2012 News and Views
You Meet the Nicest People at Speedway
Howie Zechner's List of "You Meet the Nicest People at Speedway"
RAZ Video - firstname.lastname@example.org
||2011 World Champion Greg Hancock
1996 World Champion Billy Hamill
2012 Speedway World Cup leader, Speedway Academy owner, Gumball Rally Promoter
July 13, 2011 Billy Hamill has a perfect night at the Industry Hills Expo Center. Five rides, five wins. Another Main event win just like opening night at the Grand Area on June 4th. I'm a longtime fan so it's not the first time I've seen "the Bullet" do his magic and bring the crowd to their feet.
I first meet William Gordon Hamill when he was 13 years old. Butch Fish who worked for Terry Kennedy's trucking firm in Monrovia CA. introduced us. You have to meet this kid, I'm going to teach him how to ride Speedway. Butch was right and Billy quickly became a force on the Junior Speedway Circuit.
Speedway did have competition. The Hamill loved Ice Hockey. He was good at it and for awhile it looked like it could steal him. Fortunately for him and us Speedway turned out to be the love he wanted.
Billy turned professional in 1986 and was ICE Rookie of the Year 89. In1990 he left California to race for Cradley Heath in England. 1991 saw Hamill again at the Heathens. It was also the first year he competed in a World Final. His 1992 World Championship campaign was cut short after breaking his wrist at the Overseas Final. In 1993 he returned to Cradley. 1993 was also Billy's second World Final appearance in Pocking. 1994 and Hamill missed out on a place in the World Final by losing a run off at the semi final stage to Greg Hancock in Vojens Denmark. 1995 saw him win the Austrian Grand Prix, 1996 the Swedish Prix and Danish Grand Prix and of course his World Championship victory. 1997 a 2nd place in the World Championship. 1998 Billy becomes World Team Champion. After several attempts 1999 saw his first U.S. National Championship win. 2000 the Czech and Polish Grand Prix along with a 2nd in the World Final. 2001 the Czech Grand Prix and his 2nd U.S. National Championship. 2002 the SRA and 3rd US National Championship, the Bullet won his fourth U.S. National Championship in 2006. Hamill for the fifth time again became US National Champion defeating Greg Hancock in 2007. Billy retired from racing in Europe at the end of the 2007 and returned to his home in California. His 2008 California season was cut short when again he was injured. On Doctors orders he retired from competitive racing.
Now you would think the story ends there but it has a much happier continuation. Billy served on the AMA Speedway Board. He started the Speedway Academy, promoted the Gumball Rally and returned to competition in 2011. Some of his wins since returning include Victorville 4/2/11, Industry 6/1/11 and 7/13/11, Costa Mesa Fair Derby 7/15/11, a South Team Win in the North-South Challenge on 7/22/11 and a 1st Place Scratch Main win at the Gumball Rally on 02/25/12. This year Billy will also lead an assault on capturing the Speedway World Cup with teammates Ryan Fisher, Ricky Wells, Kenny Ingalls and reigning FIM Speedway World Champion Greg Hancock.
Now these achievements are not a complete list as there are way to many titles and wins in his record book. They are accurate to the best of my knowledge but I'm old so memory does not serve as well as it once did. Still there is one thing time will never erase from my memory bank. Billy Hamill, he is a American Speedway hero.
Having been around this sport for the last forty or so years I've seen a lot and experienced more. Some stories can be told. Some not so much. Here is one of my favorite Billy Hamill tales.
It was 1996 and I was in Germany for the World Final. I'm driving though Pocking and I see the Hamill guy in this gas station. Pulling in I yell 'how you doing brother". The Bullet was blown away. He didn't know I was coming so the jaw jacking was intense. Before we knew it the time to go racing had come but we made our plans to hook up after the event. Like all World Finals it was intense. Fellow American Sam Ermolenko won the day and the celebration was also a world class event. Billy didn't have much time to join in the partying. He had to be back in England to compete. There's room in the van so why don't you come with me he teased. So I did. Left the rent a car in the parking lot and we were off. Through Germany and into France and then the ferry to England. Now I did not have my passport with me but Billy knew all the tricks so when we boarded the ferry I hid in the sleeper. Oh yeah, what we did when we were young. Anyway long story short I spent a couple of weeks with the Bullet as he did what he does best before flying back to the continent and retrieving my rent a car. A great experience but not a once in a lifetime experience as we had a similar but different adventure at the Swedish GP a few years later. But that's another story for another time.
