Best Of BangShift: The Twisted Tale of the Great American Truck Racing Series

Best Of BangShift: The Twisted Tale of the Great American Truck Racing Series

Our quest for answers regarding a long-forgotten race series that featured massive big-rig trucks on asphalt and dirt ovals started with a thread on the forum section. One of our members posted a bunch of photos from a big-rig dirt track race back in the 1980s. That triggered a synapse deep in our brain and sent us off on a quest for answers. We found most of them.

The racing series that these wild trucks competed in was called the Great Amerian Truck Racing Series and it was actually born in the late 1970s as the American Truck Racing Association. Under new ownership in 1980, the organization began a run that would last close to 10 years of booking, promoting, and officiating races.

We have no idea about specific rules, but what we can tell you is that for most of the lifespan of this organization the trucks raced with 12,000 pounds as their legal weight. Late in the series life, race weight was dropped to 8,000 pounds and tube chassis were starting to appear. That was shortlived as the series died in 1988 as escalating costs and apparent insurance and venue troubles ended its existence.

Notable tracks where racing occurred were the old Atlanta International Speedway, Pocono Raceway, Ontario Motor Speedway, Dover Downs Raceway (The Monster Mile that  saw Joey Logano tumbling in his Stock Car), Rockingham, and a host of half-mile and mile dirt tracks through the eastern half of the country.

Again, we have no idea of specific rules but with respect to the top shelf competition class, variety was the order of the day with GMC Generals competing with Brockways, Macks, Peterbuilts, Internationals, and whatever other large truck could be modified to race.

Race they did with reports that competitors like the hard charging Charlie Baker could run 150-155 mph on the long straight at Pocono. These were not low-speed affairs nor were they without their share of thrills and spills as this great wreck video from some old American Sports Cavalcade coverage can attest to.

Here’s Steve Evans and Brock Yates on the call:




Using EJ Utley’s unfortunate wall banger at Dover as a segue for the demise of the series, you can probably see where this is headed. These behomeths were inherently destructive to race tracks, retaining walls, tires, and virtually everything else they came into contact with. There are recorded cases of trucks not only hitting concrete walls, but literally plowing through them.

Obviously, there were not racing tires to support racing big rigs, so the trucks were equipped with, (we believe) shaved down versions of normal street tires. The shaving helps keep too much heat from building up as it does in deeply treaded tires. Right fronts were destroyed at an alarming rate on banked asphalt ovals. Imagine a truck coming into a banked corner, weighing six tons, and hauling at more than 100 mph. Lots of wreckage came from right front tires shredding under their assigned duty.

The trucks also physically ruined race tracks. On top-shelf tracks like Rockingham and Pocono, the trucks would remove the top layer of pavement over the course of a race. Think about the narrow contact patch, weight, and friction generated while turning and it is plain to see that macadam would be no match for this situation. On highly banked, shorter tracks the problem was exponentially worse. Rumor has it that they tore up a race track in Cayuga, Canada, so badly that it was basically reduced to a dirt track!

The series was profitable and popular through the early and middle 1980s, but as costs to compete escalated and technology became more and more complex, the fields started to shrink. Insurance rates were high, but the larger problem was the fact that tracks would not let them compete on their asphalt venues because of the damage caused by their races. This forced them onto a nearly all-dirt schedule and that took them totally out of the public eye.

All that we have read suggests that the 1988 season was the last for the organization and they simply disappeared into the vapors after that. There must be an old race truck or two sitting around somewhere. We’re trying to track down some of the racers from the period and gain some more insight into what this madness was like to race in. For now, we’ll leave you with this video of carnage and also a link to a 30 minute broadcast of a race from 1980.




Racing trucks




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5 thoughts on “Best Of BangShift: The Twisted Tale of the Great American Truck Racing Series

  1. Dan McCreary

    I know my uncle, Ed Lohr has one of te old race trucks sitting in disrepair in his yard in Trinity NC.

  2. Lee johnson

    My uncle and my cousin raced the #10 and 11 corbitts back then. Uncle Bill won at Atlanta and nashville, and Randy won at Rockingham. Their both still trucking today.

  3. Lee johnson

    Reading back through your article, my Cousin Randy was the first to blow a right front steer tire and go through the wall and down through the woods at Pocono. Charlie Baker the second in virtually the same place.

  4. Julian Arguelles

    A little known fact is that GATR traveled to Mexico City in 1986 and was a supporting race for the Formula 1 Grand Prix. My dad organized the race (he was working for Detroit Diesel in Mexico). I was 14 years old and I still remember the when the whole McLaren pit emptied to inspect the trucks, they were surprised to find out that the Detroit Diesel 92 Silver V8 engines were capable of speeds in excess of 200 km/h.

  5. Shon McKeone

    R.I.P. #80 Larry Wickersham/Mack “R” model. Not mentioned nearly enough. The man, and his truck were both, one of a kind.

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