolet, he also won the pole at PIR at the Autoworks 500 which was won by Bill Elliott.
Now locally owned, the No. 25 Folgers Chevrolet was on display in the ‘Memory Lane’ exhibit at The Profit on CNBC 500 in March of this year and will be back on display as part of PIR’s 50th Anniversary celebration at the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 in November.
In 2013 when Schrader announced that he would not be running in NASCAR, he stated that it was “not retirement” for him, but rather he had “no plans to come back.” He currently races part time in the ARCA series and runs Modified cars in multiple series.
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 18 on the list!
For more stories and photos of PIR's 50 year history, check out our limited edition book on Amazon
No. 20 Dennis Wood
As we begin our countdown of the Top 20 ‘Storied Legends’ in PIR’s famed history, we talk today about a man who has been credited with saving PIR, former owner Dennis “Denny” Wood. Please follow along below as Bill Tybur share’s his account of Denny’s impact on PIR and the legacy he left behind after his death in January, 2014.
Born and raised in Phoenix, Denny started racing at local dirt tracks after getting out of the Air Force and had the same great expectations as so many grass roots racers. He was fascinated by the champ cars that raced at the old Fairgrounds track and dreamed of going to Indianapolis someday. But he was also a family man, with a wife and kids and various jobs including sportswriter for both the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette newspapers. He knew he was never going to be another A.J. Foyt or Parnelli Jones so he decided to hang up his helmet and do whatever he could to build up motorsports in the Valley of the Sun.
In 1976, after hearing rumblings about Phoenix International Raceway shutting down, Dennis Wood got together with a group of doctors and Indy car owner Bob Fletcher to buy PIR, eventually becoming the sole owner. The very next year he created the Copper World Classic, a winter event that grew into what Ken Schrader called, "the little guy's Indy 500." It was a two-day show with qualifying on Saturday and the 'mains' on Sunday, usually with four races that, over the years, included Sprint Cars, Midgets, Super Modifieds, Silver Crown and/or Featherlite Southwest Tour cars.
The Copper World Classic drew racers from all over America to balmy Arizona and introduced a whole new audience to Phoenix and the flat, one mile Indy car oval with the dogleg in the back stretch.
Denny knew that a NASCAR Winston Cup Series race would really put PIR on the map, but also knew the track was going to need a lot of improvements before the France family would even consider granting him a date. After all, NASCAR was still a regional series that raced mostly in the Southeast. So in 1977 he wrangled a NASCAR Winston West Series date and invited a bunch of Cup teams and drivers who were more than happy to come out and compete. Cale Yarborough won the first race while Richard Petty, Neil Bonnet and Bobby Allison won in following years.And those legends went back to North Carolina, Alabama and Florida and raved about racing at Phoenix International Raceway.
After struggling to keep the track viable for nearly a decade, Denny sold PIR to Emmett 'Buddy' Jobe, a local cotton farmer, in 1985. Jobe bought the property as a long term land investment but no one could sell like Denny. So Buddy was quickly converted to the Dennis Wood way of thinking.
A former amateur drag racer who had always had in interest in motorsports, Jobe kept Denny on as the track manager, poured tons of cash into the facility and in 1988 Phoenix International Raceway held its first NASCAR Winston Cup race, the Checker Auto Parts 500 won by Alan Kulwicki -- who christened his own inaugural Cup Series win with the first 'Polish Victory Lap.' In 1992 PIR added an infield road course and ran the Checker Grand Prix for IMSA GTP cars and three years later they hosted the first official NASCAR SuperTruck Series race. Denny, Buddy and the PIR staff even created a weekend event for alternative energy races, the Solar & Electric 500.
By 1999, when Phoenix added a Busch Series race to its schedule, Dennis Wood was gone from PIR. He left after Jobe sold the track to International Speedway Corporation. He later managed the famous Manzanita Speedway dirt track for a few seasons until it was sold, too.
Regardless of who owns Phoenix International Raceway now, 'the Jewel in the Desert' will always be Dennis Wood's legacy.
Denny was the man who lured racers like Schrader, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Rich Vogler, Chuck Gurney, Davey Hamilton and hundreds more to the Arizona desert for the Copper World. He was the guy who organized golf tournaments with steak dinners and charity auctions for IndyCar and NASCAR teams, sponsors and drivers to show how much they were appreciated. He was the boundless energy salesman for motor racing who worked tirelessly to make PIR a world class track with world class racing.
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 19 on the list!
No. 21 NASCAR Auto Manufacturers
NASCAR Auto Manufacturers
As Phoenix International Raceway continues to count down our ‘Storied Legends’ and we prepare to break into our top 20, we step away from individual recognition for a week to recognize thousands of men and women who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring us so many thrills on the race track – NASCAR’s Auto Manufacturers.
Without the designers, engineers, technicians and other personnel who spend most of their time in Detroit, Dearborn, Mich. and Torrance, Calif. working to improve the race cars that Chevy, Ford and Toyota (respectively) put on the track, NASCAR wouldn’t be where it is today. (And we can’t forget about the folks at Dodge, Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile and other manufacturers who competed in the sport in the past.)
Of the three manufacturers currently involved in the sport, Chevy and Ford have the longest history, while Toyota is the newcomer, celebrating its 10th anniversary in NASCAR this season.
Toyota Racing joined NASCAR in 2004 in the Camping World (then Craftsman) Truck Series before moving into the Sprint (then NEXTEL) Cup Series in 2006 and the Nationwide (then Busch) Series in 2007. While it is still chasing its first Sprint Cup Series points title, Toyota has made quite an impact in the other two series, earning five consecutive Manufacturers’ Championships in the Truck Series (2006-10) and three straight Nationwide Series Manufacturers’ Championships (2008-10).
In 2013, Toyota drivers drove to Victory Lane 14 times, a single-season high for the company. At PIR, Toyota Camrys have captured the checkered flag twice – first by Kasey Kahne and his No. 4 Red Bull Camry in the 2011 Kobalt Tools 500, and again in the next race by Denny Hamlin and his No. 11 FedEx Office Camry in the 2012 Subway Fresh Fit 500.
Ford was the first of the three to claim the Manufacturers’ Championship in NASCAR’s premier series when it claimed the title in 1956, the first of 15 titles for the company built by Henry Ford. Fords have raced to Victory Lane 14 times in Phoenix, including Alan Kulwicki’s victory in the 1988 Checker 500 in his No. 7 Zerex Thunderbird. Carl Edwards claimed Ford’s most recent win at PIR when he took the checkered flag in the 2013 Subway Fresh Fit 500 driving his No. 99 Subway Fusion.
Over the course of its history, Chevrolet has won the Sprint Cup Manufacturers’ Championship 37 times, including the last 11 years straight. It has also been the most prolific brand at PIR with 18 wins in the Sprint Cup Series. Chevy’s first win at PIR came courtesy of Dale Earnhardt’s No. 3 Goodwrench Lumina in the 1990 Checker 500. Since 2003, Chevys have won 16 of 21 Cup Series races at PIR, including a streak of 10 straight race wins from November 2006 through April 2010. Kevin Harvick (five) and Jimmie Johnson (four) are responsible for nine of those 16 wins.
Which manufacturer do you think will win the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 in November?
