, it’s hard to believe that the first major American truck race took place 45 years ago, with the arrival of the semis at the circuit.

The Big Truck Races: A Look Back

When it comes to racing, there are many types of vehicles that can be considered, but one that often gets overlooked is the big racing truck. These massive trucks, especially the road course semi-finals and the Pikes Peak Class 8 climbers, have a rich history that dates back to 1979, when the first Great American Truck Race was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Even after 45 years, this event is still remembered and cherished by many enthusiasts.

The idea of big truck racing was initially put together and promoted by a man named Jim Donahoe from Nashville. He was not only the visionary for such a race but also saw the potential for nationwide coverage. The race took place during a time of controversy, as it occurred immediately after the oil crisis of the 1970s. Many people objected to the idea of thirsty 1,000-horsepower diesel trucks belching black smoke for sport, while truckers saw it as a way to protest the speed limits of 55 miles per hour set by President Richard Nixon in response to fuel shortages.

The race itself was contentious, with many people attempting to stop it before it even began. However, the event still went ahead and sparked an entire series that lasted for about 20 years. Semi-trailer racing has since taken various forms, with people like Gale Banks building turbocharged and supercharged Freightliners for Pikes Peak, and a European series hosting cabover competitions at tracks like Hockenheim in Germany. Even in recent times, the Bandit Big Rig Series carried the proverbial semi-trailer torch on oval tracks, although it appears that the team has been put on hold for the time being.

The Big Truck Races were immortalized in the opening scene of the film “Smokey and the Bandit II,” which features footage of the inaugural big truck race in Atlanta. This race was a spectacle that captivated many, and despite all the controversy and opposition, it left a lasting impact on the world of racing.

Today, many enthusiasts look back fondly on this historic event, often recalling it through random Facebook and Instagram shares showing the trucks lighting up the track during the period. It is a fascinating story, even after all these years, and for those who were not born yet during that time, it serves as a testament to a unique era in racing history.

The legacy of the big truck races lives on, and enthusiasts and historians continue to look back on it with appreciation. Despite the controversies and challenges it faced, the race was a symbol of defiance, entertainment, and ambition in the world of racing.

Contact the author at caleb@thedrive.com for more information or to share your thoughts on this iconic event.