LA CAR GOES TO THE SPEEDWAY MOTORCYCLE RACES …

SLIDEWAYS IN INDUSTRY HILLS

STORY: TIM KENNEDY  

Motorcycles are more ​like ​colorfully festooned skeletons ​when compared to any other form of two-wheel sport.

Narrow and noisy, they seem gaunt, these garish caricatures of motorcycles, come, not even close (save the fact of two wheels), to looking like any other sort of ​motor bike anywhere.

Their riders​ endeavor mightily to enhance, colorize, ​and hyper-​commercialize their bony rides with blazing paint schemes (on what little available surface there is)​ with ​overlays ​of sponsor decals ​so thick, ​that on some of these crazed conveyances, ​the stickers almost ​seem to be holding the whole ​darn​contraption together.

And the riders​’ (every bit as colorful)​ garb:​… ​always​ referred to as:​ “full leathers” (regardless of what new “stronger, lighter, better” materials come and go) make the “walking/talking billboards of NASCAR” look like pikers, kids on their way to Sunday School, ​when their race grab is compared to the sort of per square millimeter coverage of names, places, products, and sundry other thought balloons all brought to life and stitched onto each and every Speedway rider’s racing armor. There is no place, mark that, no place on the human body (save the part that looks out from under the helmet) that a message cannot be hawked here. In the cramped pits the ​visual ​contest often seems​ to​ rage over which one is the more “colorful”… the rider or their mount.

These bikes all have two (or more) things in common. The first is a single-cylinder 500cc engine that doesn’t scream for mercy as some bike engines seem to be doing; but ​seems always to ​roar for more … ​Going f​ull-throttle on packed dirt oval as tight and flat as the one here at Industry Hills is a bit of an act of faith ​with 75+ alcohol-fired horsepower ​always ​only a quarter-turn away. And sporting appropriately-named “megaphone” exhausts while making all that power means that getting four or five of these thumpers all ​over ​each other at the same time on a covered track that was originally built (and still is used for ​​… but not at the same time) to show off horses, is something that (almost) defies descriptio​n.  ​​It’s a frantic, ripping​, thrumming​ noise that one feels in one’s chest​ and gut​ as much ​as in one’s ears. 

 Pain thresholds aside and long-term hearing damage (hopefully) averted by the use of very heavy-duty ear protection​ by all in attendance​, the sound ​is really ​something that one either savors or shuns. There are those (absent of course) who can’s stand the roar and others who seem to be renewed by the noise bath that’s built into the ​the regular Wednesday night ​package…

The second (thought that we might have forgotten the first line above for a minute, didn’t you?) thing that all of these bi-wheeled bolides have in common is a spindly-appearing frame that (almost) looks like a motorcycle that’s been eviscerated for racing … shaving off every possible non-essential part, piece, and feature that could (in any conceivable way) slow high speed forward progress down. Which follows (at least in this corner of Bizarro World) that doing away with any sort of braking system is a perfectly logical (“…why didn’t I think of that?”) part (and exactly NOT a part) of the package here. 

 Ettore Bugatti built racing cars with notoriously weak brakes and is often quoted as saying something about ​quite pithy about ​the fact that he built racing cars to go fast, not to stop. Speedway bikers (should they chose to use them) have two methods of speed retardation. Roll off the throttle or put a foot down to scrape off some speed. Of course the riders who win races with any consistency only use the first when nothing else seems viable, and the foot down deal is really to sort of half-hold the bike up and half post a pivoting point for the corner…

​OK and w​ith that rather long and (way) over-articulated introduction we’ll hand you over to expert commentator Tim Kennedy for his words-eye view of the Thursday night motorcycle races at the top of Highway 39 halfway between the 10 and the 60 freeways. Self-proclaimed (and it fits pretty darn good) “Fastest-Snapper” photographer Albert Wong took the all the pics. Have fun reading about it, but if you’re in so cal on Thursday night and wanna have a grand old time watching close-up racing where you can seen everything without a set of field glasses …-DS

Here’s your personal invite:

2019 Speedway Motorcycle Races poster

ATTENTION: People seeking interesting new things to do for family-friendly, action-orientated outdoor entertainment … A unique option exists in eastern Los Angeles County.

