Race Weekend Central

A History of Racing on February 29

Feb. 29, also known as Leap Day, is the rarest date on the calendar. And after a long, four-year wait from 2020 — a time that almost looks unrecognizable from today — the calendars read 2/29 once again.

Unfortunately, there is no racing to enjoy on this special occasion, as Feb. 29 falls on a Thursday in the 2024 calendar. Racing on Leap Day is exceptionally rare, but there are a handful of races in the past half century to have that notoriety. What series were they in, and more importantly, who were the lucky winners?

Races Run on February 29

In over 2,500 NASCAR Cup Series races run since its inception in 1949, only one has the honor of being held on Feb. 29: the 1976 Carolina 500 at Rockingham Speedway.

In a race that took four hours, 24 minutes and eight seconds with an average speed of 113.665 mph, it was Richard Petty that crossed the finish line first. It had been a dominant affair for the No. 43 car, as Petty led 362 of the 492 laps and won by two laps over second-place finisher Darrell Waltrip. The win was the seventh of 11 wins for Petty at Rockingham, and it was win No. 178 in his illustrious chase for 200.

The New York Times even reported on the race, and according to its article, Bobby Allison was transported to a local hospital after sustaining injuries in an eight-car wreck on lap 373 while running in second place. Allison would return to race at Richmond Raceway the following week, where he won the pole and finished third.

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There has never been a Craftsman Truck Series race held on Feb. 29, but there have been two Xfinity races: one in 1992 and one in 2020.

The first Xfinity race, the 1992 Goodwrench 200, was also held at Rockingham.

In a star-studded event where Jeff Gordon won the pole and Dale Earnhardt led the most laps, it was Ward Burton who scored his first career Xfinity win by passing Davey Allison with 22 laps to go and holding off Mark Martin to take the checkered flag by just under one second.

The second Xfinity race was the 2020 Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway. The day was dominated by Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota, as Brandon Jones won the pole and led the first 73 laps before ultimately finishing four laps down in 30th.

Daniel Hemric, Chase Briscoe and Harrison Burton then took turns at the point until Burton controlled the final third of the race by leading 32 of the final 33 laps.

In doing so, he joined his uncle Ward as the only drivers to win a Xfinity race on Leap Day. The win was also the first career victory for Harrison, as he held off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Riley Herbst by 0.455 seconds in a 19-lap green flag run to the finish.

Now, let’s shift to other forms of auto racing. In the history of American open wheel racing, there has been just one race held on Leap Day: the 2004 Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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In a race that ended with a last-lap thriller, Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves — who had dominated the day by leading 85 of the 200 laps — took the white flag with teammate Sam Hornish Jr. tucked in just behind him.

Hornish made his move to the inside in turn 1, and the duo ran side-by-side for the entire duration of the backstretch. After entering turn 3 in a dead heat, it was Hornish who just barely left turn 4 with the advantage. Castroneves tried to cross him under heading to the checkered flag, but it was not enough as Hornish scored the win by 0.070 seconds in his IndyCar debut with Penske.

Other events held on Leap Day include the 2020 Marrakesh ePrix in Marrakesh, Morocco, that was won by Portuguese driver Antonio Felix da Costa, who also went on to win the 2019-20 Formula E title.

There was also a 1976 Australian Touring Car Championship (the predecessor to the modern Supercars championship) race held on Feb. 29 at Symmons Plains Raceway in Launceston, Tasmania, that was won by Australian John Harvey. It was Harvey’s first of two Touring Car wins, and his second came at the same track in 1979.

See also
Only Yesterday: NASCAR's Closest Cup Finishes Are a Modern Affair

That covers the list of major events run on the date. So, when is the next time that fans will be treated to Leap Day auto racing?

The answer is 2032. With seven days in a week and a Leap Day once every four years, there is a 28-year cycle for Feb. 29 to be held on a certain day of the week.

