California’s Irwindale Speedway may have run its final race.
An announcement is expected Monday that the track – once home to the nationally recognized NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown – will not open its gates in 2012, and workers have reportedly already begun dismantling the showplace facility.
|Lights out at Irwindale?|
The LA Daily News reported Saturday that the track’s pit grandstands and storage facility were being disassembled late last week, with a moving van parked near the track’s administration building. Speedway Vice President and General Manager Bob DeFazio declined to comment to Daily News writer Keith Lair, but Operations Director Bob Klein said an announcement on the track’s future will be made Monday.
As recently as September, DeFazio denied rumors that the 2012 season might be the last for the California track. “Stories like this pop up every year,” said DeFazio in an exclusive, Sirius-Speedway.com interview. “This probably stems from the announcement we made about the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown not returning. People take something like that and run with it.” He indicated recently that a 2012 race schedule would be released soon, with an eye toward opening in early to mid-March.
While no official attendance figures are available, car and crowd counts were down substantially last season over previous years. The track claimed more than 5,000 weekly fans packed its expansive, 6,500-seat grandstand each week between 2001 and 2004, but unofficial estimates placed slightly more than half that number in attendance for most events last year.
By midseason, speculation was rampant that declining ticket sales had impacted revenue so severely that lease payments on the property were consuming most of the track’s operating capital. A lucrative naming rights contract with Toyota expired at season’s end, eliminating yet another revenue source. Rumors of the track’s demise peaked when the final two races of the season were abruptly cancelled, along with the annual post-season awards banquet. DeFazio insisted he held an ironclad, long-term lease on the speedway property, however, saying, “We have a 52-year lease, and this is year 13. There are no worries there.”
|The racing was always top-notch|
"They need a different vision for the place," said three-time Irwindale track champion Nick Joanides to the Daily News this week. "Racers have not been happy for last several years. (Now it’s) a month before the season and no schedule. There is no way cars (can) get ready at this point.
"It's devastating that such a nice facility won't be used. It amazes me."
DeFazio admitted in September that attendance had varied, saying, “We started out down, but had a pretty good summer. We actually saw some significant gains in some of our summer shows, and our annual K&N Pro Series West crowd was better than the year before. But as football starts and other things divert people’s attention, we (began) to see declines in attendance again.”
The track’s location -- adjacent to the 605 Freeway and less than 25 minutes from downtown Los Angeles – makes it a prime target for real estate developers. Attempts to contact DeFazio today were unsuccessful, but he confirmed in September that there were no guarantees about the facility’s long-term viability. “There is nothing definitive I can tell you, but we are looking at a couple of different options.
“As far as I know, we’re in good shape for 2012. And I’m pretty close to the situation.”
Photo Credits: Charly/Racing West