in VALLEY VILLAGE;
by Jeff Burk
I'm sure most of you fans and fannies are aware
that just a few years ago, a new Irwindale Raceway,
(officially called "Irwindale Dragstrip") emerged
from the rock quarries, transmission towers,
and smog of one of L.A.'s homeliest little sisters,
Irwindale, Calif. In a rare journalistic Alzheimer's
moment, I failed to ask track manager Gene Bergstrom
a fairly important reporter question: "Just
how old is the joint?" But reflecting back lo,
these two long days, I feel it really wasn't
all that important. Suffice to say, a few years
back ("as in well under five") a number of investors
plopped down the big bucks and built a racing
complex that encompasses the 1/2 and 1/3-mile
oval, Irwindale Speedway, a go-kart track, and
an 1/8-mile dragstrip called ... as you now
know, Irwindale Dragstrip.
I had known about the place almost from the
day it was born, but never had much interest
going out there. The place is just a mile or
so off the Myrtle off-ramp on Interstate 210
located at Speedway Dr. and Live Oak, the latter
street being the address of the original San
Gabriel Dragstrip built in 1956. From my crib
in luxurious Valley Village in the San Fernando
Valley, it's a reasonable 35-40-mile drive,
a journey that with the right accoutrements
can be made in a little under five minutes.
So, it was no hassle getting there.
I guess I was stuck in the past on that one.
I just missed the so-called "Olde San Gabriel"
by a month when the last of two "San Gabe" dragstrips
folded on June 11, 1963, but I was right on
time for the opening of Irwindale Raceway in
late October 1965. I went to the third race
they held there in December, that being an hellacious
best of three between Don Nicholson's Atlanta
Lincoln/Mercury Dealers A/FX '65 Comet vs. the
original Stone-Woods-Cook "Swindler A" A/GS
'41 Willys. That was a terrific match as you
can guess. Nicholson's Comet was a tad quicker
off the line and won both sets, but in the second
and final heat, Doug Cook was driving him down
near the speed traps, and suddenly went into
a horrible powerslide in the top end lights,
just barely saving the car.
In addition to that match, Irwindale management
hosted an open 8-car qualified Top Fuel field,
which featured all the West Coast hitters (I
think Steve Carbone in the Muse-Crafton-Oakes
dragster won), and an open 8-car Top Gas dragster
show, along with a few fuel altereds, some AA/Competition
coupes and the usual crew of senseless, violent
dinosaurs that roamed the rock in the late 1960's
and most of the 1970's.
That's what the term, name, city, whatever
you want to call it, "Irwindale" meant to me.
Going into January 29, 2004.
And to these wanton eyes, that's a tough act
Out of all the great Southern California dragstrips,
Irwindale existed for the shortest amount of
time. On October 9, 1977, 'Lil John Lombardo
won a booked-in Bill Doner/Steve Evans 32-car
"flop" show, and Don Garlits got to Shirley
Muldowney in two straight falls, and that was
that. A little over 12 years.
The profit junkies at Miller Brewery and the
political skanks in Irwindale City Government
colluded and threw out the drag racers. Oh,
they made promises, "don't worry, don't worry,
we'll get you guys a new one built, probably
right next to the brewery and in a year or so."
Words with all the bankability of a George Bush
So with that in the ole memory backpack, I
just had lost my appetite for everything "Irwindale."
I had heard that the new track was for "street"
cars and NHRA cars, no higher than Super Stock,
or "low-class" (No, that's not a value judgment)
Comp cars. I'm a blower snob. It's just not
worth my time to go over there and watch what
I can see on Riverside Dr.