Guest Post By Jim Smith
The sixty second annual Daytona 500 will be contested on Sunday February 16, 2020. Since 1982 it has been the opening race for the NASCAR cup series. From 1963 until 1981 the opening race was held at Riverside International Raceway located at Riverside, California. From 1963 until 1971 the race was known as the Motor Trend 500 and during those nine years the late Dan Gurney was the winner of five of those races winning four in a row.
In 1963 he qualified on the pole driving a Holman-Moody prepared Ford. His main competition came from A.J Foyt and Parnelli Jones. Jones had car problems and that left Foyt as his major competition for the win.
From 1964 thru 1966 Gurney drove a Wood Brothers Ford to victory. The Wood Brothers were as respected back then as they are today. They were known for their legendary pit stops and race strategies. Gurney gave them credit for his success racing stock cars and winning against NASCAR’s drivers of the day.
In 1967 he drove a Bud Moore prepared Mercury to 14th place with the race being won by Parnelli Jones driving a Ford. For 1968 he was back with the Wood Brothers and claimed his fifth win. In 1969 he suffered his first DNF driving again for the Wood brothers.
In 1970 he switched to a Petty Enterprises Plymouth. He started from the pole and finished sixth behind winner A.J. driving a Ford. He would retire at the end of the year as a full time driver.
Big Bill France and the NASCAR people were not happy with Gurney racing against them at Riverside. He was the hometown favorite and they considered him an outcast because he drove cars that turned both left and right and many of them did not have fenders. He won so much that the race was nick named the Gurney 500.
He raced in several other NASCAR races including three Daytona 500’s. The only races he won were at Riverside.
The 1962 and 1963 Daytona 500’s had Gurney driving Holman-Moody Fords starting 7th and finishing 27th in 1962. 1963 saw his best finish of 5th after starting 11th.
In 1964 he was back with the Wood Brothers at Daytona and finished 14th after starting in 20th. 1964 would be Gurney’s last Daytona 500.
NASCAR would continue to race at Riverside until 1988 when it was closed forever. It was a sad end to a great raceway that played a huge role in NASCAR history.