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SPEED READING: NASCAR's five strangest venues
|Pocono's a strange raceway, but NASCAR's seen stranger|
When June rolls around each Nextel Cup season, I get asked the same question over and over again: "Dude, what is up with the Pocono Raceway?"
The answer is simple. It's weird.
When the Mattioli family opened the 2.5-mile track in 1971, no one knew exactly what to make of the place. Indy Cars came to Long Pond, Pa. to race that July, followed by NASCAR Cup cars in 1974. After 30 years of sharp left hand turns, teams still aren't real sure what to think.
"You usually end up spending the whole weekend off balance," admits Ray Evernham, who won there three times as
But, believe it or not, Pocono is not the strangest track in NASCAR history. It doesn't even make the top five. We've raced on mud, wood and airport runways. Darlington is shaped like an egg. North Wilkesboro had one straightaway going uphill and another going down. So, what exactly are the top five strangest venues in NASCAR history? We were hoping you were going to ask that.
5. McCormick Field, Asheville, N.C.The home of the Asheville Tourists of the South Atlantic League (current Class A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies) hosted a Cup race on July 12, 1958. A quarter-mile asphalt track was constructed around the baseball diamond that had been played on by Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Jackie Robinson.
Fifteen cars survived the preliminary heats to move on to the points-paying feature, including Lee Petty... barely. Petty went over the slight banking after a nudge from Cotton Owens, crashing into the third-base dugout. Petty recovered to finish fourth in the final race, behind Jim Paschal, Owens and Rex White.
4. Middle Georgia Raceway, Macon, Ga.This half-mile paved oval welcomed the NASCAR big leagues nine times between 1966 and 1971, four of those races were run by Richard Petty, two by Bobby Allison and one each by David Pearson and Bobby Isaac all Cup champions.
In 1968, government agents raided the racetrack as part of a major illegal liquor sting. A secret door located in the ticket booth led to a ladder, which descended 35 feet to another hidden entrance. That trap door led to a 150-foot tunnel, which ended at a cave beneath the track infield. Inside the cave was a gigantic moonshine still, which was promptly shut down and the track owner was sent to the slammer.
The race, however, was run as planned and won by Pearson en route to his second series title.
3. Soldier Field, Chicago
The home of Da Bears since 1971 hosted exactly one NASCAR race on July 21, 1956, on a half-mile asphalt track that wrapped around the field.
Fireball Roberts outlasted Jim Paschal and Ralph Moody, the legendary mechanic who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 86.
What's so bizarre about all of this? Nothing. But the fate of track is in a league all by itself. According to famed NASCAR historian Greg Fielden, "The Soldier Field track was torn out of the stadium in 1970 following protests by hippies who objected to city financing of auto racing." Damn hippies.
2. Portland Speedway, Portland, OregonThis half-mile was home to seven Cup races four in 1956 and three in 1957. West coast hero Eddie Pagan won there twice, but was far from the biggest star on display at the fairgrounds track.
The oval was also a drive-in movie theater, with cars parking in the infield and a giant screen sitting behind the backstretch. When the Craftsman Truck Series raced at Portland from 1995 to '98, they had to race around a manhole cover that was located off the exit of Turn 4.
"I used it as part of my line," said 1997 winner
Let's just hope the boys from Macon didn't have a still under there.
1. Langhorne Speedway, Langhorne, Pa.Like Pocono, Langhorne was located in the Keystone State, but this was certainly no triangle. The one-mile dirt track located just outside of Philadelphia was a perfectly round circle. Not oval... circle. No straights. Just continuous turns for 150 and sometimes 250 laps. It makes me dizzy just to type it.
The track had two nicknames: "The Big Left Turn" and "The Track That Ate The Heroes." Built on swampland, underground creeks kept the surface constantly wet. When temperatures rose each summer, that mud dried up and developed huge canyon-like cracks. To make matters worse, just past the start-finish line, the track took a steep downhill route, known among drivers as "Puke Alley". NASCAR left after racing there from 1949 to 1957. Stock car and Indy Car drivers alike started skipping Langhorne due to safety concerns, which actually got worse after the track was paved in 1965.
But don't bother going out looking for the strangest track in NASCAR history while heading up to Pocono this weekend. Langhorne was razed in 1971 to make room for a shopping mall.
Attention shoppers, watch out for that left-hander over by the Chi Chi's. It's a doozy.
Ryan McGee is the managing editor of