On this day (April 21) in 1968, Ray Elder won a 100 lap race at the legendary Ascot Park half-mile dirt track. This win was one of the early highlights of what would become a Hall of Fame racing career for the “Racing Farmer” from Carruthers, California.
Elder’s team consisted of his father, brother, neighbors, and farmers from their hometown near Fresno. The race began with Culver City’s veteran driver Don Noel leading the race for the first 15 laps before experiencing engine trouble.
Another NASCAR PCL veteran, Johnny Steele, took over the lead with Elder’s 1967 Dodge fastback Charger coming on strong. The pair battled for the next 15 laps before Elder took over on lap 69 on his way to the win. Jim Cook finished Second in an Oldsmobile with Jim Burnett taking Third in his 1966 Plymouth.
Elder stayed close to home in his racing endeavors opting to race primarily in the west coast races. In total, Elder won 47 races in NASCAR’s Pacific Coast Late Model Series (Currently ARCA Menards Series West) placing him Second on the all-time win list behind Jack McCoy. He also holds the record for most titles in the series at six (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, and 1975).
Ray Elder made 31 starts in NASCAR’s Cup series, winning two races in NASCAR’s top division. Both wins were at Riverside International Raceway, making him one of the few racers in the top division whose first win and the last win was at the same track.
It is Elder’s first win in the cup series that has etched his name in history as being the first driver to win a race in NASCAR’s modern era. Most racing historians classify the 1971 season as the beginning of NASCAR’s modern era. Riverside’s 1971 Motor Trend 500 race marked the first race of the 1971 season.
Not surprisingly, Elder started four races in NASCAR’s cup series in 1971 and claimed three top 10 finishes with a win and Second place at Riverside and a Seventh place finish at Ontario Motor Speedway. He continued to be a dominant racer on the west coast until the mid-1980s.