Looking back, the mid-20th century was a golden age for my friends and I that loved anything to do with cars in Southern California. We were born with a gene that could probably be supported by scientific evidence that it was inherited from our moms and dads.
Related: Stream the largest NASCAR Collection now on the MotorTrend App! Start your free trial to watch the best series, classic races, exciting documentaries like the MotorTrend 500: NASCAR Heads West, and more.
During the late 1950s, reading through my dad’s current issues of Motor Trend magazine that got me interested in NASCAR stock car racing. The racecars looked just like the new cars we saw on SoCal streets, and the Ford versus Chevrolet and Pontiac versus Plymouth rivalries were nourished in California kids at an early age.
In 1960, NASCAR stock car racing leapt from the pages of Motor Trend on to the TV screen with coverage of the 1960 Daytona 500 in Daytona, Florida. It was good that television helped to push NASCAR stock car racing into the mainstream, but it wasn’t until 1963 that California NASCAR fans could watch a race trackside, and it was thanks to Motor Trend lending its sponsorship.
In the years prior to 1963, my mom and dad took me to Riverside to watch sportscars race in the Times Grand Prix, and that was great. But it was my dad telling us we were going to Riverside to watch NASCAR stock cars road race that really excited me. I’ll never forget it; as we pulled into Riverside’s dirt parking lot, there were guys handing out giant T-shirts polka-dotted with STP logos for free, and people were selling programs at the ticket gate. In 2020, I still have a Times Grand Prix and a Motor Trend 500 program or two stashed somewhere in a box of old magazines.
Dan Gurney / Holman-Moody 1963 Ford Win First Motor Trend 500
In the first of a succession of Motor Trend Riverside 500 wins for Riverside local Dan Gurney, the field consisted of Ford, Pontiac, Mercury, Dodge, Chevrolet and Plymouth stock cars. As the Motor Trend 500’s inaugural year, the stock cars represented on the 1963 program cover art were a stylized generic slice of NASCAR racing.
1964 Motor Trend 500: Gurney Wins Again at Riverside
Ford’s styling changed for 1964, and the Motor Trend Riverside 500 program featured a 1964 Ford making a pit stop. Prophetically, it was Dan Gurney’s 1964 Ford pitted by the Wood Brothers that won the 1964 Motor Trend Riverside 500 Stock Car Road Race. Looking for a great movie to watch on the MotorTrend App? The Wood Brothers.
1965 Motor Trend 500: Dominated by Ford Cars and Gurney
The unbeatable combination at the 1965 Motor Trend Riverside 500 Stock Car Road Race was Dan Gurney in the Wood Brothers Augusta Motor Sales red 1965 Ford and Junior Johnson second in a 1965 Ford. Third went to Marvin Panch in a 1965 Ford, and Ford’s 427-powered cars dominated until Buck Baker’s 1964 Dodge placed ninth.
1966 Motor Trend 500: Gurney’s Ford Wins, Dodge Right Behind
The cover art for the 1966 Motor Trend 500 Riverside Stock Car Road Race program depicts Petty’s No. 88 Dodge Charger leading in front of a red 1965 Ford, but it’s not Dan Gurney’s car. Gurney turned the race into what some called the Gurney Riverside 500 by winning again in 1966.
1967 Motor Trend 500: Parnelli Jones Breaks Gurney’s Streak
Because of an artistic decision, the headline style on the 1967 Motor Trend 500 program cover art was changed from reading Motor Trend Magazine Riverside 500 Stock Car Road Race to 5th Annual Motor Trend Riverside 500, but in all lowercase type. Ford remains on top, but Parnelli Jones won in a 1965 Ford.
1968 Parnelli Jones, but Gurney Wins 1968
Call it the home track advantage, or maybe it was the 1968 Ford car, Wood Brothers as a pit crew preparing their car sponsored by Ron’s Ford, and Dan Gurney driving, but it was an unbeatable combination for 1968. Dodge and Plymouths were hot on Ford’s trail, as Al Unser finished sixth with a 1967 Dodge.
1969 Dan Gurney on The Program Cover With 1968 Winner
For the 7th annual Motor Trend Riverside 500 in 1969, Dan Gurney still had Wood Brothers for a pit crew, and he was driving a Wood Brothers-owned Mercury Cyclone. However, the 427-inch Ford engine in the Mercury blew up, and Gurney placed 26th. Not in a Plymouth as one might expect, Richard Petty won the Motor Trend Riverside 500 in a 1969 Ford Torino Cobra.
AJ Foyt Wins 1970 Motor Trend Riverside 500 In A Ford
David Pearson led the 1970 Motor Trend Riverside 500 from lap one until his transmission went out to lunch on Lap 25, and then AJ Foyt led for a lap with Petty, Pearson and Yarbrough dicing for first place. Richard Petty 1969’s winner went out of the race when his Plymouth engine failed. AJ Foyt won in a 1970 Ford.
1971 The Final Year for The Motor Trend Riverside 500
1971 was the last year for the Motor Trend Riverside 500 and the first year a Ford didn’t win. Ray Elder—a not so well-known name—beat NASCAR legends Bobby Isaac, Bobby Allison, and Richard Petty in his 1970 Dodge Charger. It was the first time for a Chrysler product to win at the Motor Trend Riverside 500.