Phoenix International Raceway History


(WOMR file photo)

In 1964 Dave MacDonald won the first race at PIR – a 155 mile sports car event on the 2.5 mi road course. A.J. Foyt won the first oval race – a 100-mile USAC event at an average speed of 107.536 mph.

Due to a change in focus by the track’s current owners, ISC (International Speedway Corp.), the Phoenix area’s long history of hosting Indy-style racing (only Indianapolis itself and Milwaukee have had more) came to an abrupt end in 2005, when PIR failed to host an Indy Racing League event for the first time. Ironically, stock car racing’s top series, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, didn’t even run at PIR until 1988. Their inaugural race was won by the late Alan Kulwicki, who debuted his Polish Victory Lap here after taking the checkered flag.

PIR has a unique tri-oval shape, with a curve in middle of its backstretch between turns two and three, commonly referred to as “the dogleg”. This exists because the original builders were constrained by both the rocky hills located on the property and their incorporation of an external road course and dragstrip into PIR’s design. Once nearby Firebird International Raceway became a regular stop on drag racing tours, PIR’s dragstrip was rarely used. The external road course, which was used mainly for private testing and as parking lot access roads during oval events, was later replaced by the current infield road circuit. Prior to construction of a tunnel under turn four in 2002–03, the only access to the PIR’s infield during events was via crossovers, where the old external road course and dragstrip intersected the oval. Once the tunnel was built, the crossovers were permanently sealed off.

The other notable feature of PIR is the presence of the “Hillside”, a fan-favorite viewing area located on “Monument Hill” just outside of turn four. At the top of this hill lies a USGS bench marker known as Gila and Salt River Meridian that is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Long before PIR existed, this spot was the original land survey point for all of what later became the state of Arizona. The original surveyors chose this location to begin their work because it is the nearest high ground from the confluence of the Salt River and the Gila River, and offered a great view after only a gentle climb.

The present-day Avondale Boulevard (formerly known as 115th Avenue) marks the north-south meridian of that original survey, while the aptly-named Baseline Road runs east-west along the surveyors’ baseline. The survey benchmark also denotes the western boundary of the Gila River Indian Community. In PIR’s earlier years, residents of this neighboring Native American community were rumored to have sometimes sold concessions through the fence to hungry race fans unwilling to walk back down to the track’s food and beverage stands.

Until 2005, PIR’s oval annually hosted at least one major Indy-style racing event, dating back to its initial construction. It is still used year-round by various Indy Racing League teams for private testing as well as for the filming of television commercials featuring that series’ cars.

The infield road course, originally built for IMSA was most recently used by the Grand American Road Racing Association.

The oval also remains home to what was traditionally called the Copper World Classic, a weekend of predominantly open-wheel competition with USAC midget and Silver Crown cars as well as modifieds. From 2002–04, the event was incorporated into early-spring the Indy Car Series / Indy Pro Series weekend, but with the departure of IRL, the Copper World event has returned to its original late-winter date on PIR’s racing schedule.

In 2004, the track installed lights for the upcoming inaugural spring race to be held at night. In 2005, the track hosted a second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race event, replacing the spring race formerly held at Darlington Raceway, in South Carolina. The track currently hosts the annual Subway Fresh Fit 600, considered one of NASCAR’s top annual races.

In a recent poll conducted by Sports Illustrated, 12 percent of NASCAR drivers voted PIR as their favorite track. That was enough for a second place tie with Atlanta Motor Speedway. David Reutimann said he “loves that place. It’s just a weird-shaped racetrack, and I grew up racing on stuff that was odd-shaped. I think I like it because it’s not the normal track. It’s flat and fast.”

Scenes from the movie Taxi were filmed at the track.

On January 14, 2010 it was announced that due to NASCAR’s standard time rule, Phoenix’s April race would be extended from a 312 lap to a 375 lap race to guarantee a nighttime finish. The extra 63 laps (100 km) will change the race name to the Subway Fresh Fit 600.

NASCAR announced on August 10, 2010, that Phoenix’s spring date will move to February beginning in 2010. The race will be reduced back to 500 km in length and will be run the week following the Daytona 500 instead of the early April date the race had occupied since its inception in 2005. Like Phoenix’s fall race, the spring race will be run during the day.

I looked it up so you wouldn’t have to!


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