No. 22 Jimmie Johnson
A 6-Time Champion
Coming in at number 22 on PIR’s list of ‘Storied Legends’ is 6-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
Starting at age 5 racing motorcycles, Jimmie has taken the racing world by storm and has become the "it" person to beat each weekend. Known for his fearlessness and precision, Jimmie has set a new standard for racing that is proving difficult to conquer.
Jimmie began racing in the Sprint Cup Series during the 2002 season and has become the only driver to qualify for the Chase every year since its inception in 2002. Winning races and breaking records since his inaugural Sprint Cup season, Jimmie has left his mark on PIR by holding the record for most Sprint Cup wins for many years (Fall 2007, Spring 2008, Fall 2008, Fall 2009) until Kevin Harvick surpassed him this spring.
Check out the video below of Jimmie dropping the puck at a Phoenix Coyotes game and talking about PIR right after he won the 2013 Daytona 500!
No. 23 Ken Clapp
Coming in at number 23 on PIR’s list of ‘Storied Legends’ is former NASCAR VP Ken Clapp. Involved in motor sports for over 60 years, Ken has made a significant impact to the racing industry as a whole, as well as at PIR. Having experienced motors ports from a variety of different occupations, Ken brings to the table a well-rounded wealth of knowledge. Starting first as a young fan and later as a mechanic, owner and promoter Ken has always been a voice of NASCAR and a great friend of PIR.
After being promoted to the Vice President of Western Operations for NASCAR Ken was instrumental in the grown of the NASCAR Winston West series, and helped bring the West series cars to PIR. Not wanting to stop there, Ken continued to push for the growth of NASCAR in the West and successful helped PIR secure their first date on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule in Nov. 1988.
Retiring from NASCAR in 1999 as the Vice President of Marketing Development, Ken has continued on as a senior consultant for NASCAR.
No. 24 Bobby Unser
PIR & Bobby Unser – Changing the game at PIR
It’s only fitting that the man who comes in at No. 24 on Phoenix International Raceway’s Storied Legends countdown is one of the greatest open-wheel racers of all time, considering that this week’s post coincides with the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Bobby Unser reached Victory Lane in Indy three times during his career – in 1968, 1975 and 1981 – and was a four-time winner at PIR. His impact on PIR spanned 27 races over nearly 20 years, as the following excerpts from PIR’s commemorative coffee table book, “Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Raing” help illustrate.
Unser also holds the unique distinction of being the first person to turn a lap at speed on the track at Phoenix International Raceway at the behest of the track’s founder, Dick Hogue:
“I was the first human being that ever drove a racing car around any part of that racetrack,” said Bobby Unser, who would become an integral part of PIR history. “I got to know the guy who owned the place, Dick Hogue; he was a really nice guy and he loved racing. There weren’t any fire trucks or safety equipment or anything. It was just Bobby driving the car of that guy that owns the racetrack. In a situation like that, you don’t have to answer to too many people, you know? There was just a bunch of cactus and rocks and desert and this new asphalt (racetrack).”
In 1971, Unser, with the help of Dan Gurney, changed the face of open-wheel racing forever with a simple modification to the rear wing of Unser’s car. The Gurney Flap, a simple piece of metal set at a right angle to the wing, made its debut during a testing session at PIR. The result of that small change was profound, as Unser recounted in this excerpt the book:
“Phoenix is where the famous Gurney Flap, or as I called it, ‘the wicker bill,’ was introduced” Bobby Unser said. “It was invented by Dan Gurney and I was the first guy to ever run it and test it. And it was the single biggest gain in speed that was ever gotten from anything. Dan cut some small pieces of aluminum sheet metal that looked like 90-degree angle-irons and he had us mount them on the back edges of the rear wing of the car.
“It was incredible – it gave us an unbelievable amount of extra grip. And, when we added the wicker bill to the front (wings), it balanced the car and we gained six miles per hour – six miles per hour! All that happened at Phoenix – it was a good place to test something like that.”
Unser was at the center of another technological breakthrough – actually two of them – in Phoenix a decade later when Johnny Rutherford famously went airborne in the 1980 PPG Indy Car World Series at PIR. Rutherford’s hard-shelled helmet saved his life after his vehicle landed upside down and slid down the front stretch in that position.
Rutherford’s car was dominant in 1980, and everyone in motor sports – Unser included – was keen to identify the secret to “Lone Star J.R.’s” success. As the following excerpt from “Phoenix at 50: A Half Century of Racing” describes, Unser (allegedly) saw an opportunity to learn a new trade secret at his friend’s expense that day in the desert:
Almost a footnote to the 1980 Phoenix CART race that extended over into 1981 is a performance advantage Rutherford employed. One reason given for his dominating performance in the 1980 season (five victories and three runner-up finishes in 12 starts) was the fact he was driving one of the first ground-effect cars, which had an aerodynamic design below the driver that created a vacuum-type suction that helped hold the car on to the track, thus increasing speed through the corners. None of the other teams knew exactly what Rutherford’s team had done and, since the changes had taken place underneath the car, there was no way for them to visually examine this new technology and try to replicate it.
“So, all through 1980, everybody was thinking, ‘What in the world are they doing? And, how can we find out what they got?’” said Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson, who worked at USAC from 1965 to 1997. “So, when Rutherford got upside down at Phoenix, Bobby Unser thought, ‘Hey, here’s our opportunity to see the underside of the car.’
“He claims that he went up in the grandstands during the delay and found people taking photographs and paid them for the shots. Then, he took those photos back to his shop to study them to see the underside of the car. He said he and Ronnie Dawes designed the underside of his 1981 Penske car off the drawings they made up from those photos and, then, they played around with a wind machine to get it to work just right.”
According to Davidson, Unser has always been a bit coy about whether this story is fact or legend. But, one thing is certain: the car that came out of Unser’s shop that year went on to win the 1981 Indianapolis 500.
To read more about Bobby Unser, as well as the other legends of racing who made – or added to – their legends at Phoenix International Raceway, pick up a copy of “Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Racing in the Desert,” available at PhoenixRaceway.com and now on sale through Amazon.com – simply search for ‘Phoenix International Raceway’ or ‘Phoenix at 50.’
No. 25 Dale Earnhardt Jr
NASCAR's Most Popular Driver
Coming this week at No. 25 on PIR’s list of ‘Storied Legends’ is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Most race fans know him simply as “Junior” while his close friends in the garage area call him “Junebug,” which is a nickname his dad gave him as a boy. Race fans have selected Earnhardt 11 consecutive times as the winner of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver award.
With his victory in 2003, Earnhardt and his father became the first father-son duo to win at Phoenix International Raceway when he won Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Havoline, matching his dad’s win in the 1990 Checker Auto Parts 500. Earnhardt started 11th, led 87 laps and won by a margin of .735 seconds beating Jimmie Johnson.
In 2004 Earnhardt became the third driver to win back-to-back races at PIR, joining Davey Allison (1991-92) and Jeff Burton (2000-01) when he won at Phoenix International Raceway at the Checker Auto Parts 500, Presented by Havoline where he started 14th, led 118 laps and won by a margin of 1.431 beating Ryan Newman.
