NASCAR announced today that a pair of premier short tracks in the northeast have joined the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
The paved ovals are owned and operated by the Richards family under their umbrella Champlain Valley Racing Association (CVRA). The tracks are Albany-Saratoga Speedway, a .400-mile paved oval in Malta, N.Y., that operates on Fridays, and Devil’s Bowl Speedway, a .500-mile paved oval in West Haven, Vt., that operates on Sundays. The tracks are 64 miles apart.
“We welcome the Richards family, their tracks and participants to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series,” said George Silbermann, NASCAR managing director of racing operations. “Both tracks provide a solid foundation for great racing and family entertainment.”
Family patriarch C.J. Richards founded the CVRA in 1960 and originally leased Albany-Saratoga in 1977 before purchasing the track. Albany-Saratoga opened in 1965 and hosted the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 1970 and 1971. Both events were won by Richard Petty. Richards built Devil’s Bowl Speedway during the winter of 1966 and opened it in 1967. The tracks have operated as paved and dirt ovals. Albany-Saratoga received fresh asphalt in November 2009. Devil’s Bowl was reconfigured with progressive banking and paved in April 2010.
C.J. Richards was an original promoter in the days of the old NASCAR North Series. He also pioneered the track tire rule, 358 c.i. small block engines for dirt Modifieds, and retaining a paved racing surface while adapting it to dirt track racing. He remains a consultant for the tracks. Son Bruce Richards serves as promoter and general manager for the tracks while son Jerry oversees track operations. Daughter Sharon leads the association’s business operations.
“The branding that NASCAR offers and the attention it brings to our pavement racing is great for our drivers and their fans,” Bruce Richards said. “There’s nothing bigger or better for our drivers than competing for the accolades NASCAR offers. Nothing’s better than competing for NASCAR championships. This is hands down what everyone strives for.”
Albany-Saratoga Speedway is also the home track for NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton. The Pemberton family operated Dunster’s restaurant near the track in the 1960s which was a regular dinner stop for drivers. In his youth, Pemberton worked there for 10 years. He and his brother Randy, now a NASCAR television reporter, were among Albany-Saratoga Speedway’s first fans.
“We were there when they were bulldozing the track in to shape when I was eight years old and when it opened we didn’t miss a race,” Robin Pemberton said. “We saw guys like Eddie Flemke Sr., Jerry Cook, Pete Hamilton, Richie Evans, Don MacTavish and Brian Ross race. We rode our bicycles to the track to watch the NASCAR guys work on their cars. That’s when I met Richard Petty and he spent time talking racing with us kids. Having that opportunity made me think I could work on race cars for a living.”
Petty won 250-lap NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Albany-Saratoga in 1970 and 1971, when Pemberton was in his mid-teens. With the help of Steve Hmiel, another Albany-Saratoga youngster who moved South to find a job with a NASCAR team, Pemberton joined Hmiel working at Petty Enterprises. They eventually became co-crew chiefs who helped launch Kyle Petty’s career in the early 1980s. Hmiel is now Competition Director for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing.
“Albany-Saratoga Speedway shaped the future for my whole family,” Pemberton said. “I’m really proud NASCAR is again part of my home track.”
The tracks will mirror their weekly divisions. NASCAR Division I, Modifieds based on dirt-style chassis that add a newly introduced GM 602 crate engine; Division II, Pro Late Models; Division III, Renegades; Division IV, Bomber Warriors which are four cylinder front wheel drive cars. Legends cars have been added at Albany-Saratoga only. Ken Tremont won the Modified division championship at both tracks in 2010.
NASCAR-licensed drivers in NASCAR Division I at each track are eligible to compete for track and state or province championships and ultimately the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship. In addition to Division I point fund awards, state champions receive customized driver’s helmets and racing uniforms from series sponsor Whelen Engineering. State or province championships are determined by drivers’ highest 18 finishes at NASCAR tracks within a state.
NASCAR-licensed drivers in NASCAR Divisions II through V accumulate points in the NASCAR Finalist program. The top 100 drivers in each of eight groups will be ranked each week and those point standings will determine the top eight support division drivers in the nation. A driver’s best 14 finishes at NASCAR tracks within a state count toward the season’s ending standings. Points will be kept separately for dirt and asphalt tracks. The top eight drivers will be recognized at the series’ awards banquet.
NASCAR also offers a NASCAR Learner’s Permit for drivers age 14 and 15 who may be eligible to compete in Divisions II through V. Eligibility is determined by local track rules, and the permit can be upgraded to a Charger license when the driver turns 16.
Other series awards programs include the Craftsman Mechanic of the Year Award, the Rookie of the Year Award presented by Jostens, the University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH) Scholarship Award and the Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award.
All NASCAR Division I track and state champions, the national champion, top NASCAR Finalist program finishers and special award winners will be honored at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards Banquet at season’s end.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is the grassroots foundation of NASCAR and consists of more than 50 short tracks across North America. Since its inception it has served as the springboard in the careers of many NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers. Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray are among the drivers who began their careers in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.