Los Angeles, Ca. - On Sunday, June 12, 2011 I traveled 96 miles from the E. San Gabriel Valley via I-5 and 14 freeways to the debut racing weekend of the new quarter-mile dirt track at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds in Lancaster. The Hi Desert Racing Association, in conjunction with the Antelope Valley Fair Board and nine sponsors, officiated. They finished cutting the quarter-mile track Thursday, June 9 and ran the first oval races two days later. Racing divisions Saturday were street & hobby stocks, bomber/American stocks, mini/sport compacts, two-person stuntman stocks and Figure 8s. There were about 60 cars present. Sunday afternoon racing, after late morning hot lap sessions, had 84 cars in action in five divisions. The first race green flag was scheduled for 1:00 pm. It was a sunny, hot day in the mid-80s Time trials were not held for any division. Competitors drew for starting positions.
The AVF facility on Sunday was a genuine four-ring circus with heavy emphasis on all things automotive. On arrival at the AVF it was an effort to get to the proper pit entrance. There was a club motorcycle event at one gate. There also was the regular motocross cycle races for male and female racers who jumped over dirt mounds on a dirt course beyond the quarter-mile backstretch. The quarter-mile pit entrance was just beyond the motocross track pit booth. Behind the quarter-mile main grandstand was a paved drifting track in use all day with screeching tires and smoke. A rock band played to many people seated under awnings, with a fine mist spray offering relief from the heat. A display area behind the grandstand had booths for vendors, including racing supporter Garrett-Jacobsen Inc.. Rich DeLong III had three of his DeLong Racing Irwindale cars (super stocks 84 and 44 and winged modified 84) on display.
The Hi Desert Racing Association uses the motto “Cause It's Fun” The organization dubbed the initial AVF oval track event “Thunder on the Lot”. Persons behind the initial Hi Desert Racing Lancaster races were Chuck Simons, Jon Christensen and Ralph Gugliuzza. Pit passes cost $25. and there were cash payouts at the end of each day. Pre-entry fee per class was $45-50 for car and driver. Mini-dwarfs were free for car and driver only. Purses for IMCA Mods and senior sprints were based on a turnout of 20 cars and showed $350 to P. 1 and $30 for P. 20. Dwarf cars had $200 to win and $25 for P. 20. Sport mods received $200 to $25 from first to last. The dwarf cars used 1,000cc to 1,200cc Yamaha, Kawasaki or Suzuki engines. The mini-dwarf cars used 5.5 Honda-built lawnmower engines.
The new Lancaster oval is a quarter-mile at the berm. Straightaways are flat. Turns 1 and 2 have banking of 1.9 degrees with a downhill slant onto the backstretch, which is 275 feet long. It is uphill from the backstretch at turn 3 to the fourth turn and onto the front straight, which also is 275 feet long. The track is 55 feet wide from the inside berm to the concrete K-rails lining the outside of the track. The pit area is outside turn 2, the backstretch and turns 3 and 4. The AVF site is located at 2551 W. Ave. H, just off the 14 freeway via the Ave. H exit. The 14 freeway is visible from the modern, uncovered, all-aluminum grandstand on the front straight. It has all-backed seating and has a capacity of 7,250 persons. Every seat offers an excellent view of track action. There is no scoring or officials booth or suites atop the grandstand, but I was informed that temporary suites or scoring booths could be added.
New clay was to be added for the opening AVF oval races, but that did not happen. The AVF site has hosted demolition derbies and Figure 8 events in the past. Frequent watering of the track and pits and push-off road kept dust to a tolerable minimum. The track was somewhat rough and tough to navigate initially. However, drivers got the hang of it and passing took place. It was an entertaining afternoon of heat races and main events. As expected for a new racing venue, inspections for each division ran late and delayed hot-lapping and races. The first race took place at 3:17 pm. Attendance in the grandstand was in the hundreds and thousands including the pits. The car count of 84 on day two probably made the event successful financially.
