The date: Feb. 13, 1982. The place: Daytona International Speedway. The occasion: The inaugural race, the Goody’s 300, for the Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series – the series that later went on to become the Busch Grand National Series, then the Busch Series, and is today known as the Nationwide Series.
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For those versed in NASCAR history, it should come as no surprise that the inaugural race was won by the master of Daytona, Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt won 21 races in NASCAR’s “minor league” series, with seven of them coming at Daytona. “The Intimidator” competed in just 136 then-Busch Series races, but with 75 top-10 finishes, he was a constant threat to win the race whenever he was out there. Earnhardt was just one member of the family to have success in the division: his father, Ralph, was the 1956 champ under the series’ previous moniker, the Sportsman Division, and son Dale Jr. was a two-time champ in the Busch Series (1998 and 1999).
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One driver who became synonymous with first the Late Model Sportman Series and later the Busch Grand National Series, was Jack Ingram. Ingram won three consecutive Late Model Sportsman Division titles (1972-1974) before the series came to be sponsored by Budweiser; he then proceeded to win the inaugural Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Division title (1982) and followed it up with a Busch Grand National Series title in 1985. Ingram raced to 31 victories in the series and will be honored twice for his contributions: this weekend, Elliott Sadler will run a special paint scheme honoring Ingram on his No. 11 Toyota Camry in the Nationwide Series race at Richmond, and in 2014, he will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The almost-weekly invasion of Cup Series drivers into the ranks of NASCAR’s No. 2 series has led to its own terminology: “Buschwackers,” playing off the series’ previous name. The top “Buschwacker” of all time, incidentally, is Kyle Busch, who currently leads the all-time win list with 60 wins (through Atlanta – Aug. 31, 2013); he also won the Nationwide Series title in 2009 while simultaneously racing full-time in the Cup Series. In addition to the distinction of owning the all-time wins record, Busch also holds another honor of distinction: he’s the only driver to win races in all three of NASCAR’s top-tier series – Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series – in one weekend, a feat he accomplished at Bristol Motor Speedway in August 2010.
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The list of champions is comprised of racers who went on to greater things as well as drivers who we’ll sometimes think “Where are they now?” 1991 champ Bobby Labonte and 2010 champ Brad Keselowski are the only active drivers who have won both the Nationwide Series and Cup Series titles, but plenty more have achieved success at the top level: Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers, Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer are all threats to win in the Cup Series on a weekly basis. 1995 champ Johnny Benson took a step back and picked up another NASCAR title – the 2008 Truck Series title. Other drivers, like Chuck Bown (1990), Steve Grissom (1993), David Green (1994) and his brother Jeff (2000) never achieved the same success at the Cup level.
Here’s to the first 999 Nationwide Series races, a successful, safe and fun 1,000th race, and thousands more to come.