The 3 Greatest Moments in Chevrolet Racing History

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ( TheStreet) -- During its 100-year history, Chevrolet has not only sold 209 million vehicles, but also it has established itself as one of the leading names in race car driving.

In fact, 1911 is not just the year that Chevrolet began, but also the year that the Indy 500 began.

Since then, Chevrolet has been intimately involved with the sport of racing and, in particular with Dale Earnhardt, perhaps racing's greatest driver.

Chevrolet has been a leader in both Indy racing and NASCAR racing. It has won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series manufacturers' championship 35 times, and is the most successful name in that series' history.

Of course, around headquarters, Dale is considered the no. 2 driver in the history of the world. A certain Mr. Louis Chevrolet gets the nod for the top spot.

Here are the top three moments in Chevrolet racing history, as selected by the company.

Louis Chevrolet

Let's start at the beginning.

On May 20, 1905, Swiss-born Louis Chevrolet, a recent immigrant to the U.S. who was employed as a New York chauffeur, took a spin in an underpowered Fiat in a timed event at a hippodrome in the Bronx.

At the time, an open air stadium was called a hippodrome and the Bronx was a nice place to live and race vehicles. It was particularly nice for Chevrolet, who broke a closed-course one-mile world record set by the great racer Barney Oldfield.

A week later, Chevrolet and his Fiat raced head-to-head against Oldfield and other well known drivers. He beat them all, warranting front-page coverage in The New York Times, which like Chevrolet and Fiat, is still among us.

By 1909, GM ( GM) founder William "Billy" Durant had engaged Chevrolet to drive and help develop his Buick racing team's cars. After Durant was ousted from GM in 1910, he teamed with Chevrolet to open a new car-making company on Nov. 3, 1911.

Which reminds us that the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet will be this coming Thursday.

Indianapolis 500

Did you know that Louis Chevrolet had two brothers, Arthur and Gaston, and that all three drove cars in the Indy 500?

In fact, cars designed and built by the Chevrolet brothers won back-to-back victories in 1920 and 1921. More recently, the V-8 racing engine that Chevrolet built with England's Ilmor Engineering won six consecutive 500s in the 1980s.

Also, since 1948, when a gray Fleetmaster became the first Chevrolet to pace the classic race, twenty-two Indy pace cars have "sported the bowtie badge," as Chevrolet puts it.

The automaker used the 1967 race to acquaint America with the new Camaro, and it used the 2009 race to showcase the all-new 2010 Camaro.

Number Three

In the early 1950s, Chevrolet's performance reputation was virtually non-existent. But in 1955, the first of the brand's small-block V-8 engines appeared in new car models and things began to change.

That year, the engine had some early-season wins at short-track stock car events. But the real breakout on the stock car front occurred at the 1955 Labor Day Southern 500 race at Darlington, S.C. There, driver Herb Thomas led a surprise Chevrolet rout that saw seven of the new V-8s finish in the Top 10.

With the Darlington win, the Chevrolet V-8 came into its own, and NASCAR racing began to change. While "the big and powerful larger cars that had previously dominated the circuit were shredding tires and losing engines that day, the nimble-but-rugged Chevrolets just kept on going," the company said.

Among the advantages, the Chevrolet cars were considerably lighter, got better gas mileage thus making fewer pit stops, and didn't require as many tire changes.

Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt began his Winston Cup career in 1975. During his career, Earnhardt drove a variety of cars but of course, Chevrolet was his favorite. If not, why would he have opened Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet in Newton, N.C. in 1987?

To be fair, we should mention that Earnhardt drove a Dodge Charger in 1975, when he finished 22nd in the World 600 in Charlotte. In 1980, he won the Winston Cup as a Chevrolet driver. Then, in 1982 and 1983, he drove a Ford ( GM). In1982, while driving a Ford, he won at Darlington.

Earnhardt won the 1986 Winston Cup championship as a Chevrolet driver. And by 1988, he had a new sponsor, GM Goodwrench; a second nickname "the man in black" and a renewed appreciation for Chevrolet.

--Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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