By David Madrid | The Republic | azcentral.com
Phoenix International Raceway was built in 1963 and opened a year later with a uniquely shaped 1-mile oval and a meandering 2.5-mile road course.
Davey MacDonald won the first race at PIR on Feb. 16, 1964, in an open sports car event on the road course. The next month, 7,000 spectators watched racing legend A.J. Foyt lead every lap of the Phoenix 100. It was PIR’s first professional race. Foyt raced at an average speed of 107.536 mph. Time flies, too, and PIR will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.
The celebration will begin this year during the AdvoCare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekend in early November.
Much has changed over the Avondale track’s history as drivers reached ever higher speeds and ever growing fame. In 1982, Rick Mears became the first driver to top the 150 mph mark at PIR. In 1985, Al Unser cracked the 160 mph mark, and in 1992, Michael Andretti topped 170 mph. Not to be outdone, in 1995, Bryan Herta became the first driver at PIR to top 180 mph in qualifying.
A long list of racing stars has raced on the track, including legendary driver Dale Earnhardt, who has a street named after him in Avondale, and Hollywood giant Steve McQueen, who won a sports-car race on the track’s road course in 1970.
There have been changes to the facility over the years, including in April 1987, when lightning struck the track’s main grandstand, burning most of it to the ground and requiring reconstruction. Numerous changes have occurred since, leading up to the current longterm $100 million upgrade.
As part of that upgrade, the track underwent a $10 million renovation in 2011 that included the destruction of the old asphalt track, which was pulverized and smashed into the ground and used as part of the base for the new, reconfigured 1-mile oval.
With two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekends annually, the racetrack can draw as many as 100,000 spectators to each race. The Subway Fresh Fit 500 in the spring is the second race on the NASCAR calendar, immediately after the Daytona 500. The semifinal race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the AdvoCare 500, is in Avondale each November.
The raceway is owned and operated by International Speedway Corp.
NASCAR is a moneymaker with an economic impact to the state of $473 million a year from both races. For Avondale, the economic impact is about $1 million a year, according to a 2005 study by W.P. Carey School of Business.