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Famed half-mile palace of speed closes

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Mon, Feb 13, 2012

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Irwindale Speedway closes its doors

Toyota Speedway at Irwindale

By Harold Osmer Short track auto racing in Southern California has taken another blow. Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, otherwise known as Irwindale Speedway—and the famed half-mile palace of speed—has closed. The dream began with the 1995 closure of iconic Saugus Speedway. The third-mile paved racing arena had operated just north of Los Angeles since 1939 and fell victim to ownership decisions. Saugus Speedway's general manager Ray Wilkings was instrumental in putting Irwindale Speedway on the ground. Constructed on an inert landfill site at the mouth of the San Gabriel River, Irwindale Speedway opened to much fanfare in March 1999 and was home to multiple local, NASCAR and USAC sanctioned events. Southern California's longest running race event, Thanksgiving day's Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix, has seen Tony Stewart, Jason Leffler, and Kasey Kahne compete with regularity over the past thirteen years. NASCAR's All-Star Showdown came to town in 2005 and helped launch several careers including Joey Logano and David Gilliland. It's a sad day for the entire racing community. Irwindale Speedway had the benefits of location, weather, and passionate participants. Coupled with such a fine, modern facility, it had all the correct aspects for success.. But there are many more pieces to the puzzle and those of us outside the loop may never get the full story. Sadly, this isn't the first time. Indeed, in terms of sheer venue numbers, more auto racing has taken place in southern California than any other place in the world. Officially sanctioned events have been held at over 174 different venues in the region. The first was at Agricultural Park (now LA Coliseum) in 1903. The list goes on to include the roads of Santa Monica (1909-1919), a wooden speedway in Beverly Hills (1920-1924), Gilmore Stadium (1934-1950), and four tracks called Ascot. Racing venues large and small close their doors for any number of reasons. Even the big-time tracks at Riverside and Ontario went away despite their popularity with fans. From a business standpoint though, a racing venue is similar to a drive-in theater in that the weekly window for event scheduling dictates large amounts of vacant time. To that end, Irwindale Speedway has been featured in numerous television shows, commercials, and other Hollywood productions. The adjacent 1/8-mile drag strip had a following all its own and special events from drifting to motorcycles to monster trucks drew capacity crowds. Apparently that wasn't enough. What happens next at Irwindale Speedway is anyone's guess. LA Car Review Editor Harold Osmer is also an award-winning author of three books on the subject of automobile racing in Southern California: Where They Raced, Real Road Racing, and Saugus Speedway. He’s sponsored cars at Ascot, produced the program for USAC's Turkey Night Grand Prix for nine years, and fielded two cars at the 24 Hours of Lemons. Yeah, he’s been around.

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