“This is the biggest crowd we’ve had at the Irwindale Event Center in five years!” exclaimed the announcer between races. It was definitely clear that the potential pitfall of not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone wasn’t lost on the big crowd at Irwindale’s Independence Day themed Night of Destruction event on July 2nd.
The track has been doing these celebrations of automotive havoc for years, but this one is particularly special. This specific instance of the event boasted a fireworks show that’s “second to none in Los Angeles County,” which was compounded by the fact that the fate of Irwindale’s racetrack is in ongoing peril, and there’s a very real chance that after this summer, the track may no longer exist.
The Irwindale Event Center’s was initially planned for demolition last year, but complications surrounding the plans to replace it with an outlet mall have allowed the track to remain in operation until further notice. But that’s as much information as those outside of the organizations involved have about the future of the track, so it’s anyone’s guess how much time Irwindale has left. Accordingly, race fans are getting in on the action while they still can, and I was more than happy to join them in the fun.
Motorsport Meets Mayhem
The night consisted of five main events, with additional entertainment thrown in between rounds while the track was prepped for the upcoming action. Getting things underway were the Enduro races. The cars used for these events were mechanically stock, front wheel drive coupes and sedans with safety equipment added – think Honda Accords, Dodge Neons, Toyota Tercels, and so on. Would-be racers could either bring their own prepped race cars or potentially rent one from outfits like Robert Rice Racing for the night.
Along with the Enduro races, which were held on short road course through the oval’s infield as well as a figure 8 configuration that sent cars through unprotected cross traffic! These racecars saw additional use in Auto Soccer – which is exactly what it sounds like – and skid plate racing.
In the skid plate event, the regular rear wheels of these cars were replaced by bare rims with flat metal plates welded to the bottom. With the drive wheels up front, the effect is like FWD ice racing as the drivers fought to maintain control during near-constant drifts as showers of sparks trailed behind them.
But it wasn’t all tongue-in-cheek competition, either. Amongst the chaos we also got a chance to watch NASCAR Late Models race around the oval as well. Weighing in at approximately 2,900 pounds, these purpose-built stock cars are all powered by naturally aspirated V8s dishing out about 400 horsepower, so they made a lovely, thoroughly American racket as they circled the track.
By the time the green flag dropped for the stock car race, the crowd had reached capacity for the venue, meaning these amateur racers suddenly found themselves competing in front of literally thousands of rowdy fans, which only served to bolster the intensity, fun and general comradery of the night.
Once trailer racing was ready to get underway the crowd was ready for bedlam. There’s a reason trailer racing is the last event of the night, and once you’ve seen the condition of the track after the race is over, it’s clear that nobody is doing any kind of driving on the track until the cleaning crews have had a few hours to do their thing.
Trailer racing pits various older V8-powered makes – the kind you’d expect in a demolition derby, basically – against one another on the oval while each tows a boat or trailer of some kind. Like the Enduro events, contact is more or less encouraged here, and it wasn’t long before the track was littered with debris from end to end as cars smashed through discarded trailers with reckless abandon.
As promised, the night concluded with a wild and lengthy fireworks display. I have no qualms stating it was one of the best I’ve ever seen.
For less than the price of a movie ticket Irwindale Event Center delivered a truly unique experience that was absolutely worth making the trek for, particularly on a holiday weekend celebrating all things American. Who knows, maybe next time I’ll find a way to get me behind the wheel of one of those Enduro cars – it sure looks like a blast from the stands. Here’s hoping they never get those outlet mall plans sorted out so we can keep doing this every year.