In addition to his driving duties in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, where he drives the No. 88 Chevrolet SS for Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt is also a team owner in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. His team, JR Motorsports, has over 100 full-time employees and fields full-time rides for both Regan Smith and Chase Elliot. Earnhardt also drives in the Nationwide Series when his schedule permits.
Check out the video below of Dale talking about PIR and what it’s like to race on the
famed one-mile oval!
No. 26 Mike Helton
NASCAR's Voice of Authority
This week on PIR’s list of ‘Storied Legends’ is No. 26 Mike Helton. Arguably the most visible leader at the race track each weekend, Mike became the president of NASCAR in Nov. 2000, when he succeeded Bill France Jr.
In 1999 he became the first person outside of the France family to take over the day-today operations of NASCAR, when he was named senior vice president and chief operating officer. Prior to that he served as NASCAR’s vice president for competition.
Since taking the role of president, Helton has ushered in an era of growth and competitive innovation. One of his largest projects has been to cement NASCAR’s presence in major markets both within the United States, as well as Mexico, Canada and Europe. This includes the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series, which made international history with its first race run in the United States at PIR in 2013.
In addition to international outreach, Helton has lead the charge for the formation of the NASCAR Research & Development Center in North Carolina, as well as the growth of The NASCAR Foundation, NASCAR’s charitable arm that seeks to raise funds and increase volunteerism to support nonprofit charities throughout the nation.
Born and raised in Bristol, Va., Helton’s motorsports experience is multi-faceted. Known as the man who presides in the ‘big hauler’ on race weekend, he has helped grow the sport not only at PIR, but across the nation and the world. He has become the voice of authority and reason for the sport, but also hasn’t forgotten his roots and takes time frequently to connect with the fans that make NASCAR successful.
No. 27 Sen. Jon Kyl
Sen. Jon Kyl
Coming this week at No. 28 on our ‘Storied Legends’ countdown is Senator Jon Kyl. The retired Arizona Senator has been a longstanding champion for the sport of NASCAR and for Phoenix International Raceway.
His affinity for NASCAR began after working at PIR as a track officer in the 1960s. He carried that passion with him throughout his career, all the way to Washington D.C. In 2012. PIR president Bryan R. Sperber honored Senator Kyl with the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame’s ‘Outstanding Achievement’ award for his support over the years.
“Senator Kyl has been involved with racing and Phoenix International Raceway since he was a young man,” said Sperber. “His support of racing over the years has been critical to the growth and health of the sport.”
Senator Kyl served eighteen years in the U.S. Senate after serving eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was elected unanimously by his colleagues in 2008 to serve as the Republican Whip, the second-highest position in the Senate Republican leadership, a position he held until his retirement in 2013.
No. 28 Davey Allison
No. 29 Bob Fletcher
It All Started With A Win
Coming in at No. 29 this week on Phoenix International Raceway’s list of ‘Storied Legends’ is former owner and driver Robert ‘Bob’ Fletcher. To fully understand his impact on PIR, you have to go back to the beginning of 1973, when Nancy Hogue owned the track. She was worried about the financials and was looking for a buyer. A loud and decisive man named Malcom Bricklin made an offer and ultimately ended up purchasing the 314-acre facility in January, 1973. To help create a new image for PIR, he changed the name of the facility to ‘FasTrack International Speedway’.
Bricklin successfully ran the facility for two years, until he faced financial trouble. Facing the bank foreclosing on the track, he struck a deal with them that allowed him to rent out the facility for one more Indy car race in the spring of 1976. Legendary driver Bobby Unser captured the checkered flag, giving his car owner, Bob Fletcher, his first race win as an Indy car team owner.
“When Bobby Unser won the race at PIR driving my car, that was probably my happiest day in racing,” Fletcher remembered in 2014. “I had run some younger guys in the past and it was fun to see them grow, but young drivers don’t win much when they are learning. Dan (Gurney) was closing his (Indy car) team and Bobby and I got to talking and he and I worked out a deal. It meant a lot to win at my home track in front of my family and friends. It was a great day.”
Although the facility made some money from the Indy car rental, the track remained closed throughout part of 1976, with a major change coming over that summer.
“Bricklin was going to build his sports car and he purchased the track as a testing facility,” Fletcher told journalist John Chuhran. “Then he got into financial trouble with the car, and I heard he was going to sell the track and maybe even tear it down.”
The track’s fate in limbo, Bob decided to do something about it.
“Well, I loved racing, I grew up in Phoenix and I had been working on cars since I was 16. I wanted to save the track – I certainly didn’t want to see it torn down. So I got in touch with Bricklin and made him an offer. He said he thought the track was worth much more than that and he turned me down.”
“I never heard back from him after that, but a couple of months later Bricklin’s company filed for bankruptcy. I guess the bankruptcy court got all the company’s papers and they found my offer and contacted me. They asked me if my offer was still good and I said it was. Then they asked me when I could pay for it and I told them I could get them the check that afternoon – you can do that when you are the chairman of a bank! And that’s how it happened.”
With the signing of a check, Bob Fletcher became the new owner of the iconic facility in Phoenix. His first move as owner was the change the facility’s name back to ‘Phoenix International Raceway’. Bob soon also gained several business associates for his efforts to revive the track.
Several of his friends had caught the racing bug after being his guest at events. When they heard that he bought the facility, they were interested in participating. So, Bob gained partners in the form of Bill Hardy, owner of a concrete company, and three doctors – Tom Taber, David Lehman and Bob Stevens.
With multiple, new owners who understood business, but not all the ins and outs of putting on a race, the team needed to find someone to run and manage the facility. Bob reached out to someone he thought would do a great job, 38-year-old newspaper reporter Dennis Woods.
“I told Dennis from the start that we have to think of the fans,” Fletcher said. “Without them, we have no races. I learned that from (Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner) Tony Hulman. He and I were good friends and he always told me to make sure that the fans could get to the drivers and crews. They wanted to see what was happening, so we tried to make the fans happy.”
Bob, his partners and Dennis would go on to drop ticket prices, slash concession prices and offer free parking. Hoping to engage new fans to attend a race. Over the next decade the team would stage extra races and finally after a dace and a half, they would turn a profit.
The success has continued today, but none of it would have been possible without the determination, dedication and business sense from Bob Fletcher.
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 28 on the list!
No. 30 Broadcast Partners
Bringing The Track To The Fans
NASCAR’s broadcast partners, which are recognized collectively at No. 30 on our ‘Storied Legends’ countdown, brought the sport into the homes of fans spread far and wide, keeping the interest of die-hard fans who couldn't make every race and catching the eye and ear of new fans.
Phoenix International Raceway’s first appearance on national television predates the track’s affiliation with NASCAR, however. PIR’s national TV debut came on March 30, 1969, when the supremely popular “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” televised the Jimmy Bryan 150. In that race, George Follmer scored the first victory in track history for an open-wheel car utilizing a stock-block engine. The fact that he defeated legends such as A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and both Al and Bobby Unser, combined with the fact that he did so in an unsponsored car which he owned, made it one of the greatest upsets in PIR’s history.
By the time Phoenix played host to its first NASCAR Winston Cup Series race in November, 1988, television coverage was a fixture at races. Consequently, a national TV audience on TBS was able to join the thousands in the PIR grandstands in celebrating Alan Kulwicki’s first win and share in the thrill of seeing him debut his self-styled ‘Polish Victory Lap.’
