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SPORTS WEEKEND | MOTOR RACING

Book Chronicles History of the Riverside Raceway

November 03, 2000|SHAV GLICK

There had been racing in Southern California since the early 1900s, when Barney Oldfield was running outrageous speeds at Agricultural Park, but not until Riverside International Raceway came along in the late 1950s did the rest of the country pay much attention.

RIR was to racing what the transcontinental railway was to the nation's western movement.

Racing historian-photographer Dick Wallen has revived memories of the extraordinary events on the dusty, twisting road course with his book, "Riverside Raceway: Palace of Speed," a 352-page history of the late, lamented track that was closed in 1989 to make way for a shopping mall.

For 32 years, virtually every race car driver of note from all forms of motorsports performed on the track east of Riverside.

From stock car racing's Junior Johnson to Richard Petty to Dale Earnhardt, from sports car racing's Phil Hill to Jimmy Clark to Mark Donohue, from Indy Car racing's Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti and A. J. Foyt to Rick Mears, from off-road racing's Mickey Thompson to Walker Evans to Roger Mears, racing heroes of the era--Dan Gurney won in sports cars, Indy cars and stock cars--are chronicled.

Not forgotten are several seasons of drag races, most of them over a half-mile strip instead of the conventional quarter-mile.

"I can't think of another race track where so many great drivers from around the world would come and participate," commented Les Richter, the longtime proprietor of the track, in the foreword.

Most impressive are nearly 1,000 photographs of racing personalities, cars and events that made Riverside perhaps the most famous road-racing course in America. Adding interest are color reproductions of many race programs, plus summaries of Winston Cup, Indy car, Times Grand Prix, Can-Am and even a lone Formula One race.

Most amusing is a quote attributed to Richter. In it, he writes of his Fresno childhood: "Once I went away to play football at USC and then the Los Angeles Rams . . . "

Of course, as all gridiron fans know, Richter was a Hall of Fame linebacker at California, a Golden Bear, not a Trojan. An editor's slip-up, no doubt.

Only a limited number of books have been printed. They are available, at $100 for a hard-bound copy, or $125 for a deluxe edition with matching sleeve, from Dick Wallen's Racing Classics, P.O. Box 10561, Glendale, Ariz., 85318-0561. Telephone orders: (623) 566-5578.

THE PHOENIX WEEKEND

As NASCAR's various stock car seasons wind down, Phoenix International Raceway will be the focal point for three series this weekend--Winston Cup, Busch Grand National and Featherlite Southwest.

Bobby Labonte, after a rare Winston Cup week off, will resume trying to win his first Winston Cup championship and the first for three-time winning Super Bowl coach Joe Gibbs. With three races remaining, Labonte is 201 points ahead of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt.

"Right now [the points race is] still way too close for me to worry about," Labonte said. "If there were two races left, I'd feel a little bit better. If there was one race left I'd feel a lot better.

"But with three races left, you can only feel so good. Last year we finished third at Phoenix and we had an average finish of 2.0 in the last three races, but that was then and this is now. We've got to go out and make it happen ourselves and we've got to go out there and run really good, be competitive and try to win one or two of them before the year is over."

After Sunday's Checker-Dura Lube 500, remaining races are Nov. 12 at Homestead, Fla., and Nov. 19 at Atlanta.

Jimmy Makar, Labonte's crew chief, is optimistic about his driver's chances.

"Typically, our race team runs its strongest the latter part of the season, especially the last 10 races," he said. "Unfortunately, looking at the last 10, we've had some of our worst finishes and worst luck. I think five of the last 10 we've finished 10th or worse. Now granted, we won two of them, but we've had a stretch of bad luck and misfortune.

"Hopefully, we can turn that around in the last three races and get back to where we don't have the misfortunes. This is what we've worked on for nine years now to get to the point where we were in the championship battle and close to winning a championship. It's been a lot of time, a lot of blood, sweat and tears."

Labonte finished second last year, but never seriously challenged champion Dale Jarrett.

If Labonte wins, he and older brother Terry will become NASCAR's only Winston Cup sibling champions. Terry won in 1984 and 1996. When Jeff Green clinched the Busch series last week, he joined brother David as fellow series champions. David Green won in 1994.

"Terry is somebody that I always looked up to because we never raced against each other until probably 1989 or even 1990," said Bobby, who is eight years younger. "As children or young kids, Terry was always the first one to get stuff because he was older than I was. I was always wanting to do the same thing he was doing."

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