John LaDouceur the original Wednesday Speedway Promoter
It was the early 70's and drag racer John LaDouceur was getting indoctrinated into the world of Speedway motorcycle racing. His chief mechanic Roger Kyle was a huge fan and Gene Ryan had his shop two doors down. We all know how addicting this sport is so it did not take long before John decided he wanted to be more involved and would become a Speedway promoter. A location was found in Stockton CA. but that changed when the Orange Show in San Bernardino CA. showed some interest in allowing a track to be built there.
Next came the hard part. It would be expensive and John would need the entire family on board to finance and help run the facility. Mom Donna and Dad Evart put up the money. Sisters Judy and Kay agreed to pitch in. All the pieces were now in place. They would call the business American Raceways Inc. and it would be run out of their home town Arcadia CA.
It was the spring of 1975 when American Raceways president John LaDouceur and vice president Kay LaDouceur signed their first three contract to promote at the Orange Show. Hold on what I should have said was to promote on a dirt field that was outside of the stadium. It was bare and everything and I do mean everything would need to be built from the ground up. Still it was just what was needed and soon plans were in place to make it a world class 1/8 mile race track.
Bill Kolberg handled Public Relations and would do the announcing. The LaDouceur sisters did the paperwork and signed up the riders. Everything flowed and within two months a 1500 seats stadium was ready. The doors opened in June of 1975 and it was a huge hit from day one.
Well the rest is history. Riders loved the track layout and fans could not get enough of the fast packed action. Much of that must be credited to "The Voice of Speedway" Bruce Flanders who became the announcer and Spike Creith who built a reliable, fast and consistent race track. Every year seats were added till in the end the bleachers held 6800 people.
All was well but greed set in. The same complaints about the Orange Show board that are true today caused American Raceways to move and on April of 1988 they opened at their new location in the Glen Helen Raceway complex. A year later John sold it to Bud FeldKamp.
My heart wasn't in it anymore John told me. I walked away from IMS and Speedway and haven't been back since. Not one time, I just couldn't do it.
That is till now. Industry Racing is proud to include John LaDouceur in our "You Meet the Nicest People at Speedway" campaign and are pleased that the person who coined "The Only Reason for Wednesday Nights" will be a part of our Wednesday night Speedway racing at The Grand. Thank You John LaDouceur for your contribution to the sport.
FYI - Kay LaDouceur married Tom Moran the father of Kelly and Shawn. Both Tom and Kay have since passed on as has our dear friend Spike Creith.
Our Industry Racing season at the Grand starts Wednesday May 30th. Hope to see you there and thanks again for supporting American Speedway racing.
Billy Janniro - 2011 - 2010 - 2008 SRA and AMA U.S. National Speedway Champion and so much more.
They call him Billy "The Kid" but I call him "Superman". No not because he's faster that a speeding locomotive although he very possibly might be and no not because he can fly as anyone who has seen him in action can attest to and not even because no matter what he never seems to get hurt. Well what is it?
In a word he's got the feel. That incredible fast, fearless, balancing wizardry that few in this sport can claim. When Billy J. says I'm gonna win watch out because he will.
He reminds me of Fishback when Jim was in his prime around 1970/80. The same massive upper body strength that allows him to pick up his machine and move it anywhere on the track he wants. Speed, ruts, holes, water, the wall, no worries he just muscles it though over or around. Billy J's got the feel and force. Billy J is a Champion grade A+.
He comes to all the tracks North and South even some you wouldn't think a rider of his statue would support. Ask him "what are you doing here boy" and Billy J's answer is always the same. I'm here to win. I'm here for the money.
Now you would think a guy that boast's like the J guy does would have a big head. No way. I've seen him apologize to riders about things that happened on the track even when it was not his fault. He's a true gentleman but it would be a real mistake to think that means you can push him around. Those that try see the dirt or wall or worse.
So what's this "Superman" like when he's off the track? Kind and considerate are an accurate description. A family man with a wife and baby girl Billy J. is living the good life in Vallejo, California. But don't get the idea that has slowed him down any. Bet against Billy and you can kiss your money goodbye.
Janniro you are the man. No matter what excitement is always a part of your job description. For all the Speedway fans that come to watch you throw a leg over it thank you.
Billy J has been there and done that when it comes to American Speedway Racing. There is not enough room for all his titles so I'll just list the Nationals and last years 2011 wins. Hope I didn't forget any.
