As of last weekend, Southern California appears to be less one racing venue as the 1/2-mle asphalt oval at Irwindale is said to have closed. The Pasadena Star News reports track workers received their final checks last Thursday, and the weekend saw the dismantling of the pit-side grandstands and clearing of the business offices. The track website has also been pulled. Track management has refused comment on the future of the venue, but it appears that the 2012 season, which typically starts in March, is toast.
Opened to great expectations in 1999 as a state of the art racing facility, Irwindale seemed to offer great potential despite such early setbacks as a driver fatality on opening night. That seemed unfathomable at the time as that track had been built to the tune of millions of dollars to ensure both participant and spectator safety. Despite that inauspicious start, the track hosted every kind of racing on its 1/2 and 1/4-mile ovals from NASCAR Pro-series, Outlaws, all the way down to tween karting heats.
The variety of racing, easy freeway access, and reasonable ticket prices initially drew spectators, the track enjoying upwards of 5,000 each Saturday night during its heyday. Unfortunately the recession, as it has done to other entertainment venues, put a world of hurt on attendance, and while the track has refused to release official spectator attendance numbers unofficial reports indicate there were fewer than 1,000 through the turnstiles for last year’s May 14 race.
Situated in an industrial area 20 miles east of downtown LA, and surrounded by quarries, the raceway seemed to have been located where it might have a long life – unlike Riverside’s venerated race track which succumbed to the encroachment of suburbia. Branding rights for the track initially went to the Automobile Club of Southern California, whose CEO -Tom McKernan – is a rabid racing fan. In 2008, the Club switched their sponsorship to the Fontana’s California Speedway, gaining naming rights to that track and signature NASCAR event, in a ten-year deal. The Southern California Toyota Dealer’s Association stepped in at that time to sponsor Irwindale – Longo, the World’s largest Toyota dealership being just a city over in El Monte.
The Toyota dealers declined to renew the sponsorship for the 2012 season, and as of last weekend, the light board visible from the adjacent 605 Freeway went dark for the first time in over a decade. Hopefully this chapter in Irwindale Speedway’s history will be a short one, and Lug Nut (the track mascot) will once again be leading full grandstands in cheering-on a thundering track.