Auto Racing

Speed abounds on Southland tracks

Southern California's love affair with the automobile is well documented and so is its love of auto racing. Early racing ace Barney Oldfield even appeared at the L.A. Agricultural Park in November of 1903 to stun more than 10,000 spectators by driving his "No. 2 Bullet" at more than a mile per minute!

Smaller tracks of various kinds of have been active for decades, but major-league racing came on September 6, 1970 at the new $25.5 million Ontario Motor Speedway. The 2.5-mile oval hosted an enormous crowd of 180,223 for the inaugural California 500, won by Jim McElreath. Ontario never caught on and closed for good in 1980 and was demolished in 1981. But it was a preview of things to come.

Long Beach travel agent Chris Pook dreamed of a major street race in Southern California and he made it happen in 1975 with the first Long Beach Grand Prix. It was a smashing success, debuting to more than 75,000 race fans and growing into one of the area's major events every April. That breakthrough debut ranked no. 81 on the list of Los Angeles greatest moments in sports in the Sports Council's 1995 compilation..

Penske Racing wrote the next chapter in the Southern California racing scene with the construction of the massive, 529-acre (now 568-acre) Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. Officially opened on June 20, 1997 on the site of a Kaiser Steel Mill, it now hosts NASCAR, American Motorcycle Association, NHRA, Historic Sports Cars and other races year-round.

Quick Facts

  • Highlights of the annual racing season start with the Long Beach Grand Prix, which takes over the streets of Long Beach in mid-April.

  • NASCAR comes to SoCal in February and again in October with Sprint Cup Weekends at Auto Club Speedway, headlined by the Auto Club 500.

  • Indy cars roar at the Speedway in September, capped by the Toyota Indy 400.

  • The CART circuit also takes over the California Speedway, usually in the first week of November, with the California 500 on the oval as the area's seasonal finale.

  • For those interested in a close-up look at racing, try the Irwindale Speedway almost any weekend for midget car, stock car and Kart racing around the half-mile oval; more details are at Irwindale Speedway.