2011, 2010, 2008 AMA U.S. National Speedway Champion – 2011, 2010, 2008, 2004 SRA U.S. National Speedway Champion – 2011, 2010 California State Champion – 2011 Western States Champion - 2011 Big Time Speedway Invitational Champion - 2011 Auburn Track Champion - 2011 Auburn Challenge Elimination Series Champion - 2011 High Point Rider North vs South Challenge Auburn - Las Vegas Scratch Main 10/22/11 & 10/29/11 - Las Vegas Handicap Main 10/22/11 & 10/29/11 - Auburn Scratch Main 5/20/11, 5/27/11, 6/3/11, 6/10/11, 6/17/11, 7/1/11, 8/12/11, 8/26/11 - IMS Scratch Main 7/16/11 - Costa Mesa Scratch Main 5/21/11 - Auburn Handicap Main 5/20/11, 6/17/11, 6/24/11, 7/1/11, 7/29/11 25 Laps, 8/5/11, 8/12/11, 8/26/11
When Industry Racing holds the 2012 California State Championship most certainly Billy J. will be there to defend the title he won here at the Grand in 2011.
The Wednesday night season at Industry Racing starts May 30th. I'm sure we'll see "Superman" and all the boys here at the Expo Center for the fast and exciting action. Hope to see you there to and thanks again for supporting American Speedway racing. We couldn't do it without you.
Bobby Schwartz – World Class Speedway Pilot – One of the Boys
World Team Cup Champion 1982
World Best Pairs Champion 1981, 1982
U.S. National Champion 1986, 1989
California State Champion 1988, 1991
An American Speedway Legend Robert Benjamin Schwartz is known as Boogaloo but I prefer his other nickname Captain America. It seems more fitting for a rider with the impeccable credentials Bobby has earned over the years. A two time US National Champion and three time Gold Medal Winner are just the start of his accolades that span almost five decades.
So how did a career as one of the best American Speedway riders of all time start? Well we can blame none other than 'Sliding" Sonny Nutter for kindling that flame. Sunny saw potential in the skinny surfer kid with the long blonde hair. Bobby was 17 and his father Cadillac Jack brought him his first speedway bike for $600. It was 1974 and Schwartz started racing. No juniors, it was a 500cc JAWA from the get go. Bobby ran the circuit and soon started winning on the small tight California tracks.
Bobby Schwartz soon became one of America's brightest young stars but knew he needed to get over to England if he wanted to further his Speedway career. After winning the 1979 American Final he joined the British team Cradley Heath with fellow American Bruce Penhall. Bobby performed well in his debut year and progressed from novice British league reserve to an out and out heat-leader who was regularly competing with and beating the very best. There followed a fantastic partnership with his friend Penhall. They won the 1981 World Pairs title together and Bobby repeated this with a different partner, Dennis Sigalos in 1982. Bobby also won the World Team Cup with the USA in 1982 - was US Team Captain from 1983 to 1987 - 2-time US National Champion 1986 & 1989 - 4-time Fair Derby Champion 1978, 1990, 1993, 1994 - 2-time California State Champion 1988 & 1991 -
3-time Brighton Pars Champion with Shawn McConnell in 2000, 2001, 2002 - 1990 Cirello 16 Lap Classic Champion and the 1998 Jack Milne Cup Win are just a few of his other world wide accomplishments.
In 1987 Boogaloo returned to the US and stayed. He won 54 Scratch mains that year on the American circuit and is winning to this day. 2011 saw him win the Scratch Main here at Industry and the final race for the USA team win at Auburn.
I love hanging out in Bobby's garage. The place is a mini museum that has awards, race memorabilia, bikes and more. Riders and the Speedway faithful are always dropping by to hear Bobby tell stories about the way-back days and tell jokes. I shot the last video of Kelly Moran before he passed there with Bobby. (Video Link Here.) The place is a special part of Speedway as is he.
At 55 years of age Bobby is still one of the boys and loves this sport. He competes regularly and when the Wednesday night season at Industry Racing starts May 30th Boogaloo will again be there supporting the sport and doing what he loves. Captain America we salute you.
Edward R. Justice Jr. - President/CEO Justice Brothers
Ed Justice Jr. has been around speed all his life. His dad Ed Sr. built, sold and raced just about everything. Since birth, machines and the drivers that handled them were a normal part of Ed's life.
1966 was special for the 12 year old Ed. He received his first real camera. Ed had already been going to racetracks every weekend with his dad and uncles but now his new camera was capturing it all. The die was set. Complex machines and racing became Ed's passion. Taking pictures would be his love.
He was good at photography. By the age of 14, Ed was shooting at all the local Southern California racetracks like the NHRA Winternationals, Irwindale Dragstrip, Lions Dragstrip, Orange County Dragstrip, Ontario Motor Speedway, Riverside International Raceway and others. He turned "pro" at 15 and by age 16 was writing for Irwindale Raceway, NHRA's National Dragster, Drag News and Drag Racing USA. Ed became a regular contributor to many Petersen Publishing magazines including Car Craft and Hot Rod.
