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Photo 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 to follow.

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 platitude.

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.

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