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California Speedway History

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Speed and close racing aren't necessarily the issues when fans and racers discuss the California Speedway. In its brief three-year history, the $120-million state-of-the-art facility has made its mark in motorsports. After all, Maurico Gugelmin set the world mark for the fastest one-lap around a closed course- 240.942 mph-in 1997. Mark Blundell, Jimmy Vasser and Adrian Fernandez have each won the The 500 presented by Toyota events that have closed the CART FedEx Championship Series, featuring high-speed side-by-side racing and a $1 million purse to the championship Series the past two years. In the NASCAR Winston Cup Series races, has won twice and once. However, Martin has swept both International Race of Champion events. Those in attendance have not only been treated to great racing, but to some of the best creature comforts known to exist. How many speedways can boast of a train station, concierge services or hot showers? And the track has played host to four different driving schools, allowing fans to complete high-speed laps in everything from NASCAR stock cars to a two-seat open-wheel Champ car. Yet, the one question that everyone wants to know is: What's new about the facility this year? There has been an ongoing metamorphosis of the speed palace since its inaugural race in June, 1997. In each of the following two seasons, the landscape was totally different and the trend continues this year. To wit:
  • 1998: A section of 15,777 seats was added to the main grandstands, hiking that reserved capacity to 86,232. In the same year, a fully-equipped playground was built in the infield. Additionally, the speedway became the first major facility in the country to erect an inside debris fence.
  • 1999: 28 sky boxes were added to the rim of the main grandstands, joining the 71 luxury terrace suites located along pit road. These luxury suites offer breath-taking views of not only the speedway and its manicured-grounds, but of the San Gabriel Mountains and San Bernardino Valley.
  • 2000: A new look for Turn 2 and the backstretch. In keeping with existing International Speedway Corporation (which bought the track from Penske Motorsports last year) safety policies there is pavement in Turn 2 extending down two thirds of the 2,500-foot backstretch, bordered by 61 palm trees that have become the speedway's signature. In addition, a new catch fence was extended around the perimeter of the track.
In its short existence, California Speedway has developed a reputation of offering the best for not only its fans but competitors. No bigger than the ones faced by Henry J. Kaiser and Roger Penske, two men who have left their mark on history by utilizing the same 529 acres. In the process, each has transformed the image of the city to the east. With Kaiser, Fontana was recognized as the home of Kaiser Steel, the first integrated steel mill west of the Rockies. Built during World War II, just outside the projected range of Japanese battleships, the mill provided steel necessary for the construction of Liberty ships. Kaiser Steel, at one point, was the economic hub of the area, employing a work force of more than 11,000. But on Dec. 31, 1983, Kaiser Steel went bankrupt and closed forever. The site was abandoned and became an eyesore, rubble and rust dominating the landscape. Movie production replaced steel as the money product. That changed 10 years later when Kaiser Ventures Inc. and Penske Corporation exchanged thoughts about a speedway. An agreement was reached in early 1995 and there were already indications this project was about speed. Before construction started, NASCAR and CART gave the track dates for the 1997 season. San Bernardino County put the project on the fast track, effectively eliminating bureaucratic roadblocks in the permit process. Within months, the transformation of blighted site to speedway was underway. More than 21,000 tons of hazardous waste was removed and 370 tons of coal tar was recycled. When Kaiser won the The Governor's Award for Environmental and Economic Leadership, the speedway project had a green flag. On Nov. 22, 1995, a work force that numbered in the thousands began demolition and construction at the same time. The numbers were staggering:
  • 1 million tons of rubble removed;
  • 2 million cubic yards moved to shape the track;
  • 300,000 tons of asphalt were laid, not only on the track but enough for 32,000 parking spaces.
Building the track was matter of perseverance. "The issue I saw was being able to communicate to the contractors we hired was the level of quality we wanted," said Penske, who made weekly visits to the site during construction. "It took us, I would say, six to eight months to really make them understand what we wanted, and that we wanted it done right. Nearly 18 months later, California Speedway had become a reality, to the amazement of the racing community. first visited the site in May, 1995 as part of his annual motorcycle Charity Ride Across America. In June, 1997, he was among the 43 racers that took the green flag for the inaugural Winston Cup race. "When we first came out here, it looked like a bombed-out city, just like in the movies," said the third-generation NASCAR driver. "Les Richter would say, `Imagine a garage here or a straight away there.' To be honest, I couldn't envision anything, and then he said it would be done in two years. That was unbelievable, but then we get here, look at the facilities, and it was unbelievable." Fontana became a household word in the racing community, joining the list of American cities identified by its racing facility: Daytona, Indianapolis, Charlotte, Talladega, Rockingham and Watkins Glen.

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