IROC XXV (partially lost footage of stock car races; 2001)
IROC XXV was the 25th International Race of Champions (IROC) season. Occurring from 16th February to 4th August 2001, Bobby Labonte of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series would claim the title and $250,000 in prize money, joining his brother Terry as an IROC champion.
As is tradition with IROC seasons, IROC XXV consisted of twelve invited drivers deemed among the best of their respective motorsports series. Among these included NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart, Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd, Jeff Burton, and Jeff Green; CART's Kenny Brack; and IRL's Eddie Cheever, Scott Goodyer, Buddy Lazier, and Mark Dismore. The drivers would all compete in Pontiac Firebirds that would receive similar preparations to ensure they were as identical as possible.
The opening race occurred at the Daytona International Speedway on 16th February, with Earnhardt starting in pole position. During the race's early stages, it was a four-horse race for the first position, with Earnhardt battling Burton, Jarrett, Brack, and Labonte. This contributed towards 17 official lead changes among seven different drivers. Elsewhere, Green became the first retiree following an engine failure after nine laps. After 26 laps, Burton was still competing with Earnhardt, only to suddenly lose control of his Firebird and slam into the Intimidator's left side. While Earnhardt was able to continue, both Burton and Dismore's cars were wrecked in the ensuing accident. The red flag was thrown, allowing Earnhardt's team to add tape to reinforce the car's structural integrity. When the race restarted, Earnhardt remained in contention for the lead, holding first between laps 33 to 38. He then duelled with Cheever, only for the latter to lose control and force the Intimidator off the track and into the grass. While Earnhardt and Cheever both continued, they lost critical time, allowing Jarrett and Rudd to move into first and second respectively. On the final lap, Jarrett narrowly edged out Rudd to take his first IROC win by just 0.014 seconds, with Cheever recovering to finish third. Earnhardt finished seventh, but would quickly forgave Cheever after the latter apologised.
Two days later, tragedy struck when Earnhardt suffered his fatal accident at the 2001 Daytona 500, aged 49. A seven-time Winston Cup and a four-time IROC champion, Earnhardt is considered one of the greatest drivers in motor racing history. As a mark of respect, IROC officials did not replace Earnhardt's entry for the remaining three races. Meanwhile, the second race occurred on 21st April at the Talladega Speedway, with Stewart running in pole position. He led for the first five laps, before the first position ended up in a hot potato situation, with Stewart, Labonte, Burton, Green, Cheever, and Jarrett swapping over the lead in quick succession. It contributed towards eleven official lead changes among the six drivers. Eventually, Green passed Jarrett for the first position on lap 21, holding it until lap 36. After 35 laps, Jarrett crashed into the fourth turn wall, requiring a caution period. When the race restarted, Brack assisted Green's campaign to lead, but Labonte made the final lead change off Turn 4. In the end, Green dropped back, while Labonte won by .2097 seconds ahead of Brack, with Lazier taking third. Post-race, Labonte explained his game plan, stating "When they had that yellow flag for the accident, I was running third and I knew I would be inside of the second row, which is a good place to be. When they had the restart with three to go, I got a push from Eddie Cheever and went by Jeff Green. With that many laps to go, I was in the right place at the right time on the restart. I got by Jeff Green, and that was that." Labonte dedicated his win to Earnhardt.
The third race occurred on 9th June, and was situated at Michigan International Speedway. Heading into the race, Al Unser Jr. substituted for Goodyear after the latter experienced a lower back fracture, which occurred following a crash at the Indianapolis 500. Labonte started in pole position, but was quickly passed by the fast-charging Cheever, who started fifth. However, Stewart was climbing the order even faster after starting 11th, eventually overtaking Cheever for the first position on lap 3. From there, Stewart controlled proceedings to claim his first IROC victory, 2.875 seconds ahead of Unser Jr., with Brack finishing third. Post-race, Stewart elaborated on his strategy, stating "My goal was to get by Cheever as soon as I could. Once I got in front I was able to run the line I wanted to run. It gave me the flexibility to move around the racetrack and try things and use my mirrors as a gauge to see if I'm making ground or losing ground." Meanwhile, Labonte finished fifth, leading the championship by one point ahead of Brack heading into the final race.
