Words by Aaron Bonk
Once a hotbed for drag racers with more than a dozen strips dispersed from San Diego to Sacramento, Los Angeles County’s last remaining stretch of legally sanctioned asphalt is the next on the list to be razed come 2016.
To make way for an outlet mall, of course.
Irwindale Speedway, which opened in 1999 and is situated just 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, is more than just an eighth-mile dragstrip that’s earned its reputation as Thursday-night’s go-to test-and-tune spot for aspiring and professional racers alike. The ground’s half-mile banked oval also hosts NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series West and Whelen All-American Series—both of them development leagues that give fans a glimpse of up-and-coming pro drivers before they make it big and move on to tracks like nearby Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway.
An equal-opportunity motorsports environment, Irwindale Speedway—informally known in some circles as The House of Drift—was the first to officially welcome the Japanese-bred art of controllable slides to the U.S. under the watchful eye of the D1 Grand Prix. In 2003 Yokohama Tire and Slipstream Global Marketing (now Formula Drift) delivered drifting to America by way of Irwindale Speedway, which has hosted the growing sport ever since its inaugural event that resulted in the grounds’ first-ever sold-out crowd of more than 10,000. For more than a decade Irwindale Speedway’s continued to host Formula Drift’s opening round each February along with a final non-competition round that takes place each December. Today, the track’s immediate surrounding area has been expanded to accommodate the 15,000 spectators the spectacles attract.
The House of Drift has long been lauded by drifting fans because of its seemingly relentless concrete wall that wreaks carnage on the backsides of whatever expensive piece of turbocharged and carbon-fiber-clad machinery dares get near it. Most recently, Formula Drift teamed up with Irwindale Speedway to offer Thursday night Drift Sessions—much like the track’s eighth-mile test-and-tunes—that offers amateur drifters a place to work on the sort of techniques they’d previously only been able to watch.
The bad ending comes as no surprise to those who’ve been following the September, 2013, sale of the property to Irwindale Outlet Partners, LLC, though, who reportedly bought the parcel for $22 million and will presumably displace the racetrack for chain stores of the likes of Forever 21 and OshKosh B’gosh.
It’s a familiar story for Californians who’ve witnessed more than a dozen racetracks fall to unanimous votes of city councils who rewrite zoning regulations in the name of increased municipal revenues but at the expense of an illegal street racing epidemic that continues to grow. Riverside International Raceway, which opened in 1957 and hosted NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA, and Formula One, was among the first to fall to retail chains and a condo complex in 1989. Lions Drag Strip in Wilmington shut down soon after, followed by Palmdale’s Los Angeles County Raceway as well as tracks as far south as Carlsbad and points north such as Saugus.
Irwindale Speedway shares a similar fate, but until its new owner secures at least 65 percent of its future vacancies with tenants, its grounds are reported to remain open to those looking to hone their 60-foot times. Which means the parking-lot-wandering minivans in search of no less than a couple-thousand different kinds of perfume underneath one roof all within arms-reach of a chain-stand soft pretzel will have to wait just a little longer.