Whiteman racetrack opened in the late 60s and Ed was there taking pictures. The place was petty rowdy and in a terrible part of town. Still the motorcycle racing was outstanding and Ed wanted to shoot more. He went to Speedway 605 where promoter Edison Dye AKA the Father of M/X in the USA had built a Speedway oval outside the car track. They raced Speedway on the weekends during the day. Naturally Ed and his camera were there.
So how did the Ed's get the Speedway bug? Their friend, Jim Oaks lived down the street from the Justice family. Seems that Jim owned a little company called Circle Industries and they sold sprockets to riders, Speedway riders. That led Jim to introduce both Ed's to Gene Ryan, Bill Cody, Ivan Mauger and more. Once again the die was set; Justice Brothers would be a Speedway sponsor in a big way.
Bill Cody was the first. "I'll never forget it, we bought Bill a new set of leathers, they were red and had Justice Brothers across the front, stars and stripes down the side of the pants. He hated them, said they were way too flashy. Still the crowds loved them and 'Wild Bill' was now really 'Wild'. Soon all the riders were in flashy suits", said Ed.
Ed, Jr. continued with a side story, "One of my high school friends was John LaDouceur. We both went to Arcadia High School, we both loved cars, motorcycles, and we both owned 914 Porsches. Matter of fact between you and me I taught John how to get his Porsche 914 airborne. There was this road by the Santa Anita race track and, hey you're not recording this are you Howie"?
Ok well back to Speedway. Ed, Sr. and Ed, Jr. were at the Orange Show every week for the late model stock car races in the 1960's. Junior took pictures and dad did Justice Brothers business. The crowds were always in the thousands and were very passionate about the racing. John LaDouceur told Ed, Jr. that he was planning on opening a Speedway track up north, in Stockton CA. "My dad and I told him that was crazy and the Orange Show area was where he needed to be. John followed our advice and true story, IMS would not have been there had we not kept pushing that John check out San Bernardino."
Justice Brothers sponsored many riders over the years; Ivan Mauger, Ole Olsen, Bill & Bobby Cody, Mike Bast, Shawn Harmatiuk, Big Mike Conley, Dennis Sigalos, Scott Sivage, Ron Preston, Bobby Schwartz, Gary Hicks Jr., Mike Faria, Steve Colombo, Billy Meister, Scotty Brown, and Ricky Wells are just a few. As Ed, Jr. said "I plan to go to The Grand on Wednesdays and I plan to do some more Speedway sponsorship".
So what else makes Ed Justice Jr. special? Well he's a magician. Ed's been a member of the Magic Castle in Hollywood for over 35 years and has performed for numerous celebrities, including President Reagan. "I use to earn a living performing, but now magic is just a very serious passion". It's true; I've seen him in action. Ed's good, real good.
Then there's the radio show. Many don't know that there is a studio at the Justice Brothers headquarters and another at his home. Ed hosted Road & Track radio every Saturday for seven years. Now he is the co-host of Motor Trend Radio. In 2007 Ed received the highest honor in the business with the best of the year award from the Motor Press Guild.
The Justice Brothers museum is open to the public Monday through Friday. Parking and admittance is free. A long spike Jawa Ice racer and Mike Bast's National winning machine are on display along with many other two and four wheel machines. There is even a airplane hanging from the ceiling. JusticeBrothers.com Museum
His collection of pictures is outstanding and a real trip into the way-back-days. Anyone wishing to see some of Ed's photo work go to Ed Justice Jr.com Photography
In closing I want to share what Ed told me, "You're on the right track with the Wednesday Night Speedway promotion you're doing Howie, as well as the 'You Meet the Nicest People at Speedway' campaign. I'm pleased to be a part of it". Thanks Ed, we appreciate all you have done for our sport and we welcome your involvement.
#14 "Fast" Eddie Castro
Who's that guy with the smile on his face? The one that's always happy. The one that regardless of a bumpy, wet or blue grove track, the referees call, the blown up bike, the prompter that stiffed him or the track that's six hours away still can't wait to do laps. Who indeed is this special person? There is only one I know. One who for year after year, good call or bad break fits that description.
Eddie Castro is a man in love with speed and racing. He cherishes it. He adores it. He lives for it. Outside of family it's his one and only. It's been that way all my life and will be till I'm to old to hang on he told me.