Broadcast coverage of NASCAR today is as synonymous with the sport as Goodyear tires and Sunoco fuel, with live coverage of every Sprint Cup Series race on either ABC, ESPN or FOX. NASCAR’s television contract has grown to include every Nationwide Series race on ESPN or ESPN2 and every Camping World Truck Series race on FOX Sports 1. PIR has even achieved international exposure thanks to Toyota 120 NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series races the last two years, first on FOX Sports Latinoamerica in 2013 and on Telemundo’s sister station Mun2 in 2014.
Radio has long played a key role in growing the fan base for NASCAR, and never more so than today. Every race at PIR is broadcast nationally by the Motor Racing Network (MRN), which also broadcasts races at every track owned by PIR’s parent company, International Speedway Corporation. SIRIUS XM NASCAR Radio provides round-the-clock NASCAR coverage every day of the year, including live race coverage, for fans throughout the country. Locally, FOX Sports 910 is Arizona’s home of NASCAR, airing the Daytona 500 and every race at PIR.
Several people and a number of factors played vital roles in NASCAR’s expansion across the country and in the growth of the sport in the Valley of the Sun. The men and women who put together compelling race coverage week-in and week-out may often go unnoticed, but their contributions to the development of Phoenix International Raceway are invaluable.
Check out an abbreviated broadcast of the first Winston Cup Series race at PIR in 1988.
Video provided by NASCAR.
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 29 on the list!
No. 31 Arie Luyendyk
He Still Holds The Record
This week at No. 31 on PIR’s ‘Storied Legends’ is ‘The Flying Dutchman’ himself, Arie Luyendyke. A two time Indy Car winner at the one-mile oval, as well as the long time record holder of the fastest lap ever turned at PIR (183.599 mph), Arie holds the track and Phoenix in a special place.
Dave Lewandowski from Indy Car sat down with Arie to talk about some of his favorite memories from racing at PIR.
Arie Luyendyk traveled to Phoenix for an Indy car race and liked it so much he stayed.
"In 1980, the first time I stepped foot in the United States was in Phoenix to go to that race," he said. "I thought it was amazing how it was so far out in the desert and the grandstands were wooden and there were cactus in the infield. It was a dinky one-mile track.
"We tested a lot there in the offseason and that was one of the reasons I moved there. If you look at it now it's amazing the improvements made to the facility and the area has grown up so much."
The racetrack, where he won Indy car races in 1991 and '96, is among Luyendyk's all-time favorites.
"It was so quick for a one-mile oval because it had enough banking in Turn 1 where you could go into 2 really hard," he said. "A good lap was taking Turns 3 and 4 flat. In the race the speeds would drop with race setup and there was a lot of good racing. It had its own character. I did a lot of testing there with the G Force chassis. I remember in '87 I went out to shake down a brand new car and as I went down the backstraight -- just before I entered Turn 3 -- the rear wing fell off. I wasn't even going fast; I was just warming up and all of a sudden the car just went crazy and I hit the wall.
"I was OK but screamed on the radio what had just happened. There was silence for what seemed an eternity and then someone said, 'Uh, the wing fell off.' 'Yes, I know that,' I said.
Another incident stands out.
On Lap 59 of the Dura-Lube 200 in 1998, Eliseo Salazar spun and collected the cars of David Steele and Robbie Buhl. In trying to avoid them, Luyendyk touched wheels with Salazar, which sent Luyendyk's car up and over.
"That was the only time I've been upside down in an Indy car," Luyendyk recalled. "I clipped Salazar's car and I slid all the way down the backstraight on my lid. Literally on my lid because the rollbar had caved in and my helmet was shaved off to the point where my hair was getting really hot because of the friction.
"While I was sliding down the track I was taking to the crew telling them I was OK. I was really lucky I didn't get hit by anybody. I had a hand burn from scraping the asphalt, but other than that I was fine. I couldn't say the same for the car.
"I had good memories and bad memories just like any racetrack."
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 30 on the list!
No. 32 Cale Yarborough
Coming in this week at No. 32 on our ‘Storied Legends’ countdown is former NASCAR Winston Cup series driver Cale Yarborough.
With 83 wins under his belt, Cale is one of only two drivers in NASCAR history to win three consecutive championships. His 83 wins also put him at number six on the all-time NASCAR winner’s list. His career in the NASCAR Sprint Cup spanned 31 years, from 1957 at the age of only 18 years old to 1988 when retired from racing at the age of 49 years.
1988 was the final year Yarborough competed in the NASCAR Winston Cup series. He participated in only ten of 29 races of the season which did not include driving in the inaugural Winston Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, the 1988 Checker 500. Although, Yarborough did not drive he did field a car as a car owner the number 29 Hardee’s sponsored Oldsmobile that was driven by Dale Jarrett.
In addition to Yarborough’s 83 Sprint Cup wins, he also had 255 top five finishes; 319 top ten and 69 poles throughout his career.
Be sure and check back next Thursday as we reveal No. 31 on the list!
No 33 T. Wayne Robertson
T. Wayne Robertson
This week’s ‘Storied Legend’ is T. Wayne Robertson, considered by many in the motorsports industry to be the greatest promoter in NASCAR history. Robertson, a native of Winston-Salem, N.C., played a vital role in the growth of NASCAR through his position as senior vice president at R.J. Reynolds and president of the company’s Sports Marketing Enterprises division.
Through SME, Robertson oversaw R.J. Reynolds’ sponsorships in NHRA, the Senior PGA Tour, and most notably, NASCAR through the Winston Cup Series. Among his many achievements, Robertson oversaw the creation of NASCAR’s All-Star race, originally known as The Winston, in 1985. In 1991, he was named one of the 50 most influential people in all of sports by The Sporting News.
Robertson’s approach to sports marketing, which was based on creating mutually beneficial partnerships and deep relationships rather than simply putting a logo on a sign, is the bedrock principle that many of today’s major sports sponsorships are build upon.
Robertson was also instrumental in NASCAR’s development from a primarily regional sport based in the Southeast to a truly national brand, and in this way he truly made his impact on Phoenix International Raceway.
When the Winston Cup Series made its debut in Phoenix in November, 1988 with the Checker 500, R.J. Reynolds worked overtime to ensure that NASCAR’s premier series took root in the Valley of the Sun. More than a quarter-century later, Phoenix is one of the most popular and most well-attended venues on the Cup Series circuit each year thanks to the work done behind the scenes by T. Wayne Robertson.
Robertson passed away in 1998 at the age of 47 in a tragic hunting accident.
No 34 Gordon Johncock
1976 USAC Champ: Gordon Johncock
Coming in this week at No. 34 on our ‘Storied Legends’ countdown is Gordon Johncock. Born on August 5th, 1936 in Hastings, Mich., Johncock is best known for being a two time winner of the Indy 500 and his first USAC victory came at age 29 at the Milwaukee Mile. Johncock was commonly referred to as “Gordy” among friends both on and off the track.
In 1976, Johncock won the USAC national title by beating Johnny Rutherford in the final race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway, the Bobby Ball 150. Johncock finished second in the race while Rutherford was credited with 16th place finish when he retired on lap 111 with an oil line failure, allowing Johncock to claim the series championship.
