(NOTE: This is another installment in a series examining what some call “Good Old Days” of NASCAR. The series outlines that weeks track or former NASCAR tracks in the geographic area.)
This weeks edition starts with Terry Labonte's early career in Texas.
His career started at Corpus Christi Speedway. Despite winning the tracks Hobby Stock championship, and a legendary feud with Rick Rapp that included the two drivers carrying mace and a knife during races, Terry didn’t stay long at Corpus Christi and moved to the now defunct Meyer Speedway near Houston and also tracks in San Antonio and Shreveport, La.
It’s at Meyer Speedway the sanctioning body enters the picture.
Reportedly speedway owner Ed Hamilton paid a handsome sum to Big Bill France to hold a sanctioned event at his half mile paved bull ring, whether that’s a matter of fact or urban legend is debatable, what isn’t is on June 23, 1971 the Space City 300 was held at Meyer Speedway.
Only 14 cars took the starter’s flag with Bobby Allison beating the field in his #12 1970 Dodge. Second place James Hilton came in second 2 laps down, Walter Ballard, Elmo Langley and Frank Warren completed the top five. Richard Petty, although having led 38 laps, finished in seventh 21 laps behind Allison.
The only other Texas track, aside from present day TMS, to hold a Cup event was the ill-fated Texas World Speedway (TWS). Although still in operation (but reportedly for sale) the track fell into disrepair and a combination of small crowds - just 18,000 were in attendance for the final race - both NASCAR and the IndyCar Series chose to drop it from the schedule. The track would also be called Texas International Speedway.
The first Cup event at TWS was Bobby Issac’s first career superspeedway victory in the Texas 500. Cale Yarborough is seriously injured when his Mercury clobbered the wall.
TWS was always been known as one of the safest race tracks in the country. In 1979, the Cup event went 396 out of 400 miles before a yellow caution flag came out for two laps. The following year the race went all 400 miles without a yellow “caution” flag.
Over the course of the tracks 12 years hosting NASCAR 8 events were held. Ironicly the most noteworthy may be the the final one in June 1981.
Terry Labonte and Bobby Allison shared the front row and they and 7 other drivers swapped the lead numerous times in the first half of the race. Labonte crashed before halfway leaving Dale Sr. and Benny Parsons in a fight to the finish. In the last ten laps they swapped the lead three times with Parsons finally grabbing it last and holding off Allison by a half a second.
Finally, we come to NASCAR’s present Texas venue. Texas Motor Speedway is lorded over by Eddie Gossage, perhaps the only legitimate contender to Humpy Wheeler as NASCAR’s version of P.T Barnum.
The tracked opened in 1997 with the inaugural Interstate Batteries 500. Jeff Burton came on strong in the final 100 miles and racked up his first career NASCAR Cup victory. The race is punctuated by several crashes, which contribute to 10 caution flags for a total of 73 laps run under the yellow flag.
The following year a 13-car crash on the opening lap ends the day for John Andretti, Rick Mast and Ernie Irvan. Mark Martin won the event.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr joined Burton as first time Cup winners at Texas in 2000.
2005 was the first year TMS hosted two events. Greg Biffle led 219 of 334 laps in the Spring event in a back-up car, Biffle crashed his primary car in practice and had to start from the back of the field. Roush Racing completed a sweep in Texas after Carl Edwards won the fall event.
The fall event in 2006 saw Tony Stewart extend his incredible late season streak winning the the Dickies 500 at Texas, it was Stewart’s third win in the last six races.
The 2007 spring event started with a fourth turn, first lap multi -car crash (video) The race featured a ten lap shootout between Matt Kenseth and Jeff Burton (video) with Burton finally taking the win and becoming the first repeat winner at Texas.
Also noteworthy, Kyle Busch wreaked his HMS car and left the track thinking he was done for the day. After thrashing for a number of laps the crew had the car ready but had no driver. In a move that presaged what was to come later in the year Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumped into the then rival HMS #5 and finished the race.