Like a pole sitter whose foot is on the accelerator, the Richmond NASCAR race is fast approaching, as once again, Richmond International Raceway plays host to the Toyota Owners 400 on April 30. Enthusiasts have seen more than a few NASCAR race tracks in their day, but if you're new to the sport – or to the Richmond area – you may not know much about the venue tens of thousands will pile into late next month.
Here's a snapshot at the history of RIR and why it holds a special place in the hearts of NASCAR fans near and far.
Richmond International Speedway opened in 1953
Last year was a special one for Richmond International Raceway, as RIR officially opened for business exactly 70 years ago. Built in 1946, the three-quarters-of-a-mile track has held numerous races over the years, the likes of which include the Indy Car Series, NASCAR Sportsman Series, and NASCAR's Winston Cup Series. NASCAR pioneer Lee Petty – whose son is Richard Petty, another icon of the sport – won the first race that RIR hosted in 1953.
Perhaps best known for its "D-shaped" track layout, RIR's roadway hasn't always had this distinguishing trait. It used to be more oval-like in construction, but in 1988, ownership group International Speedway Corp. decided to build onto the venue. Now, the track is just under eight-tenths of a mile long. Covered in high-grade asphalt, it was originally all dirt, making it ideal for horse races, which were frequent back in the 1940s and 1950s.
"More than 100,530 spectators fill Richmond International Raceway."
RIR holds over 100,500 onlookers
Technical aspects aside, perhaps Richmond International Raceway's most salient feature is how many people it can hold. With a seating capacity of 100,531 – roughly half of Richmond's population – millions of racing fans have filed through the turnstiles over the years to see some truly memorable racing events and moments. For instance, Tony Stewart fans will recall that the 44-year-old NASCAR premier series champion made his long-awaited return to competition at Richmond in August of last year, having been sidelined for almost a year due to a lingering back injury.
If nothing else, NASCAR fans know that the sport is one where records are built to be broken. And plenty have been at Richmond International over the years. Twenty years ago, three-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Jarrett reached a peak speed of over 109 miles per hour. Even more impressive, four-time Winston Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon – who, like Jarrett, is also retired – maxed out at 130 miles per hour in a qualifying race at Richmond (Not a speed we recommend if you want to keep your car insurance rates down!).
Petty led one race 488 of 500 laps
But as far as who rules the roost at Richmond, few can deny that the title belongs to none other than Richard Petty. Petty has led more laps than any other driver in a single race, totaling 488, an RIR record that has yet to be even approached since 1970. However, among laps overall, the distinction goes to Gordon with 1,637, slightly ahead of Denny Hamlin, who still competes (1,594).
As exciting as Richmond International's past has been, there's lots to love about its present – for fans, in particular. That's because on the last weekend in April, when RIR hosts the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series, attendees may be eligible for a VIP experience like no other. Ultimate Fan Access weekend, proudly presented by Elephant Auto Insurance, will send a winner and a guest to both races on Saturday and Sunday, and provide them with insider perks to make this a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. For instance, winners of the sweepstakes will go for their very own spin in a pace car on Sunday and have access to the victory lane later on when the winner is crowned. And that's just the beginning!
For more information, along with eligibility requirements, check out RIR's website. But hurry – the checkered flag on the sweepstakes period is just before midnight on April 2.