Johncock made nine career starts at Phoenix International Raceway and notched his lone win in the desert on March 11, 1979. The race was the Arizona Republic Jimmy Bryan 150; it was a 21-car field and Johncock started eighth in his North American Van Lines sponsored, Cosworth powered, Penske chassis car owned by Pat Patrick. He led 33 laps on his way to victory in the 150-mile race.
Open wheel was not the only form of racing for Johncock. Like many drivers from that era, he also enjoyed racing stock cars at its highest level. From 1966 to 1976, Johncock had 21 starts in what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Of those 21 starts, Johncock posted three top–five finishes and four top–10s.
Although racing is no longer part of Johncock’s daily life, he has since returned to Indy to participate in pre-race festivities as recently at 2012.
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 34 on the list!
No 35 Carl Edwards
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 34 on the list!
No 36 Jack Roush
Coming in at No. 36 on our ‘Storied Legends’ countdown this week is longtime race team owner Jack Roush. Best known now for his ownership role in Roush Fenway Racing, Mr. Roush has been winning championships in motor sports for nearly five decades.
Mr. Roush fielded his first race team in what is now called the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 1988 – the same year that Cup Series racing debuted in Phoenix – giving a young driver named Mark Martin his first truly full-time ride at the Cup level. The future Hall of Famer posted 10 top-10 finishes and three top-fives that year and finishing 15th in the series points standings.
Martin started seventh and finished 36th in the inaugural Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, the Checker 500 on November 6, after a crash on lap 160 put a premature end to his day. Five years later, Martin delivered Roush his first victory at PIR in the 1993 Slick 50 500. Starting in the third position, Martin led 212 of 312 laps en route to Victory Lane. He took the lead for good on Lap 290 and held off Ernie Irvan over the final 23 circuits, winning by a slim 0.17-second margin.
Roush-owned vehicles have captured the checkered flag at Phoenix 17 times, including seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, eight times in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and twice in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Roush enjoyed a three-year reign in Victory Lane in Cup Series racing from 2000-02 thanks to back-to-back wins by Jeff Burton in 2000 and 2001 followed by Matt Kenseth in 2002.
Another Roush driver captured the checkered flag in the inaugural night race at Phoenix when Kurt Busch won the 2005 Subway Fresh 500. Like Martin in 1993, Busch was dominant on the night, leading 219 of the 312 laps and winning by more than two seconds over runner-up Michael Waltrip.
Carl Edwards has provided the last two wins for Roush at PIR, capturing the in 2010 Kobalt Tools 500 and the 2013 Subway Fresh Fit 500®. Overall, “Cousin Carl” has been Roush’s most successful driver at Phoenix with two wins in the Sprint Cup Series and four in the Nationwide Series.
Click here to view a slide show of some of the greatest moments for Roush drivers at Phoenix.
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 35 on the list!
No 37 Nigel Mansell
This week at No. 38 on PIR’s ‘Storied Legends’ is iconic driver Nigel Mansell. Visiting Phoenix International Raceway in 1993and 1994 while racing in the CART Indy Car World Series, Nigel made quite the lasting impression.
At the end of the 1993 season he was the reigning F1 champion and became the first driver to win the CART title in his debut season, which also made him the only driver to hold both the F1 title and the CART title simultaneously. That first season, and his first visit to PIR, created an international media frenzy that became known as ‘Mansell Mania.’
The following excerpt, ‘Mansell Mania’ Sweeps into PIR, is from the new book ‘Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Racing.’ The piece was written by Arizona Republic motorsports writer Michael Knight, who was the public relations director for Newman/Haas Racing and managed Mansell’s media schedule while for the team during that period, including the 1993 championship season.
‘Mansell Mania’ Sweeps into PIR
By Michael Knight
Thursday, January 7, 1993, was one of the most significant days in Phoenix International Raceway’s first 50 years – even though there wasn’t a race and not a single spectator was in the grandstands.
However, 90 media members from nine countries were present. They were there to watch one man. And, the U.S. premier of the worldwide phenomenon known as “Nigel Mania.”
England’s Nigel Mansell, the 1992 Formula 1 champion, was doing the majority of motorsports experts thought inconceivable – if not outright crazy; Driving an Indy car on an oval.
Mansell – after a then-record breaking 1992 season with nine victories and 14 poles – had shocked the racing world by becoming the first reigning F1 champion to leave the glamorous and lucrative international Grand Prix circuit to pursue America’s national open-wheel championship. He left the Williams-Renault team for Newman/Haas Racing and the CART-sanctioned PPG Indy Car World Series. It was a bold and historic move by the driver Ferrari fans proclaimed Il Leone (The Lion) and more than one publication headlined as “The People’s Champion.”
David Letterman called him “the Michael Jordan of auto racing.”
Sports Illustrated wrote that he was “the most daring race car driver in the world.”
The style stirred the public’s passions. ‘Mansell Mania’ was no PR gimmick.
Newman/Haas co-owner Paul Newman, the legendary actor and racer, called Mansell’s switch “The Great Adventure.”
Newman’s partner Carl A. Haas surveyed the media scene and said to him team publicist, (me), “I think this ('Mansell Mania') might be bigger than we thought.”
Mansell had made some preliminary shake-down runs earlier in the week on Firebird International Raceway (now Wild Hours Pass Motorsports Park) rad course on the other end of the Valley. But, business got serious at PIR, his official debut and first laps on an oval track. Newman, Haas, and Mansell’s buddy, golfing great Greg Norman, were on hand for parts of the testing.
Mansell took to PIR that Thursday afternoon in an older 1992-model Kmart/Havoline Lola Ford-Cosworth. The Indy car weighed 500 pounds more than the Williams, had a turbocharged engine and a manual transmission. A bit over 70 laps later, he got down to 21.4 seconds, a half-second off the track record set by Michael Andretti, who left Newman/Haas for the McLaren F1 team.
By the end of the pre-season testing, Mansell had set unofficial track records at PIR, Firebird, Sebring International Raceway and the now-styled Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The first race in 1993 was on the streets of Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia, where Mansell became the first driver to win both the pole and the race in his Indy car debut.
Then it was back to Phoenix April 3 for the oval rookie.
To read the full story of ‘Mansell Mania’ – including the results of his first race at PIR in April, 1993 – along with the complete history of PIR’s first 50 years, pick up a copy of ‘Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Racing.’ Copies of the commemorative coffee table book, which retails for $49.95, will be available at merchandise locations throughout the track during the upcoming The Profit on CNBC 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekend.
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 36 on the list!
No 38 Kyle Busch
A 9-Time PIR Winner
At No. 38 on PIR’s ‘Storied Legend’ list is fan favorite Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Toyota Camry in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the No. 54 Toyota Camry in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, as well as the No. 51 Toyota Tundra in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
A master at his craft, Kyle has currently holds several records in NASCAR competition, one of which is for the most race wins in a season across the top three NASCAR series with 24 wins during the 2010 season. Kyle is also known for holding the most wins in all three of NASCAR’s national touring series with a combined 126 wins. Of the 126 wins, 9 of those happened at PIR between 2005 and 2013.
