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The Inside Track | MOTOR RACING

It's the End of an Era as Mesa Marin Closes

October 07, 2005|SHAV GLICK

Kevin Harvick got his start on the high banks of Mesa Marin Raceway's half-mile asphalt oval, winning a late model stock car championship while still in high school.

Bill Elliott raced there. So did Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and Dick Trickle. Bobby and Davey Allison raced against each other there. Jim Thirkettle won 78 main events and five championships, becoming a hometown legend on the track known as "the fastest half-mile in the West."

Memories abound at the 28-year-old racing facility that was 10 miles northeast of Bakersfield when Marion Collins built it. The track, once considered to be "way out in the boonies," is now surrounded by housing developments.

"Without Mesa Marin, Harvick would probably never have got out of Bakersfield," said Owen Kearns, who worked at the track before becoming a NASCAR administrator.

Collins and his family will close Mesa Marin next week with a three-day October Classic that is expected to attract as many as 200 vehicles. It will be the third racing facility in the West to have closed this year. Cajon Speedway in El Cajon never opened its season and Pikes Peak International Raceway in Fountain, Colo., closed last week.

The 28th Final October Classic will begin Thursday with super late models. After a pair of 40-lap qualifying races, the survivors will go 125 laps. On Friday the late models take for the Green Frog Markets 125.

Saturday's grand finale includes both the NASCAR AutoZone Southwest Series for 300 laps and the Grand National West for 150 laps.

"There's going to be a lot of nostalgia, that's for sure," said Larry Collins, son of Marion and the track general manager.

"We've heard from so many guys who want to be here, either to race or to watch. We hope to see the stands crammed with 9,000 fans on Saturday night."

Mr. Kirby's Porsche

Mr. Kirby's black Porsche, which won Sports Car Club of America national championships 21 years apart, is being retired.

In 1984, Robert Kirby, then chairman of the board at Capital Guardian Trust Co., drove his 914-4 to victory in the SCCA's national runoffs. Kirby, an avid amateur sports car enthusiastic, competed in the SCCA runoffs from 1962 to last year, when he retired at 79.

Mr. Kirby, as he was known among racing and business associates, retired, but he didn't retire his ageless Porsche 914-4. Kirby asked Mark Hotchkis, 36, a former Indy Lights driver and son of a long-time racing partner, to drive it one more year.

"I had known about Mr. Kirby's black Porsche for years, so I was thrilled to get a chance to drive it," said Hotchkis, who had not raced professionally since 1998. "He told me I could be the Robert Kirby factory driver, that it wouldn't cost me anything, but it wouldn't pay a nickel, either."

Hotchkis drove in three regional races, preparing for the runoffs, with Kirby apparently enjoying his new role as a team owner.

On April 13, Kirby died while working in his Los Angeles office.

"The family decided to race the car through the runoffs, then donate it to a motorsports museum," Hotchkis said.

The race was run Sept. 25 at the Mid-Ohio sports car course and nearly all of Kirby's family, including his widow, Marvel, and many of his eight children and 13 grandchildren came for the final act.

Hotchkis started fourth, took the lead before three of the 20 laps were completed and held on for the win.

The Kirby-Hotchkis relationship goes back a long way.

When Kirby and John Hotchkis, Mark's father, were younger, they drove under names of "Kilby" and "Hitchcock," so that their business firms would not know they were involved in a dangerous sport. They lost their cover when a story about Kirby in Business Week magazine showed him wearing his driver's suit instead of his business suit.

Southland Scene

Irwindale Speedway will close its regular weekly Saturday night season with an ambitious program starting at 6, an hour earlier than normal. It will include USAC sprint cars and Ford Focus midgets, final points races for super stocks and super trucks, legends cars and raucous supermodifieds.

The track will open for special events, the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, Nov. 10-12; the 65th Thanksgiving Night Midget Grand Prix on Nov. 24, and two drifting programs, the XDL Show on Dec. 3 and the D1 Grand Prix, a USA vs. Japan competition. Dec. 16-17.

Perris Auto Speedway and Ventura Raceway will be closed this week because of fairs.... Cal Club will hold two days of regional road racing this weekend at Willow Springs Raceway.... Off-road Hall of Famers Rod Hall and Walker Evans will showcase desert racing vehicles Saturday and Sunday at the Off Road Expo at the Pomona Fairplex.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

This week

NASCAR NEXTEL CUP Banquet 400

* When: Saturday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 8:30 a.m.); Sunday, race (Channel 4, 11 a.m.).

* Where: Kansas Speedway (tri-oval, 1.5 miles, 15 degrees banking in turns), Kansas City.

* Race distance: 400 miles, 267 laps.

* 2004 winner: Joe Nemechek.

* Next race: UAW-GM Quality 500, Oct. 15, Concord, N.C.

NASCAR BUSCH United Way 300

* When: Today, qualifying, (Speed Channel, 2 p.m.); Saturday, race (Channel 4, 11 a.m.).

* Where: Kansas Speedway.

* Race distance: 300 miles, 200 laps.

* 2004 winner: Nemechek.

* Next race: Charlotte 300, Oct. 14, Concord, N.C.

FORMULA ONE Japanese Grand Prix

* When: Saturday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 9 p.m. today); Sunday, race (Speed Channel, 9:30 p.m. Saturday).

* Where: Suzuka Circuit (road course, 3.636 miles, 21 turns).

* Race distance: 192.708 miles, 53 laps.

* 2004 winner: Michael Schumacher.

* Next race: Chinese Grand Prix, Oct. 16, Shanghai.

NHRA O'Reilly Fall Nationals

* When: Today, qualifying, 2:30 p.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 10 a.m. (ESPN2, 1 p.m.); Sunday, eliminations, 9 a.m. (ESPN2, 5 p.m.).

* Where: Texas Motorplex, Ennis.

* Next event: ACDelco Nationals, Oct. 23, Las Vegas.

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