The site is the Industry Hills Expo Center on the north side of the hill near the Pacific Palms Resort and golf courses. The address is 16200 Temple Ave., between Azusa Ave. and Hacienda Blvd., in the City of Industry.

The attraction is AMA-sanctioned speedway bike racing on a dust-free, compacted dirt one-eighth mile oval inside the spacious Grand Arena. The building has a roof and open sides that offer a scenic view of the San Gabriel Valley. The Grand has a modern PA sound system and a jumbo-tron screen at turn three. It shows racing action in progress and replays of crashes. Metal grandstands seat 5,000 near the track and provide up-close viewing of all two-wheel slideways action. Earplugs are optional, but highly-recommended.

Parking at IHEC is $5.00 (there’s free parking near the front gate for motorcycles). Admission prices for speedway bike races are: $15. – adults, $10. – seniors (age 55+) and youths (ages 13-17), and young’uns 12 and under are FREE.

The facility boasts a modern cafeteria which offers a variety of tempting eats that are perfect for “trackside” dining. There’s a spacious, tree-shaded patio area with tables and chairs for dining or just visiting with friends. The area is something of rustic environment in the heart of a bustling urban setting. And, adding an important family factor: the facility’s modern restrooms are well maintained.

The Industry Hills Expo Center, otherwise known as “The Grand”

Two-wheel racing began at the site in 2003 and has operated consecutively from late May to late August for 16 years in the Grand Arena. There are 14 race dates set for 2019. A quick check the track’s website speedwaybikes.com/tracks/industryhills.htm

Industry Speedway, under several different promoters, has provided two-wheel motorcycle racing fans a comfortable place to watch motorcycle racing action, thrills and spills. The site is freeway-close almost equidistant between the 60 and I-10 Freeways on old Highway 39.

A sponsor-supported printed program is given to each person entering the speedway. It features the night’s rider lineups by heat races and has space for tallying the points earned by each rider. The listings make it easy for spectators to follow the progress of riders towards making feature races in each division…best of all, the program is free.

The PA announcer, keeps on-site spectators informed with lineups, results, points, and rider interviews, and two official scorers next to him in his grandstand booth near the finish line ensure his accuracy. With lightening-fast bikes on a very short track “Photo finishes” are quite common.

Competitors ride specially-made lightweight speedway bikes that look more like bicycles than street motorcycles people see on public roads. Speedway bikes use narrow tires, accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in seconds, and have no brakes (yes, that’s NO brakes). Riders slow by engine compression and use of their steel-soled boot on the ground.

California is the recognized leader of AMA speedway bike racing in the United States. Racing sites exist at fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, Auburn, Ventura, and Victorville, plus Perris Raceway. Industry Speedway offers the usual 800 to 1,500 spectators present each week exciting, family-friendly entertainment for youth, adults and the elderly. Spectators of all ages come to see racing action on track and meet the friendly riders before and after the races.

On-track activity at Industry starts each week with a rider parade at 7:15 pm. Riders are introduced over the PA system individually by name and bike number. They walk from the pits to the finish line infield for the National Anthem. Riders greet and high-five spectators lined-up along the front crash wall, sign autographs and pose for photos.

Riders ages range from under 5 to 70+ in various divisions. There are numerous father and son riders, plus older and younger brothers. Female riders at Industry have been successful as well in various divisions. Pee-wees (ages 3-8) race on Suzuki mini bikes with 50cc engines. Junior division riders (ages 8-12) use 150cc engines and riders 12-17+ race with 250cc engines. Adult racers use more powerful 500cc engines with 75-horsepower (!) engines.