The 2005 season saw Kyle competing full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the first time. He captured his second career Cup win at PIR in the November Checker Auto Parts 500. The next time that Kyle would win at PIR would not be until 2007, when he swept both the November NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the November NASCAR Nationwide Series races. A feat that he repeated again in 2011. In 2013, Kyle would sweep both the spring and fall NASCAR Nationwide Series events at PIR.
Below is a list of every race that Kyle has ever at Phoenix International Raceway:
- 2005 Checker Auto Parts 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
- 2007 Casino Arizona 150 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
- 2007 Arizona Travel 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series
- 2008 Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series
- 2010 Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series
- 2011 Lucas Oil 150 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
- 2011 Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series
- 2013 Dollar General 200, Fueled By AmeriGas NASCAR Nationwide Series
- 2013 ServiceMaster 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series
Be sure and take a moment to check out the slide show below all of Kyle’s Gatorade Victory Lane celebrations at PIR!
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 37 on the list!
No 39 Jimmy Bryan
Arizona's First Racing Legend
This week’s ‘Storied Legend’ is No. 39 Jimmy Bryan. Although he didn’t live long enough to race at Phoenix International Raceway, this Phoenix native left an indelible mark on racing in Arizona. The spring USAC Champ Car Series race at PIR was known as the Jimmy Bryan Memorial from 1965-72, and the main grandstand along the front stretch is named in his honor.
The three-time national champion was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1994, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1999 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2001.
Bryan’s racing career began as a drag racer on the streets of Phoenix before he eventually moved into more formal – not to mention legal – series such as Midgets and Sprint Cars. Eventually he began competing in the USAC Champ Car Series, including nine starts in the Indianapolis 500. In his first appearance at the Brickyard, Bryan started 21st and drove his way through the field for a sixth-place finish – one of four top-10 finishes for him in the race.
Bryan finished second in the Indy 500 two years later in 1954 and posted a third-place finish in ’57, but the 1958 race catapulted him to stardom. Starting seventh, Bryan escaped a 15-car pileup on the opening lap and took the early lead during a long caution period.
As the race wore on and the drivers settled into a groove after the early accident, Bryan battled Tony Bettenhausen and George Amick at the front of the field. From Lap 22, when Bettenhausen took the lead, through Lap 66, the lead changed hands 11 times before Bryan began to assert control. He took the lead for good on Lap 126 and led the final 75 laps of the race en route to a 27.63-second margin of victory.
In addition to his exploits at Indianapolis, Bryan gained international acclaim when he won the first running of the “Miglia de Manza,” or Race of Two Worlds, in Italy in 1957 and was runner-up in 1958.
Jimmy Bryan’s brilliant racing career was cut short when he died following a crash in a Champ Car race at Langhorne Speedway in Pennsylvania on June 19, 1960. He was 34 years old at the time.
Take a moment and view the photo slideshow featuring some images from the Jimmy Bryan Memorial races at PIR.
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 38 on the list!
No. 40 Tom Sneva
Whatever Went Fast, We Rode In It
This week’s ‘Storied Legend’ is the Valley of the Sun’s own Tom Sneva. Coming in at No. 40 on PIR’s list of most influential people, Sneva raced to victory 10 times and captured four poles in 123 career Indy Car races.
Sneva won in Phoenix in back-to-back seasons in 1981 and 82. He started 6th and led 95 of 150 laps en route to victory in the 1981 Miller High Life 150, and a year later he started 2nd and led 81 of the 150 laps in picking up the win.
Sneva came from an era when being a racecar driver meant buckling in behind the wheel of whatever went fast. Between 1971 and 1992 Sneva drove USAC Champ Cars, USAC Gold Crown Series, CART, IROC and Winston Cup (now known as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series). He won the USAC National Championship in 1977 and 1978.
The 1983 Indianapolis 500 champion grew up in the Pacific Northwest, but now resides in Scottsdale.
Check out the video below of Tom talking about his experiences at PIR!
No. 41 Mark Martin
A Legendary Driver Wins at PIR
This week’s ‘Storied Legend’ is iconic driver Mark Martin. Number 41 on PIR's list of most influential people, Mark has had an impressive career that includes 96 wins across NASCAR’s three national divisions, as well as 31 seasons in the Sprint Cup Series.
Out of the 96 wins, Mark has won at PIR twice- the 1993 Slick 50 500 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race and the April, 2009 Subway Fresh Fit 500 NASCAR Nextel Cup race.
Check out the video's below of both of Mark's wins at PIR!
No. 42 Parnelli Jones
Ground Breaking Moments At PIR
Coming in at No. 42 on Phoenix International Raceway’s ‘Storied Legends’ is Rufus Parnell “Parnelli” Jones. One of the great American racing legends Parnelli made 59 Indy Car starts, winning six times, including the 1963 Indy 500. He also won four NASCAR Cup races during his career.
While racing at PIR Parnelli won the pole for the inaugural USAC Indy Car race in March 1964, driving a traditional upright car. He came in third place in the Phoenix 100. Parnelli came back in November 1964 with a Lotus/Ford rear engine machine and capture the pole position for the first Bobby Ball Memorial. He led 133 laps of the race before a broken fuel injector knocked him out of the race.
Instrumental in the testing of the STP-Paxton Turbocar, designed by Ken Wallis, Parnelli drove the car many times at Phoenix. A fan of the side-by-side design, he ultimately drove the car in the 1966 and 1968 Indianapolis 500.
Check out the gallery below of some of Parnelli’s historic moments at PIR, as well as the cutting edge design of the STP-Paxton turbo car.
No. 43 Rick Mears
An Open Wheel Legend Got His Start in Phoenix
This week’s ‘Storied Legend’ is #43 Rick Mears. One of the greatest drivers in American motorsports history, Mears was a three-time winner at Phoenix International Raceway and qualified in pole position six times at PIR during his storied career.
In addition to his exploits in Phoenix, Mears is one of three men to have won the Indianapolis 500 four times, joining A.J. Foyt and Al Unser, Sr. and he holds the record for qualifying at Indy, capturing the pole position six times. Mears won the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) series title three times, in the series’ inaugural year of 1979 and again in 1981 and 1982. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1998.
Mears captured his first victory in Phoenix on March 28, 1982 in the Kraco Car Stereo 150 after starting on the pole in the season-opening race. He became the first driver to top 150 miles per hour in qualifying to take the pole, coming home with an average speed of 150.143 mph. Mears led 139 of the 150 laps in the race, easily beating Mario Andretti for the win. The victory was the first of four that season for Mears, who went on to capture his third and final CART championship that season.
Mears captured took the checkered flag at Phoenix for the second time on April 9, 1989 in the Checker Autoparts 200 with a dominant performance. Once again, he started from the pole after posting a qualifying speed of 166.536 mph. Mears led 93 of the 200 laps and lapped the entire field en route to the win in the first race of the 1989 CART season.
The Wichita, Kansas native defended his title in Phoenix on April 8, 1990 in the Autoworks 200. As was his habit in Phoenix, he started in the pole position after qualifying at 168.169 mph. He led 132 of the 200 laps and crossed the finish line 7.256 seconds ahead of runner-up Bobby Rahal to take the checkered flag.
Now retired, Mears serves as a consultant for Penske Racing’s IndyCar operation and is working with Juan Pablo Montoya as he transitions from NASCAR back to open-wheel racing. Mears was in Phoenix late last year for a testing session with Montoya and Helio Castroneves, and our team caught up with him.
