Southern California Track Tales
Harold Osmer’s paean to the past
…If you’re looking for a happy ending, you need to just move along, there’s nothing that you need to see here.
By Doug Stokes
Sat, Mar 4, 2023 11:50 AM PST
Featured image: Opening Day program June 22, 1997 (courtesy Harold Osmer)
This is a short film about great promise, heady days, excitement, and the eventual downfall of all of the major motorsports facilities in southern California, which my dear friend Harold Osmer has put together to (not really the right word) commemorate the closing of the area’s second “Superspeedway”, the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
Harold’s video is a smart, accurate, extended requiem that explores a number of vaunted motorsports facilities that have come, run, and were eventually ripped out for a variety of reasons, with ACS being the latest example.
Interestingly enough, Osmer’s M.A. in geography makes him uniquely suited for this task as all of the examples cited, no matter how much glory they provided, all fell to the vagaries of land values here in the “Golden State”.
Becoming a “Californian” in 1952 at age 11, I’ve lived through most of the era that’s covered in this presentation, and spent time at of a number of the minor-league tracks that have perished along with the biggies that Harold talks about here. (I hope by now that you understand that this is not this is not a very pleasant intro to write.)
Just for the record, I raced at Riverside, chaired a national championship Kart race at Ontario, and, at one time or another wrenched on race cars at both Ontario and Fontana.
The ostensible reason for this film is that Auto Club Speedway at Fontana is the now on the chopping block … said to be scheduled to be eviscerated and whittled down to a track that’s one quarter the size of the mighty 2-mile present track for reasons unstated, but that are as evident as they come: management could not (as diligently as they might have tried) fill the thousands upon thousands of seats there on any sort of regular basis.
And (to almost no one’s surprise at all), area property values have exploded since the facility was built on a spit of used-up, arid land that was one a part of a large steel mill.
Harold’s multi-edition “Where They Raced” (I always wanted the title to be “Where We Raced, by the way) book series proudly states that more race tracks were built in California than in any other part of the country. Of course the coda to that is that the state can also lament the fact that it has the other end of that record (closed tracks) now.
Even now, this very minute, three other (smaller, local) tracks in the Southern California area are under one sort of cloud or another. All (Irwindale, Oxnard, and Perris) are still operating as of this writing, but all have a tenuous feel at least from here. (Stokes worked on the staff of two of the three: Perris and Irwindale.)
So, what will we learned from the demise of truly great, world class raceways like Riverside and Ontario Motor Speedway. Nothing is permanent? Nah, that’s too easy.
But … you know what, now that I think about it, maybe there’s nothing to be learned except that. Build it and they will come and in droves a time or two … announce that you are closing the joint and you’ll be able to boast a “Sell Out”.
I’m sure if we studied hard enough, we’d observe the same boom and bust cycle for Dance Halls, Roller Rinks, Malibu Grand Prix(s), Skate Parks, and Gigantic Pizza and Ice Cream/Fun Joints, (all of which that dominated the landscape around here at one time or another).
Looking at Auto Club Speedway in the rear view mirror is not my favorite topic for a video, sadly that’s all that we’ve got. I repeat myself here that there’s honestly nothing (constructive) to be learned here, and, just from here, I can’t see anyone trying this sort of exercise ever again.
As a side note, another stalwart friend, Mike Allen, is presently very deep into writing the short, 10-year story of Ontario Motor Speedway. I can’t imagine that he’s not seeing some parallels with the demise ACS.
About The Author
Doug has a long and wide-ranging history in the motoring business. He served five years as the Executive Director of the International Kart Federation, and was the PR guy for the Mickey Thompson's Off-Road Championship Gran Prix. He worked racing PR for both Honda and Suzuki and was a senior PR person on the first Los Angeles (Vintage) Grand Prix. He was also the first PR Manager for Perris Auto Speedway, and spent over 20 years as the VP of Communications at Irwindale Speedway. Stokes is the recipient of the American Autowriters and Broadcaster’s 2005 Chapman Award for Excellence in Public Relations and was honored in 2015 by the Motor Press Guild with their Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award. “… I’ve also been reviewing automobiles and books for over 20 years, and really enjoy my LA Car assignments.” he added.