In 1973 Eddie joined his Rancho Alamitos High School M/X Team. Castro was good at Moto Cross but riding TT and Flat Track with guys like Lance King, Shawn McConnell, Mike Bloom, Rich Schroeder and the Moran Brothers at Atlantis Mini Bike Park, Escape Country and Indian Dunes was much more to his liking.
Eddie bought a 500cc single from Orange County Yamaha and slid it every chance he got. Once even on his high schools running track. When the White Brothers opened their shop next to Bill Cody's place he was a regular buying all the trick pieces that made a good bike great.
Then it happened. Saddleback in Orange County and Victor Robledo brought out a 500cc Jawa for Eddie to try. The reaction was a instantaneous "where have you been all my life". The balance, the power, the feel. Speedway was what Castro had been searching for.
Victor was also impressed and brought the bike to IMS. Dave DeTemple loaned a steel shoe and Eddie rode the wheels off it. His style got noticed immediately as did his curse. Castro blew the dam thing up.
Still others noticed. David Whitely owned a motorcycle/accessory shop in Anaheim and on a recommendation from George and Freda Wenn offered Eddie his first real Speedway sponsorship. It was 1979 and Castro became a licensed Speedway competitor. Eddie never forgot that recommendation. George and Frita became Uncle George and Auntie Freda from that day on.
It took over a year before the 5'5" kid from Ojai was elevated to 1st Division He powered on riding the five night a week Speedway circuit and some ICE events. Eddie couldn't get enough. Riding with Guy or should I say Sam Ermolenko at Maurice Kriesburg's King of Concrete in Long Beach and competing in a six race ICE series in Canada were what he lived for. Promoters knew they could always count the man who's motto is Run It to be there. By 1988 he became the Arizona State Champion. Shortly after the nickname Fast got attached to Eddie Castro and he's been winning races ever since.
Still life was hard and had it's ups and downs. Eddie loves his kids Brittany, Danielle and Dustin so much had to be sacrificed to get them to be the polite and considerate young adults they are today. Doing it and supporting a five plus nightly race habit was tough. Having a difficult marriage was just another 50 yard handicap that needed to be dealt with. I was in my own kind of hell he told me. "Sure, of course I wanted to be with the kids but still the other guys I rode against were going to Europe and I couldn't. It really ate at me but still I wouldn't have done it any other way. My kids are my life and Speedway is a close second. Also I'm blessed because my second marriage to Romie has turned out so well". Well Eddie your stating the obvious and those of us who know you agree. She pits for you and supports you. Eddie always smiles but cross Romie and you better watch out.
It only took 30 years but The Fast One finally got his chance. He's been to England five times now and was team Captain three times. The oldest team rider loves racing in England and wishes he could have been there when he was younger. Eddie was the only American to ever get fastest lap time at St. Boniface arena track in Plymouth England.
Just enough space for a quick Fast Eddie story. We all know and applaud the fact that Castro will race anything on two wheels and do it well. His tales of wins on the Bob Nichols or Kenny Ellford or Dodge Brothers Indian Scout's are legendary as are his Pat Hicks 51 Red Hunter Ariel wins. It was October 6, 2001 and the Fast One was racing a 1923 Harley Davidson 8 valve Board Track racer belonging to Jim Lattin at the Del Mar Vintage Mile. Going down the back straightaway during the heat race at 100 MPH or so one of the twin rocker arms cracked and spit the pushrod out on the track. Naturally it pops though the carburetor and sets the bike on fire. Eddies a quarter mile from the nearest track marshal so he pours dirt all over the $100,000.00 machine to put the fire out. Back in the pits Kelly Dunagan returns the missing push rod and The Shoe Man Ken Maeley welds up the cracked arm. Long story short Fast Eddie goes out and wins the Main event.
Eddie Castro is true gentleman and one of Americas Speedway racing greats. But like for so many of our current crop of riders times are tough for this mechanic, welder, motorcycle restorer. Sponsorship on or off the track is desperately needed. Support those that support Speedway. Even a kind word is a step in the right direction.
Industry Racing will start it's 10th season of Speedway Motorcycle racing at the Grand Arena on May 30th. Come watch Fast Eddie and all the other Speedway pilots do what they do best. It's a great show at Americas premier Speedway arena. Hope to see you there.
Want to mention that IMS starts it's season Friday April 20. It's a great track and well worth the drive.
Jerry Laidlaw - Owner Laidlaw's Harley Davidson
He's 6'8 and skinny. Not the kind of guy one would except to see in a Chopper Race. Yet there he was sitting on a police bike at the IMS starting line. Gate up he could ride. Jerry won several races during that 88/89 season.