DateDay of the Week
Feb. 29, 1992Saturday
Feb. 29, 1996Thursday
Feb. 29, 2000Tuesday
Feb. 29, 2004Sunday
Feb. 29, 2008Friday
Feb. 29, 2012Wednesday
Feb. 29, 2016Monday
Feb. 29, 2020Saturday
Feb. 29, 2024Thursday
Feb. 29, 2028Tuesday
Feb. 29, 2032Sunday
Feb. 29, 2036Friday

Feb. 29 was a Sunday in 1976, and it was just the same in 2004. Twenty-eight years after that is the year 2032, and if we want to go further than that, the next Sunday Leap Days would occur in 2060 and 2088.

So, unless we have a Cup race scheduled for Feb. 27, 2028, that gets rain delayed to Tuesday, get your calendar ready for racing eight years from now.

Drivers Born on February 29

In addition to its status as the least common date on the calendar, Feb. 29 is –obviously — the least common birthday. With Feb. 29 accounting for just one out of every 1,461 days, a crowd of 100,000 people would be estimated to have 68 or 69 people born on Leap Day.

It’s rare, but there are notable drivers to have had Feb. 29 as a birthday. But before I get to that, who are the most notable drivers to almost have a Leap Day birthday?

One of them is a racing legend and one of the most famous race car drivers of all time: 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner, 1967 Daytona 500 winner, 1978 Formula One champion and four-time American open wheel champion Mario Andretti.

Andretti was born on Feb. 28, 1940, and he just celebrated his 84th birthday on Wednesday. 1940 was also a Leap Year, which means that Andretti was just 24 hours away from having a birthday of Feb. 29.

Other drivers that came close to having that birthday include current Xfinity Series driver Blaine Perkins (born Feb. 28, 2000), 2003 Craftsman Truck Series champion Travis Kvapil (born March 1, 1976) and the late Tim Steele (born March 1, 1968), who won 41 ARCA Menards Series races in addition to three ARCA championships in 1993, 1996 and 1997.

As for the drivers actually born on Feb. 29, the most famous is Masten Gregory (1932-1985). Hailing from Kansas City, Mo., Gregory was an accomplished sports car and open wheel driver in the 1950s and 60s. He competed in 38 Formula One Grand Prix between 1957 and 1965 with three podiums — including a third in the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix — and a best finish of second in the 1959 Grand Prix of Portugal.

He also won the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans with co-driver Jochen Rindt (the 1970 Formula One champion), and the victory made Gregory just one of 19 drivers to complete in all three legs of the Triple Crown of Motorsport (24 Hours of Le Mans, Monaco Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500) and win at least one of them.

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Another sports car racer born on Leap Day is Rui Aguas of Portugal (born 1972), who made five starts in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in addition to three starts each in the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Daytona.

In stock car racing, there are three drivers born on Leap Day that have competed in the Cup Series. The most successful of the three was Barney Shore (1936-2004), who competed in 19 Cup races between 1958 and 1960 with a best finish of fifth at Bowman Gray Stadium in ’58. The other two are Charlie Miller (1912-1958) and Bun Emery (1928-2005), who each made one Cup start in the 50s with finishes of 11th and 18th, respectively.

Another driver in the stock and late model ranks is Brian Hoar (born 1972), who won an ARCA East race at the Thunder Road International Speedbowl in 2003. Hoar was also a successful late model driver, as he won three straight American Canadian Tour (ACT) late model championships between 2006 and 2008 and collected a total of 19 wins in the series.

The only active drivers with a Feb. 29 birthday are Miguel Gomes (born 1980), who competed in the 2023 ARCA opener at Daytona International Speedway, and Max McLaughlin (born 2000), the son of six-time Xfinity winner and 1988 Whelen Modified Tour champion Mike McLaughlin.

Like Hoar, McLaughlin also scored a win in an ARCA East race at Watkins Glen International in 2019, where he won the pole and led every lap. He has made one start each in the Xfinity and Truck Series, and he has competed in 15 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races since 2020.

And that’s a wrap on this article with all the drivers born and all the major races run on Feb. 29. Now, go out and enjoy a special day that we won’t see again until 2028.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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