From the time Daytona International Speedway opened for the DAYTONA 500 in 1959, the trioval/road course had been utilized primarily for sports cars for the Rolex 24 At DAYTONA and motorcycles for the DAYTONA 200, with the exception of a two-race stint (1960-61) when Compact Cars tackled the storied layout. That changed from 1968-72.
Enter the NASCAR Grand Touring Series (1968-69) and the NASCAR Grand American Series (1970-72) that featured small stock cars but big names who drove them. At the time, a newcomer from North Carolina, NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Childress, drove in five of those events, beginning in February of 1969, before focusing on a career in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“I was at the young age of 23, and I qualified eighth right out of the box for that race in ’69,” said Childress, who after his driving days, became a success in NASCAR’s premier series as an owner, winning six championships with the legend, Dale Earnhardt. “I started right alongside Lloyd Ruby (2-time Rolex 24 At DAYTONA winner), and there were other great road racing drivers like Parnelli Jones. I finished 13th (more than 40 competed), and followed it up with some more good finishes.
“We had been running on dirt roads and dirt tracks here in North Carolina, and I was just a kid who didn’t know better. I guess not knowing better is how I ran well. I remember spinning out on the first lap, and the next morning in the newspaper, I was the headline photo. Still have that paper around here somewhere.”
Childress’ resume on what was then a 3.81-mile Speedway Road Course includes finishes of 13th, 10th, 22nd, 8th and 9th while piloting his Camaro among many other makes like Ford Mustangs, Plymouth Barracudas, AMC Javelins and Pontiac Firebirds. Not too bad, especially going against the likes of other iconic names like Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Buck Baker, Tiny Lund, Jim Paschal and Pete Hamilton. In 1976, Childress, along with two-time NASCAR Cup Series winner James Hylton, who also won one of the Grand American events at DIS in 1970, competed in his lone Rolex 24 At DAYTONA, finishing a respectable 19th and second overall in the Grand International class in a Chevrolet Laguna.
“We have a little history on the road course,” said Childress, who said the car they drove in the Rolex 24 event was a NASCAR Cup-style machine. “In the 24-hour race, we had to change the drum brakes in the rear of the car two or three times and that cost us the opportunity to win. I remember that was the toughest part of it, but a fun course to drive. We would run a fuel tank about every two hours, so James and I would switch off every four hours. It was a lot of run because we were younger back then.”
Sunday for the Go Bowling 235, the NASCAR Cup Series first, historical start on what is now a 14-turn, 3.61-mile course, Childress will be on the headset talking to his drivers’ Tyler Reddick and grandson Austin Dillon. Has he talked to the duo, along with his other grandson, Ty Dillon, who will also be competing, about the dos and don’ts of the unique Daytona Road Course?
“It’s hard for me to give them much advice as things have changed so much with the cars when I raced the road course,” said Childress, who will also have road racing ace and WeatherTech SportsCar champion Earl Bamber driving a Childress-owned Camaro in Saturday’s UNOH 188 for the NASCAR Xfinity Series. “The brake systems are different, the power, the handling of the cars. Earl has driven in the Rolex 24 race and can give them much better advice than I can. It’s going to be some incredible, phenomenal racing.”
After the Grand Touring and Grand American events, there would be just three more “stock-car” style races – NASCAR Modifieds – on the DAYTONA Road Course (1974-76) before this week’s historic weekend (Aug. 14-16) in which NASCAR’s top three national series and the ARCA Menards Series will make their debut. A NASCAR legend would win two of those races, which will be the topic of our final installment of this series.
Road course racing – NASCAR Cup style – is back in Daytona Beach, Fla. after running on the old beach-road course from 1949-58. A limited number of fans will get the opportunity to see the Go Bowling 235 At The DAYTONA Road Course, along with the Sunoco 159 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race, on Sunday, Aug. 16. Fans can get tickets, which start at $49 (both races included) for adults and $10 for kids 12 years old and younger, by visiting www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or calling 1-800-PIT-SHOP.
The weekend kicks off Friday with the General Tire 100 ARCA Menards Series on Friday at 5:00 p.m. ET (MAVTV) while the NASCAR Xfinity Series UNOH 188 is set for Saturday at 3:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN).
Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and by downloading Daytona International Speedway’s mobile app, for the latest Speedway news throughout the season.
About Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway is a state-of-the-art motorsports facility and was awarded the SportsBusiness Journal’s prestigious Sports Business Award for Sports Facility of the Year in 2016. Daytona International Speedway is the home of “The Great American Race” – the DAYTONA 500. Though the season-opening NASCAR Cup Series event garners most of the attention – as well as the largest audience in motorsports – the approximately 500-acre motorsports complex, also known as the “World Center of Racing,” boasts the most diverse schedule of racing on the globe. In addition to at least nine major event weekends, the Speedway grounds are also used extensively for events that include concerts, civic and social gatherings, car shows, photo shoots, production vehicle testing and police motorcycle training.