It was big then and all the tracks raced street licensed Harleys on the small Speedway ovals as a sideshow. Spectators enjoyed the carnival of characters and machines. Sometimes the crashes would be horrific as high dollar Harleys hit the dirt.
Dress like a cop for your race I would always tell him. Put a siren on that police bike and pass those guys with it blasting. They won't know how to act. But the big tall guy riding that police bike never liked to attract attention or maybe he just didn't want to be impolite to guys like Hank The Crank or Dirty Dick or The Animal.
So how did this devoted Mormon and family man get his motorcycle induction? He grew up in Monterey Park. Across from his house lived Ed Kretz owner of Ed Kretz and Sons Motorcycles. Jerry's dad Bob Laidlaw owned a Harley dealership. After school Jerry worked there learning the family business. Only time he didn't was while attended collage in Utah. Then he worked for a, shhh, come a little closer I have to whisper, he worked for a Honda Motorcycle Dealership.
I went right back to work at Laidlaw's as soon as I graduated he told me. I like it here and missed it. Talk about working your way up boy I've done every job in the place from sweeping the floor and clean up to working on the sales floor and in the parts department. Later I became the parts manager and then service manager. When dad tried retiring I started running the place with my brother Brent. He came back to work so now it's my dad, my brother and his family and me and my family. Howie truly life is good.
Here's a tidbit not many know. In the way-back days I built choppers for Bob. Laidlaw's supplied the bikes and parts, I would build them and after they'd sell the finished product. Ok that was quick and painless so here's one more. Jerry went to high school with Ed Justice Jr. and John LaDouceur. Small world hey what?
Needles to say Laidlaw's is no stranger to Speedway Racing. They have been involved in sponsorship and several riders rode out of the Laidlaw stable over the years. Sidecar pilot Jeff Medberry works at the dealership and Jerry's 6'6 son Matt wants to try racing Speedway. And so the saga continues.
I like what your doing with the Industry Racing promotion Howie so I'm in Jerry eluded. Laidlaw's Harley Davidson will be a sponsor of the 2012 Lucky 13 race series at The Grand Arena. Right on Jerry, welcome back to the Speedway wars.
The Industry Racing Speedway season starts Wednesday May 30th. Rider, Sponsors, Fans, Thanks for all the support. See you there and bring a friend. A good time will be had by all.
Ok just one more quick fact - Laidlaw's Harley-Davidson is the largest Harley-Davidson dealership west of the Rockies. Solar panels cover most of the roof, saving over $25,000 in electrical costs each year.
Chris Agajanian – Retired?
Born in Hollywood, he grew up in Baldwin Hills. Childhood was normal except dad JC was never there for his birthday. Dad couldn't. That was qualifying week at Indy. Maybe the Agajanian car would win the Indianapolis 500 again like it did in 1952 when Chris was three years old. Maybe some day soon dad would take Chris with him. From the get go Chris loved racing and racers alike.
A childhood that couldn't get better got better when JC started promoting at Ascot Park in 1959. The 1/2 mile dirt oval soon hosted every form of racing both four wheel and two. A ten year old Chris loved it, standing on the scoreboard to change the metal lap countdown numbers just feet from the speeding race. Getting to eat all the hot dogs you want. Selling programs, working around the track. Oh yeah, could life get any better.
It did. In 1963 JC took Chris to Indy. It was magical. Parnelli Jones won and drank the milk in the Winner's Circle. Pinch me am I dreaming? Chris knew he would become a successful promoter. That first trip turned into a tradition and the Agajanian #98 had win three on the Centennial Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2011.
Chris liked music and in 1960 started taking guitar lessons. Three years later the Beatles came out and he liked what he saw. TV, Girls, Rock & Roll. Sign me up. Chris and brother Jay formed a band called The Eliminators. They were good. The Eliminators won the Inglewood Recreation Center Battle of the Bands. A teenagers wildest dream come true. Chris was ecstatic. Maybe someday rock & roll royalty would know his name.
In 1970 the family moved to Trousdale Estates in Beverly Hills. Chris worked at the family refuse hauling company and graduated from USC. The family home was close to the Sunset Strip. Ray Charles, Tina Turner and Ringo Starr lived in the neighborhood. Musicians, Chris sought them out. The Turtles, Peter Frampton, Mick Fleetwood, Jackson Brown, the Beach Boys, Crosby Stills and Nash, George Harrison and others. Chris liked music and they liked racing. A match made in heaven. All took full advantage. Chris went on to become a manager at Warner Bros Records for Gary Wright of Dreamweaver fame and later managed Stephen Stills for a while.
