Jim Baker's Then and Now


Way back in 1969-70 this writer was too busy with OCIR, Bill Thomas Race Cars and NHRA Pro Stock racing to pay much attention to the mammoth project being constructed alongside Interstate 10 in California, north of Orange County about twenty miles.


My first time to see the new facility known as Ontario Motor Speedway was at the NHRA Supernationals of 1970 as a competitor. The new track was immense in every sense of the word. In truth it was entirely ‘too big’ to survive. Everything was there to gain national exposure for all four current forms of motorsports.  The Drag Strip was on the pit road for the 2.5-mile Super Track. The staging lanes were curved as part of the Sports Car course.


This photo shows the curved (both directions) staging lanes at OMS. It was a real challenge to know which lane you were still in by the time you entered the track.


At the first IndyCar race there, 180,233 folks came to watch; a great crowd for sure, but the track, which only lasted 10 years, never reached that number of seat sales again.


The drag strip was good, but not better than the other three ‘big’ tracks in the Los Angeles basin, OCIR; Lions at Long Beach; and Irwindale.  At those strips, people could view the racing up close. Not so at Ontario. There were bleachers on the pit side for racers, but the huge permanent stands on the spectator side were more than 100 feet away from the action and had to be viewed through a barrier to protect the fans from debris at Indy and Stock car races.


NHRA operated ten national events there, first called the Supernationals and then named the World Finals.  Those races did fairly well, but not as well as Pomona just a few miles east. The place was just ‘too damned big’ for local area attraction. Plus it was in the high smog area of the LA basin too, which did not help. We were told by many fans at our Anaheim Speed Shop, that the walking, the climb to the top of the stands, and then the descent down to their seats, was just too much.

For use by the drag strip, was this modern looking tower which has stood the test of time, being moved to Riverside Raceway on the road course, and since that track also closed, it is now standing guard in the Pomona Fairground pit area as a security station.


Two 1970-type Pro Stocks are shown above, with Bill Stepp’sBilly the Kid’ car in the far lane and Robin Whitcomb in the foreground.

While on the subject of Pro Stock, several present day enthusiasts drove early Pro Stock entries during the first few years of Ontario Motor Speedway.  Above, Dave Kommel captured Tucson, Arizona’s Al Arriaga in his ’71 Camaro. Shown below is the beautiful 1969 Camaro of Don Lorentzen, in the Ontario pit area.

The Arriaga clan, father Al and son Scotty are currently one of the nation’s best Jet Car attractions with a multitude of bookings.

Above is the Arriaga team, still operating at a high level of showmanship at Tucson Dragway’s Huns Heat Stroke event, June 2, 2018. Al has spearheaded the family from water truck driver in 1962 at the original Tucson Dragway, through Pro Stock; Funny Car (Spanish Galleon); Fuel Altered (MOB Fiat) and now ‘Wicked Sensations’!


Don Lorentzen remains connected to drag racing with his son, and building high tech exhaust systems for newer cars. He has also been seen at both AAA Fontana and the Irwindale 1/8 mile.


Dave Kommel, a young aspiring photographer during the Ontario days, captured this classic photo of Connie Kalitta in action at the California track. Today, 2018, Kalitta is the head man at Kalitta Motorsports which currently operate four first rate contenders

Ontario Motor Speedway not only had race tracks for every type of motorsports, it also contained a huge space for meetings, luncheons, and banquets inside the three-story finish line complex. Bernie Partridge took advantage of the room to hold Division 7 driver commission meetings, Division 7 Award banquets, and sponsorship luncheons.


One outstanding problem the drag strip had was the location of the strip on the pit road.


As it was designed, the starting line should have been directly across from the timing tower. As you may note in our photos, it was not.  Someone in management wanted the drag strip finish at the start/finish line for the 2-½ mile speedway. So, the track was moved 100 feet, which resulted in less ‘shut off’ area. To quote LA Times sports writer Shav Glick, “Ontario Motor Speedway-the drag strip was actually the pit road for the oval. The interesting aspect of OMS was the outrun which, of course, made a hard left at the end.”

This aerial photo shows the complete complex during their first IndyCar race. As you can see, parking at the finish line tower was very limited. Both ends of the speedway had ample parking, but getting to your seat was an adventure. Also, you may note that the pit road (drag strip) veered onto the oval and then made a hard left turn. If all went well at the slower speeds of the day, stopping was OK, but those who lost chutes or brakes found a real challenge on their hands.

Ace photographer Bob Snyder snapped this pic of our PRO 711 at Ontario. Later that day, in a case of total brain fade on my part, we entered the speed trap at 152 mph, hit the chute and brakes, and found the chute cable kinked and the brakes out of pad. Earlier during that NHRA race, an Alky F/C failed to stop and hit the retaining wall resulting in the driver being paralyzed. Since stopping normally was not going to be possible, I went for ‘Mister Toad’s Wild Ride’ spinning around several times in the infield, finally coming to rest backward on the short chute between turns 2 and 3.The car was dirty but not bent and my condition was fine.


Notably the debt service to build the mammoth plant was huge; the original operators were unable to create enough revenue with the track to pay their debt service. In an effort to close the gap, they decided to hold large rock concerts when the track was idle. The California Jam did attract more than 200,000 concert goers, which certainly helped bridge the gap. There were reports that folks were parking illegally more than four miles from the track. Many returned to find their cars ticketed or towed.


Bands stayed at a Holiday Inn whose marquee sign read “Welcome Western States Police Officers Assn.” to scare off fans. Band members were transported to the concert by helicopter.


Another memory I have of OMS, was seeing the first 18-wheeler rig, which belonged to Texan Billy Meyer during the final race.  It was quite a site to see the Funny Car lowered to the ground from its lofty perch.  That was 1980 and, of course, is common today.

These final two illustrations show the beginning and end of Ontario Motor Speedway. The World Finals, Supernationals program with Kelly Brown was one of the final NHRA events at OMS; while the beginning in 1970 featured both a FED and RED dragster in Top Fuel. As with the opener at OCIR three years prior, James Warren in the ‘Rain For Rent’ car was tough to beat. For a great look at Ontario action, check out the Video at here. It is a realistic glimpse of the grand track for those of you who came too late.


Until Next Time, Be On Time! 






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