Death of the ‘Dale?

When I got the invitation from DC Performance’s Lyle Larson to come to Irwindale Speedway for the Viper club beginner night on February 2nd, I was absolutely delighted to attend. He asked me if I would be there to give instructions and advice to any of the Viper owners that were taking their shot at racing for the first time. It was a regular Thursday night drag race at the ‘Dale, but it was also a chance for newcomers to get introduced to the sport in a fun and safe learning environment. So I was stoked to go for two reasons. One, racing the car at any venue is always fun, and it just so happened that the start of our racing season was approaching and we needed some test data. So in short, I needed the practice and wanted the fun. But the second and more important reason was that I really wanted to participate in the beginner event that was happening at the track.

The topic of my very first column in this magazine was on women in drag racing and how we need to introduce more people to this wonderful sport. I also talked about having beginner nights and instruction programs at drag strips to show people the ins and outs of racing without intimidating or scaring them away. This particular event at Irwindale was exactly what I discussed in my column, so you can image how happy I was to hear that a track was already having one of these suggested beginner nights. It really made me happy to know that a track was giving people the opportunity to try drag racing in this way.

When we arrived in the afternoon, there were about 20 Vpers parked outside the gate hungry to get started. These cars were mostly stock, but the people that drive them are obviously passionate about cars — otherwise they wouldn’t have bought a Viper as their daily driver. Before anyone lined up in the lanes, Speedway personnel organized a track walk for all those that wanted to participate. They took us on a close up tour of the components that are necessary to get your car from one end of the track to the other. We went over the staging lights, the Christmas tree, and what each light means. We were shown the 60’ mark as well as the 330’ mark. And based on prior incidents, the announcer was surprisingly vehement about not driving down the track the wrong way after the run was over. I had a chance to talk to some of the participants during the walk and they were really grateful for the information given and being allowed to walk the track. It was a really exciting night because I knew that once these people went down the strip once, they would need to do it again. I thought it would be the beginning of something great for Irwindale, and every other drag strip in southern California for that matter.

But not long after that night, word spread about the shutdown of the beloved eighth mile track. At first I didn’t really believe the news, because I was under the impression that Irwindale was in fact very successful. I have been to a lot of Thursday night drags in the past several months, and every time I looked in the stands after my run, they were packed with cheering fans that loved the show. They were either friends of fellow racers or they were attending to see their favorite cars battle it out heads up style. But it doesn’t matter why they were there, because tickets were sold and seats were filled, which only means good things for racing. It was a great place for promotion and a fun place to get some runs in before a competition. We had even been considering running the NHRA Summit series at Irwindale, since the other tracks had races that conflicted with other series. To sum it all up, it’s really disappointing that all the sudden, Irwindale is no more.

Of course, it’s difficult to know the whole story, but it seems like the recent shutdown might be detrimental to the greater Irwindale area. What some people might not understand is how important local drag strips are to the communities to which they belong. Drag strips were created not only for fun, but also to get racers off the street and into a safer and more controlled environment. So having a drag strip in a central city is beneficial for the racers, the residents, and the economy of the community. And if there’s a time to contribute to the American economy, it’s now. It seems foolish to take something successful away from people who really enjoyed having it. Anyway you put it, it’s never a good thing to have a track close in an area where there are so little of them to begin with. Even if you’re not from the southern California region, any racer can relate to having their favorite track close.

I really hope that all the Irwindale racers find another track to make their home, and leave the streets for getting to and from work. Maybe this will mean good things for those other tracks around California, like Famoso and Fontana. Drag racing is a part of our culture, and though I wish they weren’t being tested on their allegiance, I believe the dedicated racers will hold onto their undying love of racing.