Another Southern California track about to bite the dust: Remembering Irwindale Speedway

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Another NASCAR track in Southern California seems no match for suburban sprawl.

The fate of Irwindale Speedway will be determined Wednesday night at a Irwindale, Calif., city council meeting, and the Pasadena Star-News reports the half-mile likely will be razed in favor of a 700,000-square-foot outlet mall. The president and CEO of the track (which has gone by Irwindale Event Center the last few years) addressed its future on Facebook.

NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown
Irwindale Speedway during the final Toyota Showdown in 2011.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images for NASCAR

This isn’t the first time that commerce has conquered race cars in one of the nation’s most expensive and hypercompetitive real estate markets. In 1989, Riverside International Raceway was shuttered after 32 years and eventually replaced by a shopping mall and townhome development. Ontario Motor Speedway was demolished in 1981 only 10 years after its grand opening and has become home to a mixed-use development and minor-league arena.

A few decades of racing history disappeared with both venues. Riverside was a 2.62-mile road course that played host to 48 races in NASCAR’s premier series from 1958-88, featuring notable winners such as Dan Gurney (who won six times in eight races), A.J. Foyt and Richard Petty. Foyt won the first two NASCAR races and a record five IndyCar races at Ontario, which was a 2.5-mile replica of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Irwindale doesn’t have quite the same history, but it’s had some memorable moments since Steve Portenga won a K&N Pro Series West (then known as Winston West) race in its 1999 inaugural season. Richard Childress Racing’s Brendan Gaughan notched three consecutive victories there in 2001, and the track was the site of several all-star exhibition races when it was sponsored by Toyota.

Joey Logano twice won the Toyota All-Star Showdown in 2007 and ’10, and he was disqualified in a controversial ’09 finish for crashing Peyton Sellers on a last-lap pass for the victory (it’s around the 3:30 mark in the video below). Fellow Sprint Cup veteran David Gilliland, a Southern California native, also was a Showdown winner in ’05.

The track has battled financial troubles in recent years with a management company filing bankruptcy in February 2012, and NASCAR briefly pulled its sanction.

After a three-year absence, the K&N West Series returned in March 2014 with a 75-mile race won by Patrick Staropoli. The Whelen All-American Series is running Irwindale this season, and the K&N Pro Series West will return April 11 for the King Taco Catering/ NAPA Auto Parts 150.

With the Star-News reporting that track demolition could begin in early 2016, the next K&N winner could be remembered as the last of a major NASCAR race at the facility – joining Benny Parsons (Ontario, 1980) and Rusty Wallace (Riverside, 1988) as trivia answers.

Though Southern California’s car culture and fan base has fostered the support for significant investment in building racetracks, those facilities always seem to be regarded as less valuable than the land they occupy.