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Richmond International Raceway History
Richmond, VA 23222
Is there a perfect race track? If there is, it just might be at a place they used to call Strawberry Hill.
Richmond International Raceway has a deep, rich history. Over nearly 60 years, the track has taken on a number of different shapes and names, but one thing hasn’t changed along the way - it’s all about racing at Richmond.
Today, Richmond International Raceway is a three-quarter mile trioval with 14 degrees of banking in the turns. More than 110,000 tickets are sold out every time the track hosts NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series, because fans know they’ll see the kind of short-track, fender-to-fender action that has helped make NASCAR racing one of this country’s most popular sports. They also know that the track is big enough to produce fast speeds - qualifying laps approaching 130 mph - that test drivers and cars alike.
Richmond International Raceway’s history dates back to a half-mile dirt track known as Strawberry Hill Speedway. The first race took place there in 1946, with Ted Horn winning. In 1953, the track was called Atlantic Rural Exposition Fairgrounds and NASCAR brought its Grand National Series to town, with Lee Petty getting the victory. Paul Sawyer and racing star Joe Weatherly purchased the property in 1955 and Sawyer would run the track for the next 45 years, seeing it through several name changes, reconfigurations and expansions all designed with better competition and better experience for the fans in mind.
Richmond International Raceway got a second race date in 1959 and has had them ever since. Richard Petty, the “King” of stock-car racing, won at Richmond for the first time in 1961, the first of a record 13 races he would win in his career at the track. The track’s name was changed to the Virginia State Fairgrounds Raceway in 1967, and one year later the legendary David Pearson won the final race held on dirt at the track. In September of that year, the track was paved and remeasured at .625-mile, with Richard Petty getting another win.
Richmond first became part of the track’s name in 1969, when it was renamed Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway, and that year was remeasured at one-half mile and, still later, at .542 mile. Finally, in 1988, Richmond International Raceway became the track’s official name and a major reconstruction project began. With Richard Petty himself driving one of the bulldozers to kick off construction, work began immediately following Neil Bonnett’s victory in the Pontiac Excitement 400. By the next March, the three-quarter mile track that exists today was in place.
In September 1991, lights were added and the fall race moved to night for the first time. Now, both of the track’s Sprint Cup races are run at night. Sawyer, after one of the longest and most distinguished careers in stock-car racing history, sold the track to International Speedway Corporation in 1999. Beginning in 2004 Richmond International Raceway began hosting the dramatic final race of the “regular season” leading up to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.