The title decider commenced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on 4th August. The 100th IROC race, Cheever and Stewart also were within five points of the championship prior to the race. The NASCAR racers were considered the favourites heading in due to their greater stock car experience, Brack and Dismore accepting the challenges open wheel drivers would face against them. Goodyear was still injured, meaning Unser Jr. again fielded for him. Labonte started in pole position, the field order based on points scored in the championship. However, Burton made a strong start from ninth, passing Labonte on the opening lap. Burton led until lap 19, before being re-passed by Labonte and also overtaken by Stewart. As he tried to go behind Stewart on the inside line, Burton was rear-ended by Lazier, eliminating both from the race. Labonte then led for five laps, before engaging in a duel with his NASCAR teammate Stewart. After trying passes on the outside and inside on lap 24, Stewart achieved an overtake on lap 26, holding it until Labonte re-passed on lap 35. This occurred when the two bumped into one another on the straight exiting Turn 4, causing Stewart to slam into a concrete wall. He was able to continue, but the incident allowed Labonte to control proceedings to claim his second victory of the season and with it the championship by ten points ahead of Stewart and $250,000 in prize money. Post-race, Labonte insisted "The car was really loose most of the day. I tried all I could do to stay off of him." Nevertheless, Stewart forgave his teammate for the incident. Labonte joined brother Terry as an IROC champion, becoming the second set of brothers after Al and Bobby Unser to achieve the accolade.
From 1987 to 2003, all IROC races would be televised by ABC, with coverage also provided by ESPN. Two of the broadcasts have fully resurfaced; on 24th January 2012, Dave W uploaded the ESPN Daytona race broadcast to YouTube. Meanwhile, SMIFF TV uploaded the ESPN coverage of the Michigan race on 11th August 2022. Dave W also uploaded the majority of the Talladega ESPN broadcast on 12th January 2017. However, the upload is missing the first six laps of the event. In contrast, the Indianapolis broadcast has yet to publicly resurface.
- IROC I (partially found footage of stock car races; 1973-1974)
- IROC II (partially found footage of stock car races; 1974-1975)
- IROC III (lost footage of stock car races; 1975-1976)
- IROC IV (partially found footage of stock car races; 1976-1977)
- IROC VI (lost footage of stock car races; 1978-1979)
- IROC VII (partially found footage of stock car races; 1979-1980)
- IROC IX (partially lost footage of stock car races; 1985)
- IROC XII (partially lost footage of stock car races; 1988)
- IROC XVII (partially lost footage of stock car races; 1993)
- IROC XXVI (partially lost footage of stock car races; 2002)
- Race Line Central detailing the rules and regulations of IROC. Retrieved 3rd Nov '22
- Archived IROC summarising the season. Retrieved 3rd Nov '22
- The Los Angeles Times reporting on Jarrett winning the first race. Retrieved 3rd Nov '22
- ABC News reporting on the death of Earnhardt and deeming him one of the greatest drivers in auto racing. Retrieved 3rd Nov '22
- Autosport detailing life and career of Dale Earnhardt. Retrieved 3rd Nov '22
- The Los Angeles Times reporting on IROC officials not replacing Earnhardt's entry for the final three races. Retrieved 3rd Nov '22
- UPI reporting on Labonte winning the second race. Retrieved 3rd Nov '22
- The Auto Channel reporting on Unser Jr. replacing the injured Goodyear for the third race. Retrieved 3rd Nov '22
- Motorsport reporting on Stewart winning the third race. Retrieved 3rd Nov '22
- The Pocono Record previewing the fourth race. Retrieved 3rd Nov '22
- ESPN reporting on Labonte winning the fourth race and the title. Retrieved 3rd Nov '22
- GMEFI noting IROC's races from 1987 to 2003 were televised by ABC and ESPN. Retrieved 3rd Nov '22
- Austin LaPlante's IROC race broadcast YouTube playlist. Retrieved 3rd Nov '22