MOTOR TREND 500
Motor Trend|January 2021
WHEN LEGENDS LIT UP RIVERSIDE
THOMAS VOEHRINGER AND MIKE FLOYD

THREE-PART DOCUSERIES, THE MOTOR TREND 500: NASCAR HEADS WEST, SHOWCASES THE HISTORY OF STOCK CAR RACING’S SEMINAL SOCAL EVENT

GURNEY STREAK STARTS (1963)

Joe Weatherly is the 1962 Grand National champion and the one to beat. Dan Gurney, though, qualifies fastest and comes from 11th place to win the inaugural Motor Trend 500.

A CHAMPION FELLED (1964)

Joe Weatherly won the Grand National (driver’s) Championship again in 1963 while driving for nine teams. A year later, he’s unable to control his Mercury coming into Turn 6 and dies after his head collides with the retaining wall. He is the first of two fatalities that occur during MT 500 races.

TRAILBLAZER (1963)

Wendell Scott of Virginia qualifies 33rd in the 44-car field. He finishes 18th and later becomes the first and, to this date, only Black driver to win a Grand National event. He’s invited back for the second-annual Motor Trend 500, where he secures an alternate driver spot, but he doesn’t get to race.

THROUGH THE TWISTIES (1963)

The notorious esses: This group of turns culminating in Turn 6 proves most challenging for oval-track racers.

A collaboration between NASCAR, Riverside International Raceway, and Petersen Publishing (the company that founded MotorTrend and Hot Rod magazines), the Motor Trend 500 offered West Coast motorsports enthusiasts an opportunity to see big-money stock car racing for the first time. Traversing the golden age of the muscle car era, the Motor Trend 500 was the longest and richest road course event in the Grand National Series, the precursor to what would become the NASCAR Winston Cup and the modern NASCAR Cup Series.

Over a period from 1963 to 1971, some of the greatest drivers to ever race a car—including Richard Petty, Dan Gurney, A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, and Mario Andretti—took to the track at Riverside. It’s a story so compelling that it has become the subject of a special three-part documentary series debuting on the MotorTrend app called The Motor Trend 500: NASCAR Heads West.

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