Every Saturday between March and September, Eddie Castro of Ojai loads two speedway motorcycles and his three children into a van and makes a three-hour drive to Costa Mesa, where he races the 500cc alcohol-fueled machines with no brakes on a one-tenth-mile dirt oval.
Castro, 41, who grew up in Garden Grove and has lived in Ojai for 15 years, will have a much easier commute this weekend. He plans to race Friday night at Ventura Raceway and will bypass the regular Saturday night program at Costa Mesa Speedway to ride for the Dodge Brothers of Chatsworth in the Eighth Outlaw Vintage Short Track Motorcycle Races, also at Ventura.
"It's a lot easier [to race at Ventura]," said Castro, known as Fast Eddie since he started racing speedway motorcycles in 1979. "There is less time traveled, so hopefully, I can be more relaxed."
Castro, a single father, chose to raise Brittany, 13, Danielle, 12, and Dustin, 11, over pursuing his career internationally.
It is the love of competition, the love of speed and the love of riding motorcycles that drives Castro to fight traffic and make his weekly commute.
"It doesn't pay like it used to, but it's still fun," Castro said. "It kind of pays for itself with the help of sponsors."
Pat Hicks of Carpinteria purchased a motorcycle for Castro and the Dodge Brothers helped sponsor Castro's speedway efforts for two years after he rode one of their motorcycles in a vintage race at Ventura.
Castro is the defending Class C handshift champion in the vintage event, in which he went from first to last to first after getting a poor start from the pole position. Defending national speedway champion Brad Oxley believes Castro will be among the favorites Friday night.
"[Castro's] never been known for finesse and patience," Oxley said. "He's known for going flat out. He's definitely in his element on the high banks of Ventura."
Castro attributed his success in the vintage racing to his speedway experience. Many riders, he said, attempt to drive the heavy bikes through the corners instead of pitching them sideways and sliding through under full power.
"A lot of guys Class C it, but I just take that thing and speedway it" Castro said. "I just flick it [sideways] and go."
Castro learned the technique riding mini-bikes as a teenager, when he and his friends would emulate the speedway bikes.
When Castro started competing in speedway races, the sport was riding a wave of popularity. Races were held in Ventura on Tuesday, at Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino on Wednesday, at now-defunct Ascot Park in Gardena on Thursday, in Costa Mesa on Friday and in Visalia on Saturday.
The 1982 world championships, won by Bruce Penhall, were held at the Coliseum. When Penhall joined the cast of TV's "CHiPs," an episode of the show was written around the race.
Popularity waned in the late 1980s and Ventura and Orange Show dropped the sport, which also may lose Costa Mesa after this season.
"I'm sure we'll get another track somewhere," Castro said.
Castro would face commuting to Auburn, Calif., for speedway races if the Oxley family and the state of California can't iron out a contract for the use of the track at the Orange County Fairgrounds.
Castro said he will compete in vintage flat track and vintage motocross events if speedway does not return to Costa Mesa next year.
The NASCAR Winston West series makes the first of three stops at Irwindale Speedway on Saturday night, and defending series champion Sean Woodside of Saugus, who lost his ride to current points leader Brendan Gaughan of Las Vegas, will make his first Winston West appearance since clinching the championship at Twin Rings Motegi in November 1999.
Woodside has been competing in the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest tour, which makes a stop at Sears Point in Sonoma on Saturday afternoon.
Brad Miller, owner of the Crazy Horse Steakhouse and father of Irwindale super late model regular Brandon Miller, has arranged to fly Woodside from Northern California to Southern California in a private jet after the Southwest Tour race, scheduled to start at noon.
Woodside figures he will arrive at Irwindale by 3:45 p.m., in time to make the 4:30 qualifying session.
"I think it's what anybody would want to do," said Woodside. "I just am fortunate enough to put a deal together."
Woodside is no newcomer to doubleheaders. He won a Southwest Tour race March 24 at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield and qualified and practiced on March 25 for a NASCAR Craftsman Truck race the next day at Bakersfield. He then drove from Bakersfield to Irwindale to compete in a super late model race and returned to Bakersfield the following morning to compete in the truck race.
"It's probably being young and stupid to spread myself so thin," said Woodside, who has struggled with chassis setup problems in the Southwest Tour car and is fifth in the points standings.
Clint Mears, 27, of Azusa, son of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears, will make his Winston West debut at Irwindale.