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Perris Auto Speedway Closer to Being Reality

February 15, 1996|SHAV GLICK

Southern California fans of Winston Cup stock car and Indy car open-wheel racing have suffered without a superspeedway since Ontario and Riverside shut down a decade ago, but equally despondent have been short-track fans, who lost first Ascot Park and then Saugus Speedway.

Almost monthly, rumors and even formal announcements of planned new facilities have titillated speed enthusiasts, but the motor racing blackout continued.

"I've heard so many rumors that I'm not going to even think about a new track until I see some ground being broken," one longtime Southland fan said. "I'm tired of all this talk, and no action. Break some ground and I'll get excited."

It's time to get excited.

Ground-breaking for the Perris Auto Speedway, the first half-mile dirt track to be built since Ascot closed in November, 1990, took place last week on the Lake Perris Fairgrounds.

The Riverside County facility, which will seat 8,000, is scheduled to open March 30 with the third race of the Sprint Car Racing Assn. season. It will become home base for the SCRA, which has operated something like a floating crap game since Ascot closed.

"Getting Perris is a big boost for us," Glenn Howard, SCRA president, said. "It was tough to run an organization without a place to call our own. We have 18 of our 40 dates scheduled at Lake Perris, so we're looking forward to a long relationship."

Billy Boat, the U.S. Auto Club's western regional midget champion from Glendale, Ariz., won the SCRA opener last Saturday night at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix. The next day he won the Copper Classic midget main event at Phoenix International Raceway.

The SCRA will race again March 23 at Manzanita, the night before the Indy Racing League race at Phoenix.

Bubby Jones, a two-time California Racing Assn. sprint car champion and a veteran of the 1977 Indianapolis 500, is the track's competition director.

"We'll have a lot more than sprint cars," Jones said. "We have about 60 dates on the books for the year, everything from stock cars to midgets to legend and dwarf cars to motorcycles. We'll run nearly every Saturday night, some Friday nights and Sunday afternoons when it's not too hot."

The facility, which will also have a quarter-mile oval inside the half mile track, is on the site of a former small dirt oval, but when the Kazarian family took over the lease, it decided to raze the old track and build a new one.

"This has been a family dream for more years than any of us can remember," said Ben Kazarian, father of the four brothers involved in running the speedway. "Motorsports and racing have been our family's business and passion since the boys were babies."

The Five K's, as the racing family is known, also includes brothers Dan, president and general manager of Oval Entertainment, LLC, the track's parent company; Ken, vice president; Kris, treasurer, and Don, general contractor and overseer of the site development.

"We've been involved in racing since the '50s, when dad owned cars driven by Parnelli Jones, Alan Heath and for years Bubby Jones," Dan said. "We have always loved dirt-track racing and we're really looking forward to opening night."

For easier viewing, the back straightaway will be five feet higher than the front straight. The track was designed by Jones, a veteran of 25 years of racing, and was engineered and built by Jim Ippolito.

Taking note of the increasing attendance of female fans at motor racing events, Jones said that Perris Auto Speedway will have more permanent restrooms for women than for men.

"We want our track to be family oriented and we think more restrooms for the ladies is one way to show it," Jones said.

The track is two miles east of Interstate 15, off the Ramona Expressway, south of March Air Force Base. It is about five miles south of the old Riverside International Raceway site.

It is the first of several tracks expected to open next year in Southern California. Cleanup work from the Kaiser steel mill is nearly complete on the site of Roger Penske's two-mile California Speedway in Fontana, with construction on a 65,000-seat stadium expected to begin next month, and plans for Irwindale Raceway, an asphalt half-mile oval at the junction of I-605 and Live Oak Avenue in Irwindale, have been announced. Plans call for construction to begin this summer.

Motor Racing Notes

MOTORCYCLES--Triumph, one of the most revered manufacturers in motorcycle history, will return to racing after two decades' absence this weekend at Willow Springs Raceway as part of the North American Sport Bike series. Bankruptcy halted production of Triumph bikes in the 1970s but the British manufacturer is back in business. The Mobil 1 Triumph Speed Triple Challenge will be one of a number of events on the two-day weekend road-racing program. Formula USA, which was created by Willow Springs owner Bill Huth in 1986, will be the feature attraction.

NECROLOGY--Ed Kretz, 84, winner of the first Daytona 200 motorcycle race in 1937 and four national championship races, died Jan. 30 in Monterey Park of heart failure after several strokes. Kretz, known as the "Iron Man" of motorcycling while riding an Indian Scout, was twice voted the American Motorcyclist Assn.'s most popular rider. He is survived by his wife, Mary, of Monterey Park; sons Ed Jr. of Monterey Park and Tony of Hacienda Heights; daughters Donna Forstell of Temple City and Rosemary McNair of San Diego; and sisters Anna Shank, 94, of Brawley, and Hilda Stone, 87, of Norco.

INDY CARS--Three more major sponsors--Pennzoil, Texaco and Indeck--have joined Mercedes-Benz and Toyota in backing the U.S. 500, Champion Auto Racing Teams' May 26 alternative race to the Indianapolis 500.

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