Today is the first of 36 races in this year’s NASCAR Cup Series. The top-level of NASCAR always runs a lot of races compared to most other racing series, but they used to run a lot more each season. In the 1950s and 60s, there were more than 40 races in every season except three. Most of those seasons had 49 or more races and one, 1964, had an incredible 62 races.
While there’s no way to be sure, I’m fairly certain there were only 52 weeks in 1964. There were also weekends without races: January only had one race that year and Daytona was the only track raced in February. So how did they fit 62 races in?
Part of it was that the two Daytona qualifying races were points races from 1959 to 1971, and thus included in the race results. But mostly it was just lots of back-to-back races or weekday races that happened a couple of days apart at nearby tracks. NASCAR still spends a lot of time around North Carolina, but back then almost all of the races were within a few hundred miles of Charlotte.
Richard Petty won the championship that season, his first of seven. He was driving a Plymouth Belvedere powered by a 426 Hemi that Chrysler debuted at Daytona that year. That engine came in just under the 428 CID limit instituted the previous year and was banned the following year along with the Belvedere. That rule change led to Petty and many of the other Chrysler teams to withdraw from the 1965 Grand National Tour in protest. He, and the Hemi engine, returned a few months later after another rule change.
The large number of races in those years allowed Petty to rack up 200 career wins, a record that is basically impossible to beat with today’s 36 races and more balanced cars.