On arrival at 12:30 pm I was happy to see and talk to ex-CRA sprint car driver Lauri Creech, of Lancaster. She is the younger daughter of the late CRA driver Everett Creach and sister of pioneer CRA female driver Vicki (No. 101) Creach. Lauri said she considered bringing out her No. 102 Roger Beck-built sprint car, but did not do so. She said Lancaster's old Antelope Valley Fairgrounds was four miles from the current site, which opened in 2004. On Friday, 9/27/63 J. C. Agajanian promoted his first USAC Midget race there on the fifth-mile dirt track with 33 midgets present. I was in the grandstand that night and watched 1963 Indianapolis 500 rookie (in an Andy Granatelli Novi) Bobby Unser acclimate himself to the new fairgrounds track quickly. Unser set fastest qualifying time of 17.42 in the only USAC race ever held at the site. After two heat races officials canceled two heats and the semi-main because the track surface was too rough and dusty. The scheduled 30-lap main event that night was terminated four laps early by an official because of severe dust and ruts. Only ten of 18 starters finished. Billy Cantrell, the third race leader, led the final eight laps in the No. 34 Doug Caruthers Offy and beat Don Hawley, Don Horvath and Unser. They all raced the next night at Ascot Park in Gardena with 42 cars present and Cantrell won the 50-lap main in Caruthers' No. 34.
On entry into the new AVF pits I spoke to Irwindale regular Kirk Rockwell, who served both days as assistant referee with referee Danny Smith. I also met for the first time racing writer Dave Grayson, of Ridgecrest, who was the AVF track announcer. I also spoke to Brian Golden, of the Antelope Valley Press. He said his daily newspaper has a weekly mid-week motor-sports column by him. The paper plugged the race and also covered the AVF race results. In fact, Brian said the track if developed properly could host USAC dirt track races around the annual Thanksgiving Midget Grand Prix at Irwindale. Brian said the population of Lancaster is 100,000+ and nearby Palmdale also is 100,000+ and the area has many car racing and off-road enthusiasts. His newspaper is certainly behind more racing at the AVF facility. The track needs clay and more development but potential is there.
The Sunday June 12 entry list had 93 cars on it. IMCA Mods showed 22 cars, 9 sport mods, 27 dwarf cars, 19 mini dwarf cars (driven by kids 5-12 and raced on an infield tenth-mile oval), and 7 senior sprints. Senior sprint drivers, known affectionately as “galloping geezers”, on the list but not present were: No. 31 Billy Felts, No. 72 Chuck Tyler, No. 96 Mike Cook, and No. 71 Richard McCormick. The seven senior drivers present were: No. 0k Bill Perkins, Hesperia, in a Triple X chassis; No. 16 Tom Harper, Agoura Hills, No. 44 Oren Prosser, 71, Agoura Hills, No. 50 Mike “Hubcap” Collins, Orange, No. 66 Chris Meredith, 50, Thousand Oaks, in a DRC chassis, No. 75, Bill Badger, 61, of Saugus, in a Triple X chassis, and No. 88 Jim Porter, Moorpark, in a TCR copy. Only two push vehicles were present to push start the seven sprint cars. A tow truck was joined by a Rhino pit vehicle that was pressed into service.
