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April 12, 2024

NASCAR Classics: Races to watch before Texas

Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates in Victory Lane at Texas.
NASCAR Research & Archives Center
Getty Images

Throughout the 2024 NASCAR season, Ken Martin, director of historical content for the sanctioning body, will offer his suggestions on which historical races fans should watch from the NASCAR Classics library in preparation for each upcoming race weekend.

Martin has worked exclusively for NASCAR since 2008 but has been involved with the sport since 1982, overseeing various projects. He has worked in the broadcast booth for hundreds of races, assisting the broadcast team with different tasks. This includes calculating the “points as they run” for the historic 1992 finale, the Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The following suggestions are Ken’s picks to watch before this weekend’s AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway.

1997 Interstate Batteries 500:

The NASCAR Cup Series returned to the state of Texas for the first time since 1981. The series previously raced at Texas World Speedway in College Station eight times between 1969 and 1981.

Both the Cup and the Xfinity Series were on tap to race in the inaugural race weekend at the new facility in Fort Worth. Qualifying for the Cup Series event was canceled due to rain, so the starting order was determined off of points.

This set up for the first 10 starting positions to be filled by 10 drivers who were named to NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers list in 2023.

The action started immediately after the green flag dropped, as a 15-car accident eliminated many contenders between Turns 1 and 2.

Another multi-car accident occurred 162 laps into the event, as eight more cars were involved, including Sterling Marlin, Rusty Wallace, Mike Skinner and Brett Bodine.

A handful of laps later saw Ernie Irvan slam into Greg Sacks while trying to race for his lap back from race-leader Terry Labonte. Jeff Gordon ended up running into the back of Irvan, ending his day in the process.

Todd Bodine was the surprise of the day, driving the No. 25 car for Hendrick Motorsports. Ricky Craven, who normally piloted the car, sustained a concussion in a practice crash, which took him out of the event. Bodine was leading the race during the closing stages before a crash knocked him out of contention while battling for the lead with eventual race winner Jeff Burton.

It was the first victory of Burton’s career, which came in his fourth full-time season

view of Jeb Burton crossing the finish line
NASCAR Research & Archives Center | Getty Images

1998 Texas 500:

The NASCAR Cup Series arrived at Texas Motor Speedway for the second time and the weekend was full of surprises.

Chad Little, driving the No. 97 car for Jack Roush, headlined that group with a strong weekend. He started fifth, led 49 laps and finished second to his teammate Mark Martin.

Martin passed Little for the lead with 30 laps remaining and cruised to Victory Lane.

A handful of other drivers had great runs, most notably Robert Pressley, who finished third.

Joe Nemechek came home in fourth, while Johnny Benson Jr., another one of Jack Roush’s rockets, was fifth.

The usual contenders struggled throughout the day as Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt all finished between 29th and 35th.

View of the No. 6 of Mark Martin
NASCAR Research & Archives Center | Getty Images

2000 DirecTV 500:

It was a banner day for some of the biggest names in NASCAR history, as both the Petty and Earnhardt families celebrated milestones at Texas.

Nineteen-year-old Adam Petty became the first fourth-generation athlete in professional sports history, as he qualified 33rd for the event. Petty’s father Kyle unfortunately failed to qualify for the event in his No. 44 car.

The stars almost aligned to see the father and son duo on the track together after all.

Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 21 car for Wood Brothers Racing, bruised his shoulder during a mid-race accident. As the team attempted to fix the car in the garage area, the elder Petty was poised to take the No. 21 car back out on the track in a relief effort.

Less than 100 laps later, the younger Petty, unfortunately, blew an engine before the Wood Brothers Racing team could fix the car, nixing the dream of seeing the two share the track together.

The No. 21 returned to the track with Petty behind the wheel, in turn creating a reunion for the duo that worked together from 1985 to 1988.

Sadly, the family patriarch Lee, passed away three days after the race at the age of 86. It turned out to be the only NASCAR Cup Series start of the 19-year-old Petty’s career, as he tragically passed away 37 days after his grandfather.

Rookie driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s historic day came at the same track where he captured his first Xfinity Series victory in 1998. Earnhardt Jr. also captured his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory in just his 12th start. This bested the previous series record of 16, which was held by his father, Dale Earnhardt, who won his first race in 1979.

Earnhardt rushed to Victory Lane following the race to greet his son, as he was beaming with pride while embracing Earnhardt Jr. as he climbed from his car to celebrate his record-setting day.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives the No. 8 Chevrolet in 2000 in the NASCAR Cup Series.
David Madison | Getty Images

You can watch these three races and hundreds more by visiting NASCAR Classics.