Next-Gen Taking Cup Series Back to the Future
Feb 2, 2022
This weekend's Busch Clash at the LA Coliseum has been heralded as one of NASCAR's most intriguing schedule experiments ever. Most fans would admit the allure of Clash had grown stale in the last few years racing at Daytona's oval, and while last year's road course Clash was a solid race, it felt like if the sacred cow of racing on the oval was going to be sacrificed, it was time to take the Clash on the road somewhere bolder.
Based purely on the number of social media posts along the lines of "They're doing WHAT to the Coliseum?!?", the move to build a full-blown racetrack inside one of the most famous sporting values in the country has been a PR success. Add in that it has genuinely gathered interest inside a Los Angeles market NASCAR has tried to crack since the days of Ontario Motor Speedway, this year's Clash has restored that important element of allure for a non-points event to be successful.
The Third Turn: Complete Clash History & Statistics
Now, of course, the race itself must deliver. If there's enough action to fill a SportsCenter-sized highlight reel, it's a safe bet we're going to see a handful of coliseum clashes in the years to come.
For most diehard short track fans, the concept of racing around a football field isn't new at all. Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC is one of the most famous short tracks in the country. Home in the fall to Winston-Salem State University's football team, the spring and summer months see Tour-Type Modifieds rumble around the three-lane runners' track. Racing since 1949, the Stadium is currently home to one of the greatest rivalries in short track racing as Tim Brown narrowly bested Burt Myers to be the first man to win 11 track titles in facility history.
Stadium action is best viewed in person for highly affordable prices or in viral YouTube videos linked to you along with the words "What on earth" or "You're not going to believe this".
But beyond Bowman Gray, there is a rich history of reusing famous sport facilities for auto racing action, most of which would be surprising to the general public. Indoor races are popular during the winter months in the Northeast and Midwest since that's the only practicable way to race while the snow is piled up outside. But even a number of famous outdoor sporting facilities have seen the rumble of racing engines.
That in mind, here are five racetracks you may not know were actually racetracks.
1. Charlotte Coliseum
The home to the NBA's Charlotte Hornets until (insert long rant from a native Charlottean about George Shinn), the old Coliseum off of Tyvola Road held a single USAC Midget event, but it was historic on multiple levels. Held on December 22, 1990, it served as the opening to a 32-race Midget campaign. It also was the first time USAC sanctioned an event in the Charlotte metro area and the first USAC Midget race in the Carolina since 1968.
Jim Hettinger, defending ARCA Midget champion, took home the victory. While Hettinger was a terror in the indoor racing world - he will show back up on this list later - it would be the only one of his 4 USAC Midget wins held on an indoor track. Mike Streicher would start his championship campaign with a 3rd place finish. NASCAR star Ken Schrader would finish 4th. By Third Turn records, it was Schrader's 61st and final start during a busy 1990 campaign.
2. Soldier Field
Most famous today for being the home to the Chicago Bears and its controversial owner Aaron Rodgers, Soldier Field has a long tradition of hosting sporting events from across the spectrum. Racing is part of that history though the racing track was torn out by the city following the 1970 season. Weekly racing was common there through the 50s and 60s and allowed an easy avenue for national series to break into the Chicago market.
One NASCAR Cup race was held at Soldier Field, won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Fireball Roberts in 1956. It was a highly-competitive affair by 1950's standards with Roberts besting Jim Paschal, Ralph Moody, Speedy Thompson, and Frank Mundy, all of which completed the entire 200 laps on the tight quarter mile.
Two other NASCAR Hall of Famers, Glen Wood and Curtis Turner, won there in NASCAR's old Convertible Division as did "Tiger" Tom Pistone. A fourth Hall of Famer, Fred Lorenzen, won there in what is today's ARCA Menard Series. Other notable winners there include USAC open wheel star Jimmy Davies and USAC stock car champion Don White.
3. Hoosier Dome
Also known as the RCA Dome, the home to the NFL's Indianapolis Colts was also the site of a Midwest racing tradition for 17 years. The Thunder at the Dome was a USAC Midget invitational race first contested in 1985 and continued on until 2001 and was a highly competitive affair. It was essentially the Chili Bowl Nationals before the Chili Bowl Nationals became the winter midget show.
