The History of Riverside International Raceway
RIVERSIDE INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY ‘ 1957 TO 1988
Born from Grand Prix style racing that started in 1953 at the nearby March Air Force Base; Riverside International Raceway opened in 1957 and heralded in the new era of permanent road racing circuits in the 1950’s. Reputed to be the third such track to be built in the U.S. (preceded by Willow Springs and the defunct Paramount Ranch track; both in Southern California); it was undoubtedly the greatest road racing circuit in the West.
European Sports Racers; Formula One Grand Prix; NASCAR; Can-Am; Formula 5000; USAC; IMSA; IROC; and Cart all made pilgrimages to Riverside. For thirty years, all major drivers competing in U.S. motor sports competed at Riverside. Many of the world’s greatest driver’s answered the challenge of Riverside’s famous corners: Phil Hill; Stirling Moss; Mario Andretti; Carroll Shelby; Parnelli Jones; Bob Bodurant; Bill Krause; Skip Hudson; and Chuck Daigh all helped to make Riverside famous during the early days of motor sports “Golden Era”, but no driver succeeded in carving out Riverside victories like Dan Gurney.
Riverside was sometimes referred to as the track that Gurney built He raced more variety of series and had more victories at RIR than any other racer. In fact, Dan grew up in Riverside, racing motorcycles around the hills of Riverside, even before there was a track. Dan began his illustrious career and cut his teeth at RIR.
The 500 mile stock car race and the International Race of Champions (IROC) was born at Riverside, both the brainchild of RIR President Les Richter. The first ever 500 mile stock car race was held at Riverside in 1958. The IROC series pitted top echelon drivers from Fl, USAC, SCCA and NASCAR in equally prepared cars on America’s most challenging circuits, Riverside and Daytona. The first IROC races utilized Porsche Carrea RSR’s and later in race prepped Chevrolet Camaros.
Sadly, all this history was lost in the late 1980’s when RIR was torn down and replaced by a shopping mall, (RIR never was in the Riverside city limits). RIR is still revered to this day in the hearts and minds of many racing fans. Recent museum events and historic races pay homage to the greatest road racing circuit to ever grace the U.S.
RIR’s demise was not over financial solvency; rather it was razed due to the greed of chasing higher potential development profits of a shopping mall. Up to the end, RIR was in use 365 days per year hosting major races; car club time trials, team testing, smog research, Hollywood filming; corporate events and racing schools.