Short tracks, for some, are the end-all, be-all of motorsports. NASCAR’s own history is rich with these ovals, based all around the country that have played a part in creating its greatest achievements.
Everyone loves a good short track. Some yearn for more while others have made it their personal mission in making it known there aren’t enough on the NASCARschedule. There’s just something about the little places, the tight corners and limited space that raises the level of excitement while an inexplicable feistiness comes over the drivers.
Year after year, another memory is made, tickets well spent and viewers plenty pleased. Richmond International Raceway has played host to more than a few of those moments. Since 1982, it’s hosted Nationwide Series racing, and its list of winners reads like a who’s who of past champions, superstars and those who struck it big.
The .758-mile track has not changed much since its reconfiguration in 1988. Under the lights, twice a year, it’s as traditional as a good old bump and run. Welcome to Richmond, where the next great NASCAR moment and/or confrontation is just around the corner.
The old adage goes something like this one: with short tracks come short tempers. Richmond has repeatedly lived up to expectations. Take 1997, when Tony Stewart and his helmet-throwing ways weren’t even a twinkle in NASCAR’s eye. But he might have gotten the idea from the Autolite Platinum 250.
Dale Shaw spun Joe Bessey on lap 13 in Turn 1. Bessey took exception to the contact, as the theme often goes, and climbed from his No. 6 Chevrolet with ill intentions. As Shaw came back around, Bessey furiously threw his helmet at Shaw’s No. 4.
The message was delivered loud and clear: Bessey not only perfectly squared up on Shaw’s car, but he also sent his helmet straight through the window. No driver has since managed the same style points Bessey earned that September night.
“I think his head is getting a little too big for his helmet — he might need mine,” Bessey told the TV viewers. NASCAR wasn’t as entertained and the driver was escorted to their hauler for punishment.
Later that same night, Mike McLaughlin went aflame because of an oil fire under his car. As flames started to engulf the cockpit, McLaughlin brought his No. 34 to a stop in the infield grass. But then he changed his mind, and while the inside of the car was on fire started it up again and began to drive away, batting at the flames on his way to pit road.
As long as the car can roll, they will, as McLaughlin proved, drive it.
It was 2005 when Martin Truex, Jr. demonstrated that the way in which you drive your car is not always your choice. Coming off turn two late in the Emerson Radio 250, Truex charged to the outside of Mike Wallace, who either didn’t know he was there or had no intention of giving way.
When the two came together, the collision pushed Truex’s No. 8 machine up onto its side and he rode the wall on his door halfway down the backstretch into turn 3.When the car finally righted itself, he hung a left and parked on pit road. At first, Truex might have thought of following in his helmet-throwing peers’ footsteps; instead, he changed his mind and gave Wallace a one-finger salute.
Nelson Piquet, Jr. has felt the feistiness of Richmond, particularly last season.
Richmond has continued to break Truex’s heart throughout the years. Yet he’s not alone. Last year, Brian Scott felt the sting in more ways than one. It’s the same old story: contact on the track leads to more after the checkered flag and then, it spills over to pit road. And that’s where things always get more interesting.
Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Brian Scott were the stars of this show. A shove from Piquet when Scott approached was followed by a kick, landing where it’ll make grown men cry.The incident later escalated outside the track with the crews and involved the authorities.
When Scott returned to Richmond in September, he was kicked while already down. He started on the pole and led the first 239 laps, setting himself up for a wire-to-wire run for his first career win, until a Brad Keselowski, late-race restart and what Scott believed was a missed penalty came around.
“Me and Richmond have a bittersweet love affair,” was all Scott could muster.
A Track for First and Lasts
Travis Pastrana didn’t last long in NASCAR, but you never forget your first time. It was 2012 when the action sports star decided to stay on the ground for a try in stock cars. He had a relatively quiet night, starting 25th and finishing 22nd.
While Pastrana made is first NASCAR start at Richmond, the track has hosted plenty of first-time winners, too. The first-ever Nationwide race run at the facility was just what Tommy Houston needed in 1982 to capture his first career win. Butch Lindley – who won six career Nationwide races – captured two of those at Richmond.
The list goes on and the statistics get more impressive. For instance, the late Bobby Hamilton (1989) and Robby Gordon (2004) scored their first and only Nationwide Series wins at the short track. Jeff Purvis’ first Nationwide victory (1996) was also the first at Richmond in the series for team owner James Finch.
Then, there was a kid named Steve Park. In 1997, the New York native was driving for Dale Earnhardt in the famed No. 3 and headed for the Cup Series a year later. In the same race where Joe Bessey and Dale Shaw created the early highlights, with Mike McLaughlin providing the middle act, it was Park who closed it out.
Park’s Richmond win, in the No. 3, was his third career win. It was also his last.
Only once more would Park finish top two in the 28 Nationwide races he ran after that night. So Richmond, while a place that has welcomed drivers and crowned others, has also been a place that has said goodbye.
Also, when NASCAR went through a change in TV broadcasters, the 2000 Richmond event was the last race ESPN broadcast before they returned in 2007. (Now, of course they host the entire Nationwide schedule.)
Did You Know?
Kevin Harvick is the winningest Nationwide Series driver at Richmond with six victories. Mark Martin is second with five with Kyle Busch and Harry Gant tied at four.
The 2013 September race at Richmond was the 1,000th for the NASCAR Nationwide Series. This Friday night, Richard Childress Racing will celebrate its 1,000th race as an organization.