With the Craftsman Truck Series taking three weeks off after only two races, what is there for a truck racing columnist to do? I started thinking about how the Truck Series originated, and I learned one thing; I didn’t have a clue. When I got into watching truck races, the series was well underway, so I turned back to the Truck Series’ roots to see just what started it all.
It all started with a simple idea; put a group of trucks on an oval track and let them race. Jim Smith, Frank Vessels, Jim Venable and Dick Landfield presented their idea to NASCAR. Unfortunately, NASCAR was skeptical and didn’t seem to want to give it a chance. Well, Dennis Huth and Brian France refused to let the idea die. A few months later, Huth and France re-presented the idea for a truck series to Bill and Jim France, and shortly afterwards a new NASCAR racing division was born.
The first Craftsman Truck Series race was the Mesa Marin 20 on July 30, 1994. The 20-lap exhibition race was called “just a glimpse of what will be a national touring series in 1995,” by Dennis Huth, one of the people responsible for the birth of the current series. The race, which took just seven minutes to complete, was won by PJ Jones. Jones received $900 in prize money, while the rest of the five-driver field (Gary Collins, Rob MacCachren, Craig Huartson and Dave Ashley) were each awarded $800. There were just three more exhibition races in 1994, with the final exhibition held at Tucson Raceway Park in Arizona. Providing a glimpse into the future, that event was won by then two-time Featherlite Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr.
With the success of the four exhibition races, Huth and Brian France were given the task of planning three more races at Tucson over the winter of 1994 and 1995. These would be “full-fledged” races with larger fields and more laps. These 200-lap races also featured a 10-minute break halfway through the event so crews could adjust their trucks. As the races became longer and the fields became larger, both the success of the races and a growing fanbase were taking root.
On February 5, 1995, the Craftsman Truck Series made its official debut with the GM Goodwrench 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The field consisted of 33 trucks; 17 Fords, 13 Chevys and three Dodges. Mike Skinner, driving the No. 3 Richard Childress-owned Chevrolet, started near the back but won by a margin of just 0.09 seconds. Skinner would take the truck, painted to imitate Dale Earnhardt‘s Winston Cup car, to victory lane seven more times that season en route to the inaugural series championship.
In a series whose first race got the winner just $900, today’s purses are quite a bit higher. Now, last place goes home with more than twice the money the entire field did for that first race. In its 13th season, the Truck Series continues to be a strong training ground for young drivers, while giving Nextel Cup drivers a place to play and fans a reason to watch.
Did You Know?
- The first ever NASCAR truck was a 1994 Ford F-150 Lightning?
- Toyota entered the Truck Series in 2004 and has won 26 races and its first championship just three years after the debut of the Toyota Tundra?
- The championship has been decided by less than 100 points in eight of the series’ 12 races (67%)?
- Kyle Busch is the youngest driver to race in the Truck Series? He was just 16 years old when he first entered the series in 2001 before changes to the NASCAR age rule forced him to sit out until his 18th birthday.
- As of the California race last Friday, Skinner is one of only three drivers to win more than 20 Truck Series races? Hornaday (29 wins) and Jack Sprague (28 wins) lead the list.
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