On Saturday, workers appeared to be closing down the facility, which has had the biggest NASCAR short track races on the West Coast for more than a decade.
Workers were dismantling the pit grandstand, which is adjacent to the first turn. They were also taking apart storage areas. The large billboard bordering the San Gabriel Valley River Freeway was not lit up for the first time in its history, barring power outages, and the track’s website was taken off the Internet.
“They went out of business,” said a prominent Irwindale racer who did not want to be identified.
Vice president and general manager Bob DeFazio and some staff members were in the locked administration building Saturday morning, a moving truck backed up to the office’s side entrance and a moving box stacked outside. DeFazio, through track operations director Bob Klein, refused to comment. Klein would only say an announcement would be made Monday.
Efforts to reach DeFazio were unsuccessful.
The track’s eighth-mile facility remained intact on Saturday, but according to a source, workers were given a final paycheck after last Thursday’s regular street legal session. The elimination of the pit grandstand is significant because teams usually put their crews in those seats so that if there is a problem on the track, they could quickly get to their pit stall and fix the car and get it racing again.
L.A. Racing, a school not owned by Irwindale Speedway LLC, the consortium of owners led by Jim Williams, has 12 schools planned within the next month.
“They have not said a word,” L.A. Racing’s Ozzie Blackwell said. “We have no idea. We’re assuming it’s a go. We’ve been told it’s a go.”
The regular season, featuring the track’s point-scoring divisions, has typically started the last weekend in March, although it has started as early as March 11.
DeFazio indicated two weeks ago that a schedule would be released shortly.
“A month before the season and no schedule, there is no way cars get ready at this point,” three-time track champion Nick Joanides said. “It’s devastating that such a nice facility over there won’t be used. It amazes me.”
If only the racing operation is closed, the track could still be used for filming commercials, movies and television shows, an endeavor that has been very successful.
But for as much success as the track has enjoyed in film and on the drag strip, its claim to fame has been its racing.
Opened in 1999 amid much fanfare, it featured a state-of-the-art track surface which cost several million dollars. Track CEO Williams, a former owner of Golden States Foods which supplies food to McDonald’s and a pal and car builder for Roger Penske-driven IndyCars, said at the time that he wanted to rival the draw of the Dodgers.
NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip called the facility the finest short track in America.
But it all came unraveling last season. Car counts were down significantly, nearly every division having the fewest racers since the track opened. More important, attendance was down. There were roughly only 900 people in the stands for a May 14 Saturday race.
Attendance over the past two seasons has gradually dwindled. The track does not release attendance numbers, but an average of 1,800 people attended the 28 races last year.