The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli is virtually returning to Riverside International Raceway this weekend, adding a new chapter to the series’ rich history at the fondly remembered California road circuit.
When the stars of today battle it out in Saturday’s Trans Am by Pirelli Esports Championship, they will be fighting to make a digital addition to the Riverside legacy authored by American icons including Dan Gurney, Mark Donohue, Parnelli Jones, George Follmer, David Hobbs and Scott Pruett.
Gurney caught the attention of the racing world at Riverside with a second-place finish after a thrilling battle with Carroll Shelby in a star-studded field for the 1957 L.A. Times Grand Prix. The showing by the 27-year-old earned him a factory ride with Ferrari for the following year and launched him on the path to international stardom. Gurney won five NASCAR Cup Series races over a six-year span at Riverside, including four in a row beginning in 1963. He finished fifth in a Plymouth Barracuda in 1970 in his lone Trans Am start at Riverside.
The 1969 and 1970 Trans Am seasons are recalled as “golden years,” with Riverside serving as the championship finale. Mark Donohue won the 1969 classic in the Sunoco Chevrolet Camaro fielded by Roger Penske. Parnelli Jones – who failed to finish in 1969 – came back to win the 1970 finale in a Bud Moore Ford Mustang, with Donohue third in a Penske Javelin. That victory gave Jones the unofficial driver championship by one point.
Watch Trans Am at Riverside in 1970:
After finishing second in a Mustang behind teammate Jones in 1970, George Follmer broke through at Riverside the following year. Driving Roy Woods’ Javelin for the season finale, Follmer beat new teammate Vic Elford by 42 seconds.
Racing legend David Hobbs capped his 1983 series championship with a victory in a DeAtley Budweiser Camaro.
“My main recollection of Riverside is that it was my last-ever win, so it has a special place in my heart,” Hobbs recalled. “I loved that track. I drove in a lot of different cars there – IROC, Formula 5000, Can-Am, a Lola T-70, IMSA Camel GTP, including Bruce Leven’s Porsche 962. There was something about Riverside that made for great racing, it had challenging corners – Turn 1 and the Esses were terrific.”
Darin Brassfield gave car owner Neil DeAtley his second-consecutive Riverside victory in 1984, winning in a Budweiser Corvette. Trans Am made one additional appearance at Riverside, opening its 1986 campaign. Scott Pruett came from the back of the grid to the front to win in a Jack Roush Motorcraft Mercury Capri at the classic circuit.
Pruett went on to win the 1986 Trans Am title. He scored 22 Trans Am victories, and won three championships in three different decades.
“I loved racing at Riverside,” Pruett said. “It was my first Trans Am race (1986), and I won it coming from the back of the field. In fact, I joined the SCCA that morning. I also was very fortunate to win the last IROC race at Riverside (1988), during their final NASCAR weekend.”
The track eventually fell victim to rapid development in the Los Angeles area, staging its final race in 1989 before being turned into a shopping mall, which opened in 1992.
Live coverage of the Trans Am by Pirelli Esports Championship Round 5 at Riverside International Speedway begins Saturday, May 30 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern with live commentary from Jonathan Green and Ben Cissell, featuring a swift qualifying followed by two 20-minute main events. For added excitement, the second round will be an inverted field.
Fans can stream the action by downloading the free Trans Am by Pirelli Racing app (https://bit.ly/3dxc6Lg). The live stream will also be available on the series Facebook (www.facebook.com/gotransam) and YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/TheTransAmSeries), as well as UMG TV Esports Network on Mobile (IOS and Android), Apple TV, Fire TV and ROKU.