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March 22 in Motorsports History: A.J. Foyt wins Phoenix’s first oval race

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While Phoenix Raceway is now known as a staple of the NASCAR schedule, the 1-mile desert oval was originally built with Indy cars in mind.

Very fittingly, the most successful driver in IndyCar history won the first oval race at Phoenix, which took place on this date in 1964.

Spectators wait for the start of the first oval race at Phoenix Raceway. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

After Davey McDonald became the first driver to win on the track’s now-defunct road course in the month prior, Phoenix’s oval was the site of USAC’s 1964 season-opener.

An estimated 7,000 were in attendance to watch 22 open-wheel cars battle for 100 laps. Parnelli Jones started on the pole position, but second-place qualifier A.J. Foyt quickly took the lead in the first turn and held on to it for the remainder of the race.

The race started a string of seven consecutive victories by Foyt, including his second victory at Indianapolis. Foyt went on to win nine times in 1964 en route to his fourth national championship.

Phoenix continued to remain as an IndyCar staple until being removed from the schedule following the 2005 race. The series then made a three-year return to the facility from 2016-18.

NASCAR held its first Cup Series event at Phoenix in 1988, and the facility has remained on the schedule every year since.

Also on this date:

1981: Johnny Rutherford won the Kraco Car Stereo 150, also at Phoenix. The victory was Rutherford’s final victory in the famous Pennzoil Chaparral.

1992: Nigel Mansell led all 69 laps to win the Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. Michael Schumacher finished third for the first podium in his illustrious F1 career.

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April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

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The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994