Check out the video below of Rick taking a look back at some of his favorite memories of racing at Phoenix, including one neat little trivia nugget about his relationship with Penske Racing.
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 42 on the list!
No. 44 Bobby Ball
One For the Record Books
Coming in at No. 44 on Phoenix International Raceway’s ‘Storied Legend’ list is Robert K. Ball, better known as Bobby Ball. Although Bobby’s career was tragically cut short, he still remains an important part of racing history.
The Phoenix native was born in August, 1925 and was raised by his grandmother. Not thrilled with his passion for motor sports, she sent him to military school in hopes that he would develop new interests. His passion for racing was so deep that he left school more determined than ever to race.
Beginning his career with Roadsters Association Bobby was untouchable. Moving from Roadsters to midgets with the Arizona State Midget Association, Bobby won the championship in 1949 and 1950.
In 1950, he got his first experience in an AAA championship car at the Phoenix State Fairgrounds. He won the pole in the stretched spring car, and led the race until his car broke down.
His performance at the Fairgrounds got Bobby into the 1951 Indy 500. Driving the Blakely Oil Special, he finished fifth.
Bobby was on top of his game and was becoming one of the biggest names in motor sports. However, on Jan. 4 at Carrell Speedway in Los Angeles it all changed. During the midget race, he was caught up in a vicious, multi-car crash. Bobby survived, but sustained massive head injuries.
Over the next year Bobby fought hard to get back in the car, but he ultimately succumbed to his injuries on Feb 27, 1954.
For many years after, one of the two championship races at the State Fairground, and then Phoenix International Raceway were named in memoriam of Bobby Ball - including the inaugural race at PIR in 1964.
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 43 on the list!
No. 45 Richard Childress
One For the Record Books
This week’s ‘Storied Legend’ is #45 Richard Childress. As former driver, 14-time championship winning team owner, history maker and mentor Richard has made quite the impact on the sport of NASCAR and on PIR.
An independent driver who got is start during a driver strike in 1969 at Talladega Superspeedway; Richard went on to earn 76 top-10 finishes in 285 races during his career. Making the tough decision to retire in 1981, with 10 races left in the season, Richard handed over the wheel to Dale Earnhardt. In 1982 Ricky Rudd was hired to race for Richard, giving him his first career victory in June 1983 at Riverside.
In 1984 Dale returned to Richard’s team and little did they know that they would go on to make NASCAR history. Together they won 67 races and six NASCAR Sprint Cup series championships. The 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994 Sprint Cup wins help established Dale as one of the best drivers in the history of NASCAR and established Richard Childress Racing as one of the premier teams.
In the 1990’s Richard made the decision to expand his teams into the Busch Series (Nationwide) and the Craftsman Truck Series (Camping World). Driving for RCR, Mike Skinner won the series first championship.
After Dale was killed during the 2001 Daytona 500, Richard promoted Busch series driver Kevin Harvick to drive the renumbered #29. With Kevin having won the Busch Series championship in 2001 and 2006, RCR became the first team in NASCAR history to win all three NASCAR national championship series.
Kevin has also had great success at Phoenix International Raceway, having won four NASCAR Sprint Cup series races- most recently the November, 2013 AdvoCare 500. Which also marked the second to last race that Kevin would ever drive for RCR. During an emotional post-race press conference Kevin and Richard talked about their partnership, how much Kevin looks up to Richard and his 200th career win.
Check out the video below of Richard taking a look back at his extensive NASCAR career.
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 44 on the list!
No. 46 Mark Armijo and Michael Knight
They've Got It Covered
This week’s profile features two ‘Storied Legends’ who have made significant impacts in PIR’s history- both in their own ways. Common faces around the media center, and well known to readers of The Arizona Republic, #46 on the ‘Storied Legends’ campaign are writers Mark Armijo and Michael Knight.
Starting at the Republic in 1980, Mark covered a variety of beats including horse racing, the Cardinals, the Suns and most importantly auto racing beginning in 1983. Over the last 30 years, Mark has seen PIR transform and develop into the iconic racing facility it is today – sharing these changes with all the motorsports enthusiasts across the Valley. He was there for the Indy Car finale in ‘83; witnessed the evolution of the Copper World Classic; reported on the inaugural NASCAR Winston Cup Series race in ’88; experienced Mario Andretti’s final career victory in April, ‘93; and shared with readers the 2011 repave of the historic facility. He truly has seen it all.
An award winning journalist, Mark has been recognized for his work numerous times – including the 1997 Silver Ingot award from the Republic for outstanding performance and Associated Press Sports Editor Honorable Mention in 2005 for a profile on Danica Patrick.
Retiring fulltime from the Republic in 2007, Mark has kept a full schedule – one that still includes a seat on the Arizona Motorsports Hall of Fame committee, a voting member of the National Driver of the Year panel as well as collaborating with Michael Knight to report for the Republic during every event weekend at PIR.
The other half of our two-person ‘Storied Legend’ team is Michael Knight. While still in college, Michael began working for the Philadelphia Daily News, where he stayed until 1980 when he became the first Director of Communications for Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART). It was with CART that Michael had his first taste of racing at PIR.
Over the 21-year period from 1984-2005, Michael represented a variety of organizations and race teams, including five CART series championship teams. His PR career included not only CART, but NASCAR, Formula One and NHRA.
He managed the media and public relations schedules for such legendary drivers as Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Arie Luyendyk, Junior Johnson, Darrell Waltrip and Mark Martin. Among his career highlights are being on the front lines for “Mansell Mania” in 1993 and Andretti’s final race win in ’93 as well.
Michael has won more than 60 awards for journalism, media relations and contributions to motor sports in his career, including the inaugural Jim Chapman Award for Excellence in Motorsports PR in 1991 and the inaugural Bob Russo Founders Award for lifelong contributions to racing in 2005.
Michael began covering motor sports again in 2007 as a special contributor to the Republic, and is a fixture in the media center at PIR during every race weekend. In addition to his role with the Republic, he currently serves as the chairman of the Jim Chapman Award.
Mark and Michael have been fixtures at PIR and we look forward to working with them for many more years to come. Below we’ve shared some of their articles and stories about PIR through the years.
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 45 on the list!
No. 47 City of Avondale
A 50 Year Partnership
This week’s ‘Storied Legend’ is No. 47 the City of Avondale. Priding itself as a wonderful community for people to live, work and play in, Avondale has been the perfect host to PIR’s 50-year history.
First settled in 1880 by William “Billy” G. Moore, it became known as “Coldwater, Arizona”, for both the rivers and the water that flowed from a local spring. After living the in the area for some time, Moore purchased land, established a stage shop, opened a general store and built a saloon - making “Coldwater” a popular stop for travelers needing provisions on their long treks between Tucson, northern Arizona and California.
Serving as Postmaster of Coldwater, among other positions, from 1091 to 1905, Moore moved the post office from the original settlement location, near the Agua Fria River, to a permanent building near Avondale Ranch. The post office, and the settlement, soon became known as “Avondale”.
Incorporated in December, 1946, the City of Avondale has continued to grow exponentially, but has maintained much of its historical charm. Recently, the city has seen tremendous growth in new development, both residential and commercial, while the Old Town along Western Avenue preserved the historic business district.
