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After the last few serious columns that came at the beginning of the year, I'd like to continue last month’s topic of the elation I feel now that drag racing is back in Southern California again. One of those serious columns, Death of the Dale?, had a very important question mark in the title because it was still possible for the track to come back from the shut down. So when the news came in March, I was ecstatic that the Irwindale ghost was coming back to life.
The past two weeks I've had the opportunity to go to the Thursday Night Drags at the recently reopened speedway. Before the track shutdown, this event had always been one of my favorites because it was basically a racing party on a Thursday night. There were always huge groups of racers and fans in the staging lanes and all kinds of cars including full-on race cars and of course lots of street cars. The most amazing thing was how many paid spectators attended every week. There were often 2,000 people being entertained in the stands. So after the recent shutdown, I was starting to wonder if the numbers would be the same after the reopening. I wasn't sure if I would experience the same feeling of excitement that was so prevalent at Irwindale in the past. But after attending these last few Thursdays, I learned very quickly that Irwindale is back and better than ever.
Arriving a little after the gates had opened I expected the lanes to be pretty full. But I had never seen them like this before. They were packed all the way until the turn into the back of the parking lot. Even though it was 85 degrees in the late afternoon, it was very clear that the need to race was stronger than ever. What I love about Irwindale is how it reminds you that after all, racing is just plain fun. I think after spending so much time at the race track in competition we forget that drag racing is supposed to be enjoyable, and that's what made the sport so popular.
Don’t get me wrong, racing competition is just as fun, just in a different way because there’s more on the line. But like Richard always says, "The worst day of drag racing is better than the best day at work." Irwindale makes me really remember that. The majority of cars are street cars whose owners decided to take them on a fun ride down a race track. This particular situation makes me excited, because that's exactly how I started drag racing in the first place. It was at a test and tune like this where, after taking the car down the track once, I realized that I absolutely needed to do it again. After we learned a little about bracket racing, I realized that was taking the test and tune experience to the next level and we did that. I hope that some of these drivers who are interested in drag racing enough to go to a test and tune might consider competing in bracket classes around the area and supporting racetracks further, just like I did.
And of course there's always the guys around me in the lanes that are absolutely shocked that I'm the one driving and not my male crew chief. This always gives me mixed feelings. On one hand, I really want drag racing to be recognized as a sport of equal gender, and not so dominated by males. But on the other hand, the amazement and attention I get from being a female driver is in some part what allows me to drive and have sponsorship. But it really is funny to see people's reactions sometimes. This past time at Irwindale I was not only asked to sign photos, but two different guys asked for an autograph under the hood of their trucks in the staging lanes. It's funny how impressed people are when they see how fast the car goes and that it's me who’s at the wheel. I have received countless double takes and compliments because of this, and even a few marriage proposals.
Not only is there a great opportunity to race and practice, but promotional possibilities are plentiful at the track. We hand out a ton of fliers to everyone standing in the lanes, and the announcers do a wonderful job of promoting and talking about who's driving. After giving the tower announcers some information about my sponsors and other general information, they practically read the whole document while I was staging. They were incredibly helpful in letting the spectators know who I was and, of course, what magazine I write for. This just goes to show, if you want people to know about you, just give them something to talk about. It's not hard to write your own information sheet and give it to the announcers. You never know what could come out of it. Not to mention how cool it is to have people cheering for you and calling your name as you drive past the stands on the return road.
It really is a great time every Thursday at Irwindale. And yes, people complain about the track surface and run off area, but there is talk of those being fixed. I’m just so grateful that we have a place close to home to race again. This year was really devastating for those in the So Cal area, and Irwindale is making us all see the light at the end of the tunnel. So next time you’re in Los Angeles County, see what your car can do at Irwindale Speedway. You never know what could come of it!