The History of IROC Racing - Never Before Seen Photos

The IROC Series - Looking Back at the International Race of Champions

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“Spanning the globe to bring you a constant variety of sports; the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition … This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” Through the magic of television, those famous words of legendary sports announcer Jim McKay echoed throughout millions of households on Saturday afternoons for 37 years. The popular sports show ran from 1961 to 1998 but was most prominent throughout the ’60s and ’70s. Later years saw a decline in viewership due to cable programming where ESPN eventually became the premier sports channel.

Growing up in the ’70s, we didn’t have hundreds of cable channels (or even a remote control, for that matter). With basically three major networks to choose from, and a few local channels, mainstream sports like football and baseball took up most of the sporting event airtime. So on many Saturday afternoons we parked in front of the television, turned on Wide Worlds of Sports, and were treated to 90 minutes (time-delayed highlights mostly) of non-mainstream sports like NASCAR, NHRA, demolition derby, surfing, and the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show. It was all good stuff. It was then that I caught my first International Race of Champions (IROC), and it was awesome! There was nothing like it. There was no other racing series where you could watch NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Bobby Allison go head-to-head with Formula One heroes Emerson Fittipaldi and Denis Hulme. Mix in IndyCar and F-1 champion Mario Andretti, and you were treated to the best drivers in the world trading paint with each other.

Iroc Racing Camaro Economaki 2/21

The late Chris Economaki was synonymous with auto racing, and here he is doing what he always did best: pre-race commentary on the grid during IROC V, which was the 1978 season.

Now, I understand that to many younger Camaro enthusiasts, IROC is merely an option package developed for the Camaro beginning in 1985. But the story on the IROC series goes all the way back to 1973 when Roger Penske, Les Richter, and Mike Phelps had the idea to put 12 of the world’s greatest race car drivers in identically prepared cars to compete on road courses and NASCAR super tracks in a four-race series. Richter was cautious to say that the IROC series might not determine whom the best driver in the world is, “but we sure go a long way towards that goal.”

The first IROC season (1974), started on October 27, 1973, consisted of four events with racing done in Porsche Carrera RSRs. The very next year, Chevrolet came on board and Camaros were the IROC’s weapon of choice.

Iroc Racing Camaro Mario Andretti 3/21

IndyCar, Formula One, and NASCAR winner Mario Andretti leads the way at Daytona. Mario was a regular invitee in the early years of the IROC series and took the championship in 1979.

Iroc Racing Camaro Unser 4/21

Three-time Indy 500 winner and 1975 IROC champ Bobby Unser gets a little nudge from four-time Indy champ and two-time IROC champion A.J. Foyt.

Iroc Racing Camaro Unser Foyt 5/21

Bobby Unser returns the favor to A.J.

Iroc Racing Camaro Andretti Yarborough 6/21

Mario Andretti gets a mirror full of Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Alan Jones, Tom Sneva, and Neil Bonnett.

Iroc Racing Camaro Peterson 7/21

We’re not sure how, but were guessing a tire or some large piece of debris from another car made it’s way to Formula One racer Ronnie Peterson’s windshield during IROC II. Looks like the right side of the front spoiler and grille got hit as well.

Iroc Racing Camaro Unser Allison 8/21

Al Unser comes up on Bobby Allison at Riverside International Raceway in what looks to be IROC II or III.

Iroc Racing Camaro Petty Foyt 9/21

Richard Petty and A.J. Foyt negotiate the “S” turns at Riverside. Petty was known as The King of NASCAR, but an IROC championship eluded him. His best finish was Fifth at IROC V.

Iroc Racing Camaro Petty Foyt Redman 10/21

Richard Petty, A.J. Foyt, and Brian Redman battle for position at Riverside during IROC III’s 1976 season. Foyt took home the championship that year.

Iroc Racing Camaro Straight 11/21

Ten out of 12 hitting the straight.

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