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.

The series ran continuously from 1974 to 1980, then, when the economy took a nosedive, it was suspended for three years and then resumed in 1984. Once reborn, one noticeable change was the introduction of the third-gen Camaro into the series. The Z28 was the launching pad for the IROC-Z in 1985; a model that would last until 1990 when Chevrolet’s involvement with the IROC series ended.

Tragedy struck following Race 1 of the 2001 IROC season when on February 18, 2001, Dale Earnhardt lost his life in the last corner of the final lap of the Daytona 500. In one instant, NASCAR lost its edge and IROC lost a good chunk of its soul. Many agree that NASCAR racing has never been the same since, and although it’s still going today, the IROC series ended in 2006.

Iroc Racing Camaro Rutherford Riverside 12/21

Johnny Rutherford goes a little too wide at Riverside.

Iroc Racing Camaro Allison Vii 13/21

Bobby Allison looks to escape unscathed during IROC VII in 1980. The same cannot be said for Darrell Waltrip and Mario Andretti.

Iroc Racing Camaro Xiii Foyt Pruett 14/21

Being who the racers are in this group, this looks like IROC XIII in 1989. You have A.J. Foyt, Scott Pruett, Dale Earnhardt, and up top is IROC XV champion Rusty Wallace.

The IROC series was a great idea that brought many drivers together from various sanctioning bodies to see what these guys were made of. Although some say the NASCAR guys had an unfair advantage due to the IROC cars being more similar to their everyday race cars than what the Indy and Formula One guys were used to, but that didn’t deter its popularity among racing fans, and it got European drivers some great exposure in America.

As a youngster, I always wondered why they never invited NHRA drag racing champions like Don Prudhomme or Don Garlits to mix it up in the turns. But as I got older I realized those are two totally different kinds of racing and the straight-line guys had a lot to learn about late-braking and apexes before racing with experienced road racers. But the idea wasn’t totally out of the question, as just prior to the series’ demise, Funny Car pilot Ron Capps did some testing in IROC cars at Talladega and Chicagoland raceways. It would have been neat to see a few drag racers get into the action.

Iroc Racing Camaro Earnhardt 15/21

Rubbin’s racin,’ and this witness mark on Earnhardt’s Camaro proves that these guys are just as competitive in the IROC world as they are in their native NASCAR country.

Iroc Racing Camaro Viii Yarborough 16/21

Two CART and two NASCAR guys. This is from IROC VIII. The one and only year (1984) Cale Yarborough took the series title.

Iroc Racing Camaro Wallace Earnhardt 17/21

Here are two NASCAR guys in familiar territory. Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt had many battles in their regular “company cars,” and this IROC race was no different.

Iroc Racing Camaro Fittipaldi Earnhardt 18/21

Here is another great matchup between a CART/F1 racer Emerson Fittipaldi and NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. This looks to be IROC VIII, in which Earnhardt finished Ninth and Fittipaldi came in Eleventh for the season.

It’s hard to say if the IROC series will ever come back, but it sure would be cool to see 12 of today’s top race car drivers strap in to identically prepared fifth-gen Camaros and battle it out a few times a year.

Special thanks to Circle Track magazine Publisher Rob Fisher for digging through the archives and coming up with these fantastic images, most of which have never been published until now.

Iroc Racing Camaro Racing 19/21

Go time!

Iroc Racing Camaro 1989 Earnhardt 20/21

It’s hard to get used to Dale Earnhardt in anything other than a black car, but in 1989 he raced (at least once) this white Camaro. As a side note, this was the final year of the Camaro in IROC racing. In 1990 the switch was made to the Dodge Daytona.

Iroc Racing Camaro Fifth Gen 21/21

Tavis Highlander drew up this IROC fifth-gen a few years ago, and he gave us a little taste of what the series’ cars might have looked like if the series was still going today.

IROC Champions
Year Race Winner
1974 IROC 1 Mark Donohue
1975 IROC II Bobby Unser
1976 IROC III A.J. Foyt
1977 IROC IV A.J. Foyt
1978 IROC V Al Unser
1979 IROC VI Mario Andretti
1980 IROC VII Bobby Allison
1984 IROC VIII Cale Yarborough
1985 IROC IX Harry Gant
1986 IROC X Al Unser Jr.
1987 IROC XI Geoff Bodine
1988 IROC XII Al Unser Jr.
1989 IROC XIII Terry Labonte
1990 IROC XIV Dale Earnhardt
1991 IROC XV Rusty Wallace
1992 IROC XVI Ricky Rudd
1993 IROC XVII Davey Allison
1994 IROC XVIII Mark Martin
1995 IROC XIX Dale Earnhardt
1996 IROC XX Mark Martin
1997 IROC XXI Mark Martin
1998 IROC XXII Mark Martin
1999 IROC XXIII Dale Earnhardt
2000 IROC XXIV Dale Earnhardt
2001 IROC XXV Bobby Labonte
2002 IROC XXVI Kevin Harvick
2003 IROC XXVII Kurt Busch
2004 IROC XXVIII Matt Kenseth
2005 IROC XXIX Mark Martin
2006 IROC XXX Tony Stewart

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