Changes to Stock Car Tracks
Stock car tracks weren't always perfectly paved like they are today. In fact, during NASCAR's inaugural season in 1949, all but one of the tracks was dirt. The 4.15-mile (6.68-kilometer) Beach & Road Course in Daytona Beach, Fla., was the only one that was partially paved.
Darlington Raceway opened its doors in 1950 as the first fully paved track on the NASCAR schedule. At more than 1.25 miles (2.41 km) in length, it classifies as a superspeedway and is still in use today. Superspeedways are oval tracks more than a mile (1.6 km) long. Their elongated straightaways allow cars to reach higher speeds.
Just as auto manufacturers have striven to create a faster, more powerful stock car, track designers have worked hard to create faster, more exciting tracks. NASCAR's premier track is the Daytona International Speedway. Daytona's steeply banked turns set it apart when it opened in 1959 -- steeper embankments allow drivers to maintain higher speeds. The idea of banked turns was by no means a new one in the world of stock car racing, but Daytona took it to a new level. That, combined with the track's 2.5 miles (4.02 km) of pavement, made it a behemoth. It was the biggest and fastest track around.
Daytona held that title only until 1969, when the Alabama International Speedway opened its doors at Talladega. Flaunting 2.66 miles (4.28 km) of pavement, it is still the longest track.
By the late 1960s, there were only three dirt tracks left on the schedule. On Sept. 30, 1970, NASCAR ran its last dirt-track race at the State Fairgrounds Speedway in Raleigh, N.C. Richard Petty won -- in tribute to those who came before him, he said, "I hope a few dirt tracks are kept on the schedule. This is where our brand of racing started." Inevitably, however, tradition gave way to progress, and dirt tracks became history.