In 1963, on a search for the perfect location to build a race track, Dick and Nancy Hogue found the perfect location nestled against the Estrella Mountains, 15 miles outside of the city.
Part of the charm that ties the City of Avondale and Phoenix International Raceway together is ‘Monument Hill,’ also known as ‘Rattlesnake Hill’ or just ‘The Hillside’ as many PIR old-timers call it. Located on the east end of the track, it is known to be one of the best seats in the house each race weekend.
The famed hill also features significant ties to the history of Avondale and the State of Arizona. In 1851, Monument Hill was built by the US Boundary Commission as part of a reconnaissance survey for the United States/Mexico boundary under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildago. The peace treaty ended the Mexican-American war and expanded the United States ownership of land in the southwest.
In 1865 ‘Monument Hill’ was selected as the initial point for all land surveys done in Arizona. The first survey was completed in 1867 and covered 36 miles in 5 days. A concrete “X” marks the spot on the hill where the surveying began. In 1984, the “X” was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
Avondale has played an important part throughout the track’s 50-year history and PIR is very proud to call the City of Avondale home.
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 46 on the list!
No. 48 Jim Hunter
A Lifetime in Racing
Born in South Carolina, Hunter spent more than 40 years in motor sports as a journalist, a public relations representative, track president and as a member of NASCAR’s leadership team.
Helping create the NASCAR we know
As a PR representative, Hunter cut his teeth representing top IndyCar drivers for Dodge’s motorsports operation and spent several years as the director of communications for Darlington Raceway in his home state in the 1980s.
After a sojourn covering motor sports for the Columbia Record, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Stock Car Racing magazine, Hunter returned to Darlington as the track’s president in 1993 and was a corporate vice president for International Speedway Corporation, Darlington’s parent company. Hunter was named NASCAR’s vice president of corporate communications in the summer of 2001 and helped mold NASCAR’s image through the sport’s meteoric rise in the early part of the decade.
Leaving his mark on the track
Hunter’s impact on racing was felt on the track as well as off of it. He mentored many young drivers, including future stars such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya, in the early days of their careers.
"If it wasn't for Jim Hunter, I would have ran myself right out of the sport,” Harvick told USA TODAY after Hunter’s death in 2010. “He was the mediator between myself and NASCAR, and someone I could relate to, and if there was something wrong, I could talk to Jim. If I did something wrong, he'd be first to tell me. He had a way of being able to put things in perspective. If it wasn't for him, there's a good possibility I wouldn't be where I'm at today."
Hunter also played a central role in the decision-making process of former NASCAR chairman, the late Bill France Jr. Current NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France called Hunter one of the greats in the sport.
“Jim Hunter was one of NASCAR’s giants,” Brian France said in 2010. “For more than 40 years Jim was part of NASCAR and its history. He loved the sport, but loved the people even more. It seems as if everyone in the sport called him a friend. Jim will forever be missed by the NASCAR community. Our sympathies go out to his entire family.”
Shepherding Phoenix International Raceway into the future
It was through his role with ISC that Hunter made his impact on Phoenix International Raceway. When the company purchased PIR from long-time owner Buddy Jobe in 1997, Hunter was tasked with leading the transition.
Several members of the PIR staff from that time remain with the track, and their recollections of Hunter are as a leader, a mentor and a friend.
“I was a relatively new employee of PIR when I had the pleasure of first meeting Jim Hunter – one of my first introductions to an individual representing the corporate office. Following the purchase of PIR by International Speedway Corp, Jim spent time working out of our office in Phoenix on behalf of our new parent company, ISC. It was a delight to have Jim in our midst for even a short period of time. He was very personable and had a great sense of humor – both favorable qualities for someone who was playing a critical role in helping the transition of our team.” - Gayle Allen, PIR
“Jim Hunter was a great mentor to me throughout my career at PIR. ISC sent Jim out in the fall of 1998 which is shortly after I had first started. He always offered great advice and industry knowledge. He was the kind of man you could pick up the phone and call at any time and despite how busy he was – he would be there." - Marie Isabell, PIR
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 47 on the list!
No. 49 Matt Kenseth
A Fierce Competitor
Coming in at No. 49 on Phoenix International Raceway’s ‘Storied Legends’ list is 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner, Matt Kenseth.
With an “aw-shucks” demeanor off the track that belies a fierce competitor behind the wheel, Kenseth enjoyed one of the best years of his career in 2013, winning a career-high and series-best seven races en route to a second-place finish in the Sprint Cup Series points standings.
After NASCAR’s championship scoring format changed following his 2003 title, Kenseth has qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup seven out of the last eight seasons. The Wisconsin native has visited Gatorade Victory Lane in the Sprint Cup Series 24 times – one of which happened at PIR in 2002.
Dominating the final laps of the November Checker Auto Parts 500, Kenseth was able to score his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the ‘02 season. The #17 DeWalt Ford led the final 52 laps of the race and finished 1.344 seconds ahead of Rusty Wallace, who was attempting to break a 60-race winless streak. Jeff Gordon was third, followed by Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“It’s been an unbelievable year, it’s hard enough to get here once, much less five times,” Kenseth said after the race.
Be sure and check out his 2002 Victory Lane celebration and interview below!
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 48 on the list!
No. 50 Sam Hornish Jr.
Too Many Firsts to Count
With so many career firsts captured at Phoenix International Raceway, Sam Hornish Jr. was the natural fit to kick off Phoenix International Raceway’s 50th Anniversary ‘Storied Legends.’ Holding multiple records at PIR, Hornish remains an integral part of PIR history as the only driver in track history to pull off the IndyCar/NASCAR double win– but, at 21-years-old he also was the youngest person to win in Indy Car Northern Lights Series History and the youngest in Major North American open-wheel racing history, with his first win at PIR.
Capturing his first checkered flag in the Indy Racing Northern Lights Series, Hornish was able to hold off Eliseo Salazar by 1.3786 seconds in his yellow Pennzoil Panther Racing/Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone car to win the March, 2001 Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 at PIR.
"This is great," Hornish said after the race. "What else could you ask for? To come to the first race and get all the jitters gone, it's great. I hope we have a lot more of these."
A few years later, Hornish followed up his first Indy Car win by taking the checkered flag in the March, 2005 XM Satellite Radio 200 Presented by Argent Mortgage IndyCar Race at PIR in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota.
Making the jump from Indy Car to NASCAR full-time in 2007, Hornish made his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career debut at PIR, as well as his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series top-ten finish in the April, 2009 Subway Fresh Fit 500 at PIR. Hornish also made his NASCAR Nationwide Series career debut at PIR in 2010.
Ten years after he achieved his first Indy Car series win, Hornish clinched his first NASCR Nationwide Series win – also at PIR – in the November, 2011 WYPALL*200. His #12 Alliance Truck Parts Dodge Challenger lead the last 50 laps of the race and finished a half-second ahead of teammate Brad Keselowski.
“Every ten years I get to come here for victory lane in a different kind of car. It brings back a lot of memories,” said Hornish post race. “Phoenix has always been one of my favorite places; I started my first Nationwide race, my first Cup race, won my first Indy Car race here and now my first Nationwide race. I couldn’t be more blessed.”
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 49 on the list!