Many NASCAR fans are familiar with the NASCAR National Series’ bi-yearly visit to the Lone Star State, Texas, since the late 1990s and early 2000s. Many associate this time with a variety of races ranging from mediocre to great, while some are left sour with the recent spell of less than desirable races since 2017. Since 2021, it has been a tri-yearly visit with the F1 track, the Circuit of the Americas in Austin joining the schedule. But there is more to the history of NASCAR’s effort in the great state than many realize.
The NASCAR Touring Series’ first venture into Texas came in the form of the 1969 Texas 500, at the Texas World Speedway in College Station, Texas. The speedway was basically a modern day Auto Club or Michigan, a 2-mile, wide, D-shaped oval. The inaugural race on December 7th had a decorated cast of drivers battling for the win, such as Buddy Baker, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, and many others. The first race at Texas World Speedway was eventually won by Bobby Isaac in the #71 Dodge.
NASCAR would not hold a race in Texas in 1970, but returned in 1971 with a new track on the schedule. For the twenty-fifth race of the season, the Cup Series went to the Meyer Speedway in Houston, a half-mile paved oval. The Space City 300 was held on June 23rd, the name given because NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center shares a city with the race track. Only fourteen cars entered the race, and Bobby Allison ended up taking the victory in his #12 Dodge. More than twenty races later, NASCAR held the 48th and final race of the season at the familiar Texas World Speedway on December 12th, once again titled the Texas 500. Richard Petty’s famous #43 Plymouth got the checkered flag claiming his 21st victory of the year, as well as becoming the Champion for the third time in his career.
Meyer Speedway did not return to the NASCAR schedule in 1972, and in fact would never return to the schedule again. Texas World Speedway was the luckier of the two tracks, gaining another race date in addition to the season finale. The first race was held on June 25, and ended up mostly being a battle between legends, with Richard Petty and Bobby Isaac being the two frontrunners of the race. Car #43 came out on top that weekend, and got a third place finish later that year at TWS. The track held one race in 1973, then after a short hiatus returned for three races in a row from 1979 to 1981.
For a while, that was the end of NASCAR Cup Series racing in the state of Texas. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the fans in Texas would get another race, in NASCAR’s attempt to bring races to more marketable areas and bigger cities. This led Speedway Motorsports, Inc. to construct a “Texas-Sized Speedway” in Fort Worth, just north-east of Dallas. This track was instantly polarizing, as the date on the schedule was obtained from NASCAR dropping some of its most historic and beloved tracks from the schedule, Rockingham and North Wilkesboro. The inaugural race at the new speedway, the 1997 Interstate Batteries 500, was held on April 6th. After a relatively caution-filled raced, the first winner on the new track was Jeff Burton in the #99 Ford.
The following years were met with mixed emotions. Texas Motor Speedway held some pretty decent races, but was not the first candidate for getting a second race date. However, the 2005 season introduced the second TMS race date, which many viewed as unnecessary.
As the track aged and the surface became more worn down, the racing improved. This was all the way up until the 2016 Cup race, which was followed by a repave for the 2017 season. While repaving, the track promoters decided to decrease the banking in the first and second turns, which proved to be less than desirable for the on-track racing product. NASCAR tried to combat this in the next few years, but that only made the problem worse than it already was. Texas Motor Speedway quickly became the most infamous track on the schedule.
The 2020 summer race ended in very lackluster fashion after being plagued by dirty air issues. Many hoped that at least one race at TMS would be scrapped for the 2021 season. Some suggested that since the new schedule was meant to be a complete overhaul of the previous schedule, and since NASCAR was pushing for more road courses, the obvious place to go was down south to the city of Austin, Texas to the Circuit of the Americas. Those suggestions soon turned out to be true, as in 2021, COTA held the first ever Texas Grand Prix. Chase Elliott won after the race was shortened due to rain, but fan opinions were once again very mixed. This Sunday is the second annual Texas Grand Prix, and chances are that the new Generation Seven car, based more on an IMSA endurance Sport Car, will put on an even better show than last year (weather permitting, of course!).
Photo Credit/// Sean Gardner, Getty Images