The 26th Winston Western 500, which was to be the last race held at Riverside International Raceway, will be run Sunday but raceway officials now say that it won't be the last race.
"We plan to race at Riverside at least through next June," RIR President Dan Greenwood said. "And there is a possibility that we may run the entire 1987 schedule right where we are."
It was also revealed that the track is negotiating with the Riverside County city of Perris for a racing site 12 miles south of the present track. Plans are to construct a 1 3/4-mile banked oval to open in mid-1988, with a road course, drag strip and off-road facility to be built later.
Sunday's $404,000 race will conclude the 29-race NASCAR Winston Cup season for the last time. Next year, even if Riverside is still operating, the final race will be at Atlanta International Raceway, a move long sought by followers of the Southern-based stock car racing organization. Riverside has the next-to-last spot on the 1987 schedule.
For the first time since 1978, when Cale Yarborough came to Ontario Motor Speedway with the title already in hand, the championship will not be won in Southern California. Dale Earnhardt, a second-generation driver from Kannapolis, N.C., took care of that a race early when he won the Atlanta Journal 500 two weeks ago in Richard Childress' Chevrolet, clinching his second championship. Earnhardt also won in 1980. His father, Ralph, was the late model sportsman champion in 1956.
The season's final race has been at Riverside since 1981 when it was moved there after the Ontario track was closed.
Even though Earnhardt has assured himself of an additional $550,000 as the 1986 champion, second-place money of $225,000 will be determined Sunday between deposed champion Darrell Waltrip and Tim Richmond, who has won six races this season.
Waltrip has a 21-point margin, 4,015 to 3,994, which means he can collect second money by finishing fourth or better, even if Richmond wins. Last June at Riverside, Waltrip nipped Richmond by four feet to win the Budweiser 400.
Nine other drivers have a shot at a portion of the $2-million bonus payoff by finishing in the top 10. They include Bill Elliott, defending Winston Western 500 champion Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace, Bobby Allison, Daytona 500 winner Geoff Bodine, Harry Gant, Kyle Petty, Bobby Hillin and Terry Labonte.
Qualifying will start Friday over the 8-turn, 2.62-mile course at 1:30 p.m. with the $30,000 Busch Pole Award at stake for the driver winning the most poles during the season. Bodine has eight and Richmond seven, but if Richmond wins the pole at Riverside and Bodine qualifies fourth or worse, Richmond will collect the money, thanks to an intricate tie-breaking system.
If anybody besides Richmond wins the pole, the $30,000 will be Bodine's.
"It's make or break for us," Richmond said. "There isn't a whole lot of choice there. We have to get the pole, that's it. But with Harry Hyde and his crew behind me, I think we can do it."
If Richmond wins the pole, the first tie-breaker is no help, since it is the driver who has the most second places. Bodine and Richmond have seven apiece. The next tie-breaker is third places and Richmond has six to Bodine's five.
"I knew we'd been pretty close, but I didn't know it was that close," Bodine said when apprised of the situation. "It means we obviously can't sit around and hope Richmond doesn't get it. We're going to have to do everything we can to win the pole ourselves."
Bodine held an 8-4 advantage over Richmond after he won the pole at Martinsville, Va., on Sept. 18, but Richmond came back to win three in a row at North Wilkesboro, Charlotte and Rockingham, setting track records in the latter two.
Only two drivers, Waltrip and Labonte, have won the pole at Riverside for the last 13 NASCAR races. Waltrip set the track record of 117.066 m.p.h. last June. At that time, however, Bodine and Richmond were second and third, only fractionally behind Waltrip.
For the first time since Riverside began holding NASCAR races, it cannot be said that it is the only road race course on the circuit. Watkins Glen, in upstate New York, joined the schedule last August with a race won by Richmond.
One championship will be determined Sunday even though Earnhardt already has the national title. Either Hershel McGriff, 58, or Chad Little, 23, will win the Winston West crown for West Coast drivers. McGriff, a former Oregon lumberman who is now a copper mine executive in Green Valley, Ariz., has a 10-point lead and needs only to finish to win the first championship of his long career. McGriff has won 14 races at Riverside since 1969.
Sunday's race will start at 11 a.m., a hour earlier than originally scheduled.