The last time I had visited Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, was back on June 20, 1997. The track was new, was called California Speedway, and there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony with motorsports icon Roger Penske.
Penske and Kaiser Steel built the track 50 miles east of Los Angeles, with former professional football star Les “Coach” Richter overseeing the development of a first-class racing facility that featured a 2-mile D-shaped superspeedway oval, where Gil de Ferran turned a lap-record of 241.428 mph in the fall of 2000.
But the first race, for the NASCAR West Series, took place the day after that ribbon cutting and was contested on the 21-turn, 2.88-mile “roval” course that included the oval’s infield.
The track opened its 2020 season recently with the So Cal Historic Sports Car Festival, a vintage racing weekend conducted by the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association, the largest and one of the oldest vintage racing organizations in the US.
SVRA was founded by Ford Heathcock III with a membership of about 25 drivers. It now has more than 2,5000 competitor members.
In September, 2012, Tony Parella, who raced dirt ovals as a young man, purchased SVRA and transformed it from a club racing group to a full-fledged business with a national platform.
Its annual schedule includes events at Sebring International Raceway, Auto Club Speedway, Watkins Glen International, Road America, Sonoma Raceway and many more tracks.
Southern California’s racing roots were honored at the Auto Club Speedway event with vintage stock cars, sports cars, sports racers and formula cars from all periods. Around 110 driver took part under the SVRA banner that proclaims its events are “Safe, Fair and Fun competition for the enjoyment of our competitors, their crews and our fans.”
Among the great things about such events are spectators being welcomed in the paddock and garage area to see the cars and talk with the owner and drivers.
We spoke with 72-year-old Dave Dwoski, who drove a RALT RT 41 that once ran in the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1995 driven by Chuck West. Dave tells us he once raced for Penske, but here he was in Group 9, Toyota Formula Atlantic.
“We’ve had some problems with tires today as they turned out to be ‘lumpy,’ so we put old tires in the front and new tires in the back and we qualified in the top five.”
When asked how long he will keep on racing, he replied with a big grin.
”When they tell me I can’t fly anymore I’ll stop racing cars. I fly a Turbo Centurion whenever I can. As long as I’m enjoying it, I’m not out to get a contract, I’ve ben retired for 12 years, I just have fun and turn my daughter’s inheritance into a very small inheritance.”
The SVRA recognizes 12 car groups and requires participants to keep the cars as true to their original form as possible but with certain modern safety modifications.
As a special treat at this event, Hagerty organized the Hagerty Cars and Caffeine show in conjunction with the nostalgic race weekend. The event was open to all classic, vintage, exotic and collector cars of interest and each car was invited to take part in the “Last Lap” tour around the track.
Jim Wynn displayed his prized 1958 Austin-Healey 100-6 and says, “We came to the show so my wife an I can spend time together and interact with other car enthusiasts.”
Back on the track, some of the winners included William Lynn in a 1957 Porsche 356, Rodney Grabinski driving a 1969 Brabham BT 29, Brent Berge piloting a 1978 Lola Can-Am, Bob Kelley in a 1966 Corvette, Wayne Graham driving a 1973 Mazda RX3, Phil and Mark Straford in a 2006 Panoz/Elan DP2, Jack Bitton in a 2011 Ferrari 458 Challenge Evo, and Craig Skeels driving a 1965 Ford Mustang.