UPDATED: It's official - Irwindale Speedway is closing. A press release from Team 211 Entertainment, the current facility managers, came out last night, indicating the center's last day of operation will be January 31st, 2018. The land's owners plan to erect a shopping center on the site, or so say the news reports, and while the end had been anticipated for some time, it seems now the other shoe has finally dropped. For the full text of the press release from the speedway, head over to their website.
The 1/2-mile banked short oval near Los Angeles has hosted NASCAR's feeder series, and also boasts a 1/8th mile drag strip where it had weekly races, but for lovers of "alternative" motorsports the place was a virtual mecca. Formula DRIFT, D1 Grand Prix, Global Rallycross, even gymkhana shared the limelight at Irwindale with other more traditional disciplines.
The biggest bummer to us is that now our friends at Formula D will have to find a new venue for their season ender starting in 2018. The pro drifting championship released a statement yesterday saying as much shortly after Irwindale dropped its news, but Jim Liaw, president and co-founder of FD, really put a point on the matter with a personal message on his Facebook page. "Since the 2012 bankruptcy of the original leaseholders, then the purchase of the property in 2013, then only offering year-to-year leases to 211 Enterprises, the Speedway had been in jeopardy," Liaw states. "We knew this day would one day come yet we all hoped for a miraculous change. This is a somber moment to say the least. Everyone in our industry is consumed by regulations to vehicle modifications but forgot that track closures is also a dagger to the industry."
As we pour one out and mourn the loss of another great local facility, we remember below some of the best times we had at Irwindale Speedway.
Yokohama Tire and Slipstream Global Marketing (which went on to create Formula D) helped bring over Japan's premiere drifting league in August of 2003 for its first event on US soil. It was a huge success, selling out the speedway, and has since been seen as part of the beginnings of the sport's growth in North America. 2002 D1 champ Katsuhiro Ueo won the event in his Trueno, and it led to the series returning to the US several times over the following seven years.
FORMULA DRIFT SEASON FINALE
FD has been coming to Irwindale since the pro championship's start in 2004, closing out its season at the track for the past 13 years. For us, there are a multitude of memories attached to the events - watching Tanner Foust claim back-to-back titles, Vaughn Gittin, Jr. close out his dominating championship in 2010 with a strong finish, even Dai Yoshihara dodging several huge bullets in 2011 to win the tightest title race in series history (add to that Chris Forsberg being awarded an unmatched third series title at the track). Irwindale is now imbued with all kinds of drifting mystique, which is why it is today known informally as "The House of Drift."
In December of 2010, Ken Block tried to get a gymkhana series off the ground by holding this invite-only affair. While the stands were only half full that night, it still should've been considered a success - it was, after all, the biggest gymkhana event ever held in the US. Following the event, Block opted instead to run a series of demos rather than comps.
GLOBAL RALLYCROSS CHAMPIONSHIP INAUGURAL
The GRC made a big, splashy debut at the circuit in March of 2011 with nothing less than ESPN covering the series' first three rounds as a feeder for its X Games 17 rally-based events. Twice Formula D champion Foust basically retired from a successful sliding career in order to jump and drift his AWD Rockstar Fiesta, this time on a combo dirt-tarmac short road course. However, it was twice WRC drivers champ Marcus Gronholm, signing on to drive the Olsbergs-built, Best Buy-backed Fiesta, who went on to win the series inaugural.
X GAMES 2013
Rallycross, gymkhana and big air all in one venue - seemed like an unusual mix of elements, but the facility was perfectly suited for it. Toomas Heikkinen claimed rally-x gold in his Ford Fiesta, and Tanner Foust did the same in Jim Conner, adding to his lengthy list of achievements behind the steering wheel.