RACES: IMCA Modified 8-lap heat races after 3 pm went to 21J Justin Crockett and 77H Ken Kirkpatrick. The sport mod (2-barrel carburetors) 8-lap heat went to 23 Mike Johnson. Second starter Chris Meredith led all 8 laps of the 7-car senior sprints heat after pole starter Collins spun out of the lead in turn 4 on the first lap. He continued non-stop and placed seventh. The first three drivers—Meredith, Badger and Prosser—ran practically nose-to-tail all 8 laps until Meredith opened a ten-yard winning margin over Badger. Prosser, Harper, Porter, Perkins and Collins followed in a 2+ minute race. Five mini dwarf car heats on the infield oval went to Jake Mahan and the yellow 21 car. Dwarf car 8-lap heat winner George Calvo (No. 44) topped a race with three leaders. The 8-car mini-dwarf main on the infield tenth-mile went to car 88 over 17 (Mahan) and 78. Next, at 4:28 pm, was a 17-car Dwarf Car main on the quarter-mile. No. 58v started second and led the first ten laps before he spun out low in turn 2. Travis Brand (No. 02v) paced lap 11, but Gordon Brand (No. 0v) passed him on lap 12 on the inside as they entered turn 3 and led through lap 14. A caution on lap 15 for a spin allowed the 02v to retake the lead. On lap 19 Brand's No. 02v spun out low in turn 3 and continued in P. 4 behind new leader Luke Boles (No. 56) with 12 cars still racing. On the final lap (20), the 0v car of Gordon Brand made an inside move leaving turn 4 and passed Boles for the lead. He thought he had won, but instead of receiving the checkered flag he received a yellow because George Calvo's 44 car had spun and stalled in turn 1. With ten cars still on the track under caution, the starter waved the checkered and yellow flags at 4:49 pm ending the race. Three main events remained to be run. The track was suppose to be finished racing by 6:00 pm, even with a one-hour extension from the AVF board. The way the dwarf cars received the checkers was Ov, 56, 43, 02, 5, 2, 7, 52, 13 and 09, driven by 15-year old Hannah Mayhew, of nearby Acton. Later officials agreed to call the Ov and 56 cars co-winners and split their combined P 1-2 money in half. That was a Solomon-like decision.
A 15-car, 25-lap IMCA Modified main followed at 4:56 and needed two restarts. Randy Thormell led the first 17 laps by as much as 30-yards. A spin on lap 18 caused a caution. On the L 18 restart, IMCA points chaser Bill Meyer, from Mohave Valley, AZ, passed the leader low in turn 4 at the green flag. 25V John Vogt and 55 Gary Curtis also passed the former leader before the first turn with eight cars still racing. P 5-7 cars spun on L 19. A green, white, checkered flag finish followed after officials lopped off five laps from the scheduled distance because of time constraints. On the white flag lap race leader Meyer made an unforced error by getting too high between turns 1 and 2. He drove through an open space and behind the turn 2 concrete K-rails. He reentered the track on the backstretch, but was now in last position with seven cars still racing. With Meyers' miscue, P. 5 starter Vogt, from Santa Maria, led the final lap from turn 2 to the finish line and checkered at 5:14 pm. Thormel (No. 07), Curtis (No. 55) and Aaron Rodarte (No. 20) followed. Meyer was P. 5. A five-car, 20-lap sport modified race followed from 5:19 to 5:26 with only one yellow flag. Bakersfield's Mike Johnson led every lap from the pole. Runner-up Robbie Witwer trailed by a straightaway on L 15 and by 60-yards at the finish.
The seven-car field of 360 cu. in. senior sprints ran the final main event of the day. The 25-lap feature started at 5:38 and Meredith led the first lap over Badger, Prosser, Porter, Collins, Harper and Perkins. Leader Meredith spun the No. 66 Sheri Clawson DRC/Carco SBC 360 Chevy on L 2 in the first turn. The looped car collected cars of Prosser, Porter and Collins. All restarted. Ventura Raceway veteran Prosser spun on L 5 in turn 1 and continued. Porter spun and pitted his TCR knockoff chassis. The L 5 restart came at 5:48 and drivers ran off 21 laps without an additional yellow flag. P.2 Badger inherited the lead on L 2 after Meredith spun and held it to the lap 25 checkered flag. However, his trip to victory lane was not easy. Badger's No. 75 Triple X chassis had an almost flat left rear tire after the L 2 multi-car tangle. Under caution second place Harper came alongside and motioned that his LR tire was going flat. Badger continued without pitting and took a chance it would last. It did. Badger said afterward that his LR tire had only one pound of air in it after the finish. Runner-up Harper trailed by a mere car length at L 18 and was ten yards back at the end. Prosser, a straightaway behind P. 2, earned third. Collins and Meredith completed the top five. Perkins, who pitted on L 12, and Porter were the two non-finishers. To the relief of the promotional team, the final checkered flag of the long day flew at 5:54 pm, six minutes before the promoters and AVF Board agreed upon 6:00 curfew. Will there be more racing on the new AVF quarter-mile? PA announcements during the afternoon asked attendees to let the AVF Board know if they wanted more racing a the site. Who knows what will happen next? Stay tuned.