JC asked him to worked full time at the track and Chris became the Ascot General Manager and Vice President of Agajanian Enterprises. Job one, rebuild the facility. New lights, billboards, crash wall, toilets, catch fence, PA system and more. They hooked up to the city water and got rid of the well. Drained and filled the infield ponds, tripled the concessions. Dad was impressed.
Like father, like son. Chris wanted to promote. That chance came in 71 when Moto Cross was dropped from the Ascot weekly calendar because of poor rider count. Promoter Stu Peters was losing money on the Wednesday night program and wanted out. A twenty two year old Chris pleaded to let him try. When the 1972 season opened 220 riders signed up. It was the biggest weekly Moto Cross event in California. His first try and Criss Cross Productions was a success. Chris was a chip off the old block. Dad was proud.
JC supplied the education. No Chris I'm not buying a new water tank. I know it leaks but turn the tank over, weld the fill hole and it will be fine. Yes Chris I know that section of grandstands is worn out. Burn the bolts off turn the boards over and they will be fine. It'll look like new when you paint them. Chris learned. Chris did it good. JC recognized his son's work ethic and desire to promote. He encouraged it.
JC loved the passion Chris brought to the job and encouraged him to design and develop something on the empty lot next to the Ascot 1/2 mile. Chris did and in 1984 Ascot South Bay Stadium came into existence. The complex was unique. A 5000 seat 1/8 mile dirt Speedway track, a BMX track, a Radio Control Racetrack modeled after its big brother next door and a Slic Trac go-kart concession and arcade completed the legendary 44 acre parcel.
Grandstands, flagpoles, concession stands and more were purchased from the 1984 Olympics that was held in LA the year before. Ascot South Bay Stadium was a marvel but unfortunately JC passed and never got to see it in its glory.
Speedway was a huge hit there. A state of the art track, a safety inspired foam mounted crash wall system, great food, loud music, half time stunt shows and bikini contests. Throw in a PA system from the Beach Boys. Oh yeah the place rocked. If you weren't at Thursday Night Speedway you were nowhere dude. Chris got into television production and produced over one hundred Speedway America shows from Ascot South Bay Stadium. They aired nationally on Prime Ticket and ESPN for more than five years.
Chris was the man working at the track but no-way was it a one man show. Older brother Cary was the attorney and ran the company while brother Jay was the voice of advertising. All love each other and get along well. Life was good. Ascot was successful.
Ascot Park closed in November of 1990. Suddenly after 33 years Chris was unemployed. No racetrack, no problem. I can promote at other places. Maybe thoroughbred tracks, they have nice stadiums he confessed. The new company, Agajanian Presents, Inc. did just that. Soon AMA Class C Championship Motorcycle Races with names like the Sacramento Mile, the Dallas Mile, the Seattle Mile and the Del Mar Mile were being run at venues like Emerald Downs, Lone Star Park, the Fairplex and the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Then there were the 1/2 mile events like the Knoxville 1/2 mile, the Denver 1/2 mile and the Las Vegas1/2 mile. It was good, real good. Chris received the prestigious Promoter of the Year award from the American Motorcycle Association.
In 2000 Clear Channel Entertainment bought Chris out and things changed after the sale. A consultant contract with Clear Channel kept Chris from promoting live events for five years. "After that I was involved in so many things that I just didn't have the time or desire to put myself and my family on that treadmill again" said Chris in a sour tone.
So are you done with promoting permanently? His reply was simple. Howie, I have a wife, two kids and a grandchild who loves Monster Trucks. I'm president of another company, I'm working with a Las Vegas casino to develop a Beatles Memorabilia Experience, we are developing an Ascot vintage apparel line and I'm overseeing the property and asset management of our belongings. Promoting is not in my present future.
So what happened to Chris' surf band? Well I'm glad you asked. After The Eliminators he and Jay started a new band called Glass. Quite good they were. The opening act for Dick Dale and the Del Tones when Chris hung up his guitar. Jay Agajanian still plays with Glass to this day at small clubs near the beach.
OK just one more short story. When Carol Perez asked me to do promotion for Industry Racing I agreed but only if I could use the Chris Agajanian method. What's that she inquired as I leaned over and whispered in her ear. What's that you say? You want to know the secret. Well maybe next time. Some things are meant to be private.
Chris you're my hero and I am pleased to call you a friend. Thanks for your continued support and I look forward to seeing you at The Grand Arena. Bring a friend or ten.
The Lucky 13 Season starts May 30th in the City of Industry.