Division III 500cc riders are newcomers and less experienced riders. Division II is for intermediate skill level riders. Division I has expert professional racers. All divisions have several rounds of rapidly-run heat races to accumulate points on a 3-2-1-0 basis. Riders with the most points advance to their main event later in the evening.

Trophy presentations to the winners take place on a podium in the infield. Approximately 36 four-lap races are run from 7:30 to 10:00 pm. The only breaks are for three quick track preparation session of five-minutes by a tractor to re-groom the track surface (kind of like a dirt Zamboni -Ed.).

The starting gate consists of horizontal tapes strung from the infield to the outside across all four lanes of the track and above the starting line. When a green light is activated the race is under the control of the on-track starter. He walks away from the riders and presses the button to quickly raise the starting tapes. If a rider touches or breaks the tapes by leaving too early, a penalty of 20-yards or even disqualification results at some events.

If riders accelerate too quickly at the start their front wheel rises rapidly. That dumps them off the back of the bike onto the track and their bike usual flips down the track. Usually they restart, but a sore tail-bone has sidelined some riders after this type of mishap.

Starts are critical in speedway racing. Riders use inside or outside grooves to overtake competitors. A fast, full-power slide on the outside of other riders is one of the most exilerating moves on the track for riders and spectators. Inside runners have the shortest distance to travel on the track, but it’s a sharper and slower arc through the four turns. They often advance their position whenever a rider ahead of them makes a mistake or goes wide in a turn.

Spills are part of close, wheel-to-wheel, elbow-to-elbow two-wheel competition. At times bikes make contact and a rider or two tumbles to the ground as rider-less bikes flip to the crashwall. Riders usually re-mount their resilient bike and continue racing. Some riders have backup bikes ready in the pits to continue racing if they have an engine failure.

Riders wear approved helmets, a steel-soled shoe on their left foot for balance on the ground in the corners, and colorful, protective leather attire to protect their bodies when inevitable dismounts occur. Their leathers are adorned with their personal corporate or individual sponsors.

An ambulance with two EMTs stands ready just outside turn three to attend to injured riders. Thankfully, they usually remain parked most nights.

A speedway racing attraction popular with fans at Industry and other tracks is three-wheeled sidecar team racing. Sidecar rigs resemble chariots from the movie “Ben-Hur”. A driver controls steering and application of power from 1,000cc Suzuki, Yamaha or Kawasaki engines. A sidecar rider, known as a “swinger”, leans out of the sidecar in the corners to provide counter-balance so the rig does not flip. Teamwork is vital for success.

The excitement level in the grandstand always seems to rise whenever the wild sidecars enter the track. Dicing and bumping are not only tolerated but expected in the entertaining sidecar division. Sidecars race in a clockwise direction, as opposed to the counter-clockwise direction used by speedway bikes.

Riders often come from Northern California to race at key Industry Hills events such as opening night when the coveted Connor Penhall Memorial Cup is presented. The award is a Troy Lee Designs-painted helmet enclosed in a see-through case and is given to the 500cc D-1 winner.

Other major speedway races in 2019 are the AMA US National Championship round two race on Saturday, August 10. Round one was June 15 in Ventura and round three will be September 21 in Auburn. The annual AMA California State Speedway Championship will be the Industry season-finale on Saturday, August 24.

The annual Junior Divisions-only Silver Cup race will be run Sunday, August 11 at noon with free grandstand admission for spectators. IHEC and promoter Kelly Inman started this event in 2013 to recognize and reward young speedway racers and help grow the division. Juniors race for trophies, prizes and donated cash.

Speedway bike racing is a world-wide sport that attracts full grandstands throughout Europe and in Australia and New Zealand. Some countries have professional speedway racing leagues, such as the prestigious British Racing League with speedway teams in various cities.

Each year a World Speedway Champion is crowned based on accumulated points from races in various nations. Over past decades the USA has had numerous speedway world champions, many from Southern California. The best speedway riders from the USA reside in Europe and make a lucrative living racing speedway. Several riders who started at Industry are now racing speedway in Europe. -TJK