International Race of Champions
International Race of Champions (IROC) was a North American auto racing competition, promoted as an equivalent of an American All-Star Game or The Masters. Despite its name, the IROC was primarily associated with North American oval-racing culture.
Drivers raced identically-prepared stock cars set up by a single team of mechanics in an effort to make the race purely a test of driver ability. It was run with a small field of invited drivers (6–12). It was created and developed in 1972 by David Lockton, the developer of the Ontario Motor Speedway, launched in 1973, with Mark Donohue being the first driver to win the championship in 1974. The cars used that year were Porsche Carrera RSRs. Donohue's win in the fourth and last race of that season was his last win, as he died in a Formula One crash at the Österreichring in practice for the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix. The series was not run in 1981, 1982, or 1983.
In 2007, IROC could not find a sponsor and postponed the first two races at Daytona and Texas. IROC went on hiatus in 2007 hoping to return with a sponsor in 2008. In March 2008, IROC auctioned off its tools, equipment, cars, and memorabilia, and went out of business.
The drivers invited were from a broad range of racing disciplines: Indy cars, NASCAR, sports car racing, and on occasion, WoO, and drag racing. Criteria for invitation was very loose, but typically consisted of recent season champions of the respective series, and individual winners of big events (Indy, Daytona, etc.)
Due to its fundamental stock car formula, and the majority of racing being contested on ovals, the series was often dominated by NASCAR participants (which was the major criticism of the series). Also, in the small field of about a dozen cars, the share of NASCAR invitees grew over time; from just three drivers in the first season to seven in the final season. The last non-NASCAR based champion of the series was Al Unser, Jr. in 1988. Although open wheel drivers had numerous successes, as of 2005[update], drivers from road racing series had only won two races in the history of IROC. In some years, no sports car drivers were even invited.
Through 2003, IROC was also known for its rainbow of car colors being easily recognized from all other closed wheel racing series. Car numbers were utilized for scoring purposes, but were not the primary means of identification. Instead, the drivers' surname would appear on the door of the car. Exceptions were made when Mario and Michael Andretti raced in the same events. In those cases, their first name was used. The numbers would change from race to race, with the number 1 would be given to the driver starting first, and so on. The colors would correspond to the numbers. This would make it very confusing for fans, as one week their favorite driver could be driving the blue #1 car, and the next week he could be in the #5 orange car.
In 2004, the Diageo brand Crown Royal became the series' title sponsor, replacing True Value, and the procedure changed. The cars would be identically painted in white, with trim which could be changed to represent the driver's colors in his regular racing series. Further, a driver's number in IROC would be his regular number. Thus, Steve Kinser would use green trim with the #11, and Matt Kenseth's car featured yellow trim with a #17.
The only exception to the numbering scheme involves the number 3. Following the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500, IROC retired the use of #3. Any driver with that regular number would use #03 instead. Hélio Castroneves raced with #03, but the car kept red trim, in reflection of his IRL car being red.
If there was a numbering conflict, another number would be substituted. In most cases, for one-digit numbers, a zero would be added in front. Otherwise a historically notable number would be run. (Penske drivers, for one instance, could use #66, owing to Mark Donohue.)
From 1992–2005, the IROC season was exclusively run on ovals. In 2006, road courses were reintroduced to the IROC series with the cars competing on the road course at Daytona International Speedway. Also, in 2006, two drivers shared one car in an IROC first. Grand American Road Racing drivers Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor each drove two races in 2006, trying to win the IROC title as a team, reflecting sportscar racing as a two-man team. However, in 2007, that may not have been used, as 2006 Grand American Road Racing champion Jörg Bergmeister was a solo champion. Bergmeister had to split driving duties with various drivers because his regular co-driver was forced to sit out three races because they were raced with the Indy Racing League; Colin Braun, who was 17, could not race in those three races under MSA rulings.
- IROC historically employed former NASCAR drivers Dave Marcis, Dick Trickle and Jim Sauter to prepare the setups for their cars.
- The most recent model of car used in IROC was the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, which began competition in 1996. There were no manufacturer designations on the cars, however, because Pontiac pulled their support from the series. The program was still allowed to use a car that resembled the Trans Am.
- Previous to the Trans Am, car bodies used were the Dodge Avenger (1994–1995), Dodge Daytona (1990–1993), Chevrolet Camaro (1975–1980, 1984–1989), and Porsche Carrera (1974).
- Certain drivers could not participate under the Crown Royal sponsorship because of contracts or age. For example, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. could not race because of a contractual agreement with his sponsor at the time, Budweiser. Kyle Busch could not participate until May 2006 because he was under 21.
- IROC events were broadcast in a tape-delay format by ABC between 1974 and 1980, and by CBS between 1984 and 1986. Afterward, ABC and ESPN split broadcast rights, with live and tape-delay events respectively. Speed Channel broadcast IROC races live between 2004 to 2006.
- Mark Martin is one of only two drivers to win more than two IROC championships during their career, winning five. Dale Earnhardt Sr. won four, including the 2000 championship, before his death in February 2001.
- 1985: Three races only as the third scheduled race was cancelled due to rain.
- 1990: Three races only because of new sponsor Dodge and the late start to the season (Talladega, Cleveland, Michigan). After Darrell Waltrip was injured in a crash at Daytona in practice for the NASCAR Pepsi 400 the day before the Cleveland IROC race, he was not replaced for the final two races.
- 1993: Davey Allison was killed in a helicopter crash after three races had been completed, and only the final race, at Michigan International Speedway, was remaining. Terry Labonte was asked to drive the final race, and Allison's and Labonte's points combined were enough for the IROC championship. Labonte's winnings went to a trust fund for Allison's two children, Krista and Robbie. Alan Kulwicki had been killed in a plane crash earlier in the year after one race had been run, and Dale Earnhardt volunteered to replace him to complete a 12-driver field, with all winnings going to charities chosen by the Kulwicki family.
- 2001: After Dale Earnhardt was killed in the Daytona 500, IROC went to only eleven cars for the remaining three races. Following a 2004 rule change in IROC where drivers would be using their personal numbers, IROC added one exception – the number 3 could not be used. Any driver whose number in a series is 3 must use 03 in IROC.
- 2005: With the 2005 IROC title, Martin now is the all-time leader in IROC Championship titles with five. Also during the 2005 season, Martin took over the all-time record for IROC wins, with thirteen.
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