EL CAJON — Around Cajon Speedway there is an aura of minor league baseball.
Advertising signs cover the race track's walls. The 6,000 bleacher seats are wooden benches. Two- and four-seat airplanes, not DC-10s or 747s, land at adjacent Gillespie Field.
Spectators of yesteryear have added to the track's folksy image.
There was Weird Marvin, who would pick up one leg and put it behind his head while he stood on a trash can in front of the track. And there was Bomb's Away Bertha, who would drink a beer then yell: "Bomb's Away" as she threw the empty can over her shoulder.
This is not Indianapolis Motor Speedway West, and no one pretends it is. This is an ordinary track, where an ordinary fan can watch an ordinary guy fulfill his fantasy of racing his car in the weekly Saturday night programs.
"This is a lot like baseball or football," said Bob Gardner, track publicist. "You have the same people in the same seats each week. People will hate anyone who wins each week, except for Ed Hale. I don't know why they didn't hate Ed Hale."
Bettie Edgmond, head scorer, interrupted: "What's there to hate about Ed Hale? He always smiles at you."
Hale is the epitome of racing at Cajon Speedway.
He began in midseason, 1961, the track's first stock car season. He drove a Studebaker he purchased the night before his first race. The most memorable moment of his 25-year career came in the final race of that first year, when his Studebaker finally completed a main event without breaking down for the first time in 20 tries.
Hale has become the track's most well-known and visible driver.
In the 1970s, he wore a tuxedo while he drove. It was a deal with a local formal-dress shop that was then owned by his brother's brother-in-law. Hale wore the tuxedo each week as advertising--which he said doubled the store's business--and in return he was paid $50.
There was more to Hale than looking sharp. He also drove well, winning the track championship in 1970 and 1983.
Like other local drivers, Hale has desired bigger and better during his racing career. He tried a Grand National race eight years ago at Riverside and finished well back in the pack, stifling his dreams of the big time.
Now, Hale is more than content to race against the younger guys of Cajon Speedway.
"This keeps me young," Hale said. "I'm 48, but I don't feel like it. I know people I went to school with who just sit at home in a chair saying they're old and tired. I don't want to think about it."
Saturday night racing helps to keep Hale's mind from being preoccupied with the daily grind of his automotive machine shop.
Racing is a diversion from the everyday work world.
"I don't do drugs, so this is my way of escaping," driver Mark Norris said. "It gives you a high. When you enjoy this as much as I do, it's so special that nothing can replace it."
Norris, one of three drivers contending for this year's super stock car championship, owns Norris Racing Products, which makes fiberglass bodies for most of the cars that race at Cajon Speedway.
His top competitors are Mike Hagerman, who owns a wrecking yard, and Mark Meech, a parts and service representative for a diesel engine company.
The super stocks are the top class of cars at Cajon Speedway. There are also divisions for street stocks and bomber stocks. Cars must meet numerous specifications to be in a particular division.
Drivers are willing to pay the price it takes to compete.
Meech said the initial cost of his car, a 1984 Camaro, was $10,000. He has since put another $8,000 to $12,000 into its motor.
The drivers and their volunteer pit crews work on perfecting their cars during the week. Some put in a couple of hours a day after work, others a couple of hours a week.
"The last two months, we've been working till midnight, even on Sundays," Meech said. "We've had a problem with motors, and we had a severe wreck two weeks ago."
Though many have one or two sponsors, drivers must pay most of their own bills. A well-paying weekday job becomes a necessity if they want to spend their weekends racing.
In the super stock class, the main event winner earns $600 while the 16th-place finisher--in a 20-car field--wins $30.
Norris said he earned a track-record $15,000 last year, but did no better than break even after maintenance costs.
"The interesting thing is that the drivers in this sport are probably more dedicated than most baseball or football players," Norris said. "For all the millions of dollars they (the players) make, it costs us money to race. This (racing) is always important to us. If it wasn't, we wouldn't come because the costs are too high."
Despite the costs, drivers will do almost anything to gain an edge in their race for the season championship.
Three years ago, Norris took two cars to the track one night. He let a friend drive one car with the deal being that Norris got to drive if only one of the two cars was left running. Before the preliminary heat races concluded, both cars were out of commission.