Charlie Venegas - Ice & Dirt National Champion. SRA U.S. National Champion 2000, 2006 California State Champion 1997, 2007.
They call him "The Edge" and the name fits. "It's me, I ride the Edge and like the Edge. I am The Edge" he proudly boasted. Truer words have never been spoken. Ice or dirt when Charlie's on the track hang on. This could be a edgy deal.
A street kid from Vallejo California Charlie always loved things with wheels. A local bicycle shop became the place to be and it's owner road racer star Karl Cleeton took the eight year old under his wing.
"I owe it all to that man" Charlie told me. "He raised me and taught me what he knew. "I consider him my father".
Charlie rode Bicycle BMX and was good. Real good. That balance and drive he still exhibits was in it's infancy. Karl groomed him, supplied the equipment and everything else to make a bicycle race team function. Winning became a habit. Lots of trophies from lots of places.
When not racing the pair would be off to Vallejo Speedway or the Sacramento Mile or any other countless motorcycling events. Those events appealed to the young Venegas so after winning the 1976 Mongoose BMX Grand National expert class the nine year old decided to start paying more attention to motorcycle racing.
Cleeton supplied the machines and a race schedule soon developed. Friday it was the Lodi Cycle Bowl and Saturday was at Newman. He raced with kids like Doug Chandler and Chris Car. By age ten Venegas had his Sportsman license. Charlie loved to compete and rode everything from M/X to Flattrack. Sears Point, Dixon, Hangtown . It didn't matter where. The kid was talented and those around him noticed.
In 1985 Charlie graduated from Hogan High. Soon came the time to figure out what to do with ones life. The answer was refrigeration school in Phoenix AZ. He went, he learned. A year of no racing and just learning. Still it would be worth it. What he learned then has made him money to this day. After graduating it was back to Vallejo.
He came home to Karl and the #1 Bike Shop. A trade in on the floor was a Speedway bike and soon Charlie was sliding it. By 1987 Venegas was a name on the Northern Auburn, NAPA, Baylands Speedway circuit. Soon he was winning. Ascot and Costa Mesa were the hot tracks so Charlie traveled back and fourth from Vallejo to race them. "I was 1st division and winning mains up north but had to ride D-2 from the 30 at Ascot" Charlie mentioned in a what were they thinking tone.
Southern California was the center of the universe for American Speedway so in 89 Charlie sold everything except some clothes and two Speedway bikes. He came south and stayed with "Too Tall" Donny Odom in Redondo Beach. "Too Tall" and Doug "The Destroyer" Nicol showed him the ropes. Next move Costa Mesa with fellow speedway rider Rod "Sledgehammer" Saunders who worked for Bruce Penhall. Dennis Sigalos, Bobby Schwartz, Phil Collins and others from the trade lived nearby. He was in good company. This would be the Suffer Charlie period. Who Knew? Venegas would live on 18th Street in Costa Mesa for six years.
Charlie rode the circuit and was winning. The money was good. Making a thousand or two a week was doable. Still Europe was the place to be for a upcoming Speedway pilot and in the spring of 92 The Edge went for a look. Hamill gave him a place to stay and a bike to do some exhibition races. Six years later Charlie would return and ride for the Long Eaton Invaders. There were difficulties but things got better when he was loaned to Belle Vue Speedway in the middle of the season. The following year it was Belle Vue again with team mates Sam Ermolenko, Chris Manchester and World Champion Billy Hamill. They rode well together and the money was good but after a injury things quickly changed for Charlie. His last race was on a Sunday, the house sold on Wednesday and then it was back home to Southern California.
If I can ride dirt I can ride ice thought Venegas. A sold out Herb Spivey Cow Palace race postponed those plans and a no start at the next Oakland Coliseum round made one think Venegas and ice would never amount to much. Things got better at the next San Diego Sports Arena round and by the next year he was a veteran at the Densford ICE series. 2012 marks the 25th year Charlie has competed in Ice racing. Charlie Venegas is the current United States Speedway Ice Champion and has won that tile 12 times.
Dirt treated him almost as well. He is the 2000 & 2006 SRA U.S. National Champion and 1997, 2007 and 2009 California State Champion. The list is long if you want to count Venegas wins and tiles.
Venegas the promoter is a whole other story. Here's the short version. Promotion #1 was July 26, 2000 in San Bernardino Ca. It was a dirt Speedway track built between the paved quarter mile oval at the Orange Show. The following year the track moved to the parking lot near where previous promoter John LaDouceur had his and where Shawn McConnell and Jason Bonsignore now run IMS. Well attended the AMA track