Routinely attracting up to 80 drivers, the invitational would usually work as follows. Invited drivers from the Hoosier State would race in a 40-lap qualifying feature, taking the top twelve. The rest of the drivers would be put in a "Team USA" qualifying feature, taking the top twelve. The resulting 24 drivers would then duke it out for 100 laps.
The aforementioned Jim Hettinger would win 3 of the 17 runnings as would the late great Rich Vogler. A who's who of USAC Midget racing in the 80s and 90s would also win - Russ Gamester, Stevie Reeves, Michael Lang, Johnny Parsons - though plenty of other names more notable to the NASCAR crowd would try their hand - Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Mike Bliss, Ryan Newman, Schrader, Steve Kinser. In fact, to our best knowledge, the Hoosier Dome was the site of Jeff Gordon's last competitive appearance in an open-wheel car finishing 14th on January 29, 1994.
The Third Turn recently added the complete statistical history of the Thunder in the Dome, which can be viewed here.
4. The Silverdome
The home to the NFL Detroit Lions for 1975 to 2001, facility owners must have been thrilled to see some actual winning when auto racing took place at the unique facility during the winter months from 1980 to 1984.
Sometimes called "The Super Bowl of Dirt", a number of different divisions would make laps around the converted oval. Gene Genetten won $3500 in the first Midget race at the track in December 1980, defeating all-time USAC wins leader Mel Kenyon.
Jack Boggs won a major Dirt Late Model race at the facility in March 1982 topping Larry Moore and Freddy Smith. You probably wouldn't be surprised if we mentioned Ken Schrader was also in that race, but maybe David Pearson finishing 15th that day will grab your attention.
Last but not least, Butch Miller won the 1983 ASA National Tour season opening race, leading all 100 laps but having to hold off Tom Jones and Dick Trickle on a final 5-lap dash to the checkered. Continuing our shout out of NASCAR Hall of Famers, Rusty Wallace was the last car on the lead lap in 12th. Despite 9 cautions, 13 out of 20 drivers were running at the finish.
After racing and football days ended, the facility's unique fiberglass roof began to collapse, creating one of the most famous abandoned facilities in America until it was finally demolished in 2018.
5. Suncoast Dome
Today known as Tropicana Field and home to Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays, the Dome in the early 1990s was a floundering baseball field without a baseball team. The Rays would not locate there until 1995, so the stadium was passing its nascent years hosting the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning and an Arena Football Team. During the 1991 season, most of the sporting attention around the stadium was spent trying to poach the San Francisco Giants, which by a series of complicated PR developments led to Floridians boycotting Blockbuster stores. Fun fact: Floridians universally boycott Blockbuster stores to this very day.
Anyway, the failure to lure the Giants led to Stadium officials thinking of other sports to lure to the facility. Ultimately a middleman promoter named Paul Morgan (then a car owner to Bobby Davis, Jr.) struck a contract with the World of Outlaws group to run two WoO events. A purpose-built baseball diamond is certainly unusual for a racetrack to be built on - football stadiums and basketball arenas are at least already in a rectangular form you can carve an oval out from. Diamonds - not so much. The track wound up having about 8 inches of clay thrown on top of concrete and measured 320 feet longer on the outside than the inside.
Race 1 in the 90-race 1992 WoO season saw Steve Kinser nip out Sammy Swindell. The next night for the feature event, Swindell got the upper hand. As even the most novice WoO fan could tell you, nothing unusual about those winners.
The unusual stuff happened afterwards. Lower than expected attendance - something the Rays can tell you all about despite putting out a good product - led to Morgan delaying paying the purse with lingering questions about whether or not all the commitments were paid out. A handful of NASCAR drivers competed before the main WoO event in a match race and then had their appearance checks bounce. National Speed Sport News reported that teams were not paid until about 6 days after the event. As WoO historian Kevin Eckert succintly noted, "Ask anyone in 2021 about the dome in 1992 and they will immediately answer with the precise amount of money that Paul Morgan still owes them."
TBARA 360 Sprint Cars and TQ Midgets were also on the card for the weekend.
-Story by: Tim Quievryn, The Third Turn
-Photo credit: USC Annenberg School of Communication