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SPORTS WEEKEND | MOTOR RACING

Short Track at Irwindale Will Help in Long Run

August 11, 2000|SHAV GLICK

For the first time in 33 years in Southern California, groundbreaking for a new National Hot Rod Assn.-sanctioned drag strip will take place Saturday on the grounds of Irwindale Speedway.

The track, one-eighth mile long instead of the more conventional quarter-mile, will be located along the southern property line of the 63-acre facility, which also includes half-mile and third-mile paved ovals, plus an infield karting course.

Drag racing, which is expected to begin in late fall, will be limited to street-legal automobiles and junior dragsters. Competition will be on Sundays with all cars needing a DMV license before being accepted.

"I am totally behind the concept that provides another place for people to race, and I have favored the one-eighth mile distance for a long time," said Wally Parks, founder of the NHRA in 1951. "Due to the popularity of the quarter-mile distance in Southern California, there has been some resistance to the shorter track, but there are a whole string of benefits to it.

"There is need for a lot less property, less fencing, less asphalt and in most cases the racing is closer. Sure, the top fuelers and funny cars need a quarter-mile to run 300 mph, but for street-legal cars, the shorter distance will save owners and drivers a lot of money in repairs and upkeep.

"And looking to the future, an eighth-mile strip is the official distance for our junior dragsters."

Junior dragsters, scaled-down versions of top fuel dragsters, are driven by youngsters 8 to 15.

Grandstands will be built for 1,000 spectators to accommodate families and friends.

Eighth-mile tracks are commonplace elsewhere in the country. According to NHRA officials, there are 19 sanctioned short tracks, and a number of others unsanctioned.

The last NHRA track to be built in Southern California was Orange County Raceway, which operated in East Irvine from 1967 to 1983. Big Willie Richardson's highly popular Brotherhood Dragway on Terminal Island ran from 1974 to 1995 but was independently operated.

Although this is the first strip built locally in three decades, it will be the fourth drag strip located in Irwindale. There were two San Gabriel Valley dragstrips, one which ran from 1956 to 1958 and the other, on a different site, from 1961 to 1963, plus Irwindale Raceway, site of national events where the Miller Brewery stands, which operated from 1957 to 1973.

"This is what we've been planning for since the speedway project began over four years ago," said Bob DeFazio, the speedway's vice president and chief operating officer.

Saturday's 1:30 p.m. groundbreaking is open to the public.

"We're asking all hot rodders, street rodders, sport compact drivers, and everyone else who has an interest in street legal racing to come out to Irwindale to be part of history in the making," DeFazio said.

RACING CHANGES

Pomona Raceway, the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds' drag strip, which has been home to the NHRA since 1961, will again bookend the Winston Drag Racing schedule in 2001, but between the two dates there will be a number of changes. The season will open Feb. 1-4 with the 41st AutoZone Winternationals and close Nov. 8-11 with the 38th Auto Club NHRA Finals.

The rumored third Pomona race, in the summer, was not listed on the 23-event schedule, but the weekend of July 5-8 has been left open.

"We have two very exciting options for the July date, but we are not ready to announce it yet," said Tom Compton, NHRA president. Asked if a third Pomona race was one of the options, Compton declined to say yes or no.

The biggest changes are adding second races in Las Vegas and Chicago, and dropping second races at Houston and Dallas, reducing Texas' involvement from four dates to two. Richmond, Va., was also dropped from the schedule because of deteriorating track conditions and replaced by Bristol, Tenn. The new Bristol facility was the site this year of the Winston Showdown, a non-points all-star event, which is not scheduled next season.

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the NHRA's first national championship, in Great Bend, Kan. To commemorate the event, a national event will be held in nearby Topeka on Memorial Day weekend, May 24-27.

All events will be broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2 on a same-day basis.

KARTING DEBUT

Professional karting will make its debut Sunday at Irwindale Speedway when the Mission Region of Super Karts USA conducts the sixth of its eight-race championship series. The shifter karts will run on a road course that incorporates the oval tracks as well as the infield at Irwindale. Racing starts at 12:30 p.m.

COMPARING INDY AND DAYTONA

A.J. Foyt, who has won them both, has this to say about the difference between winning the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500:

"I think Indy has always been the most prestigious race in the world. But it's two different types of races. They're both very prestigious. I'm just glad I was one of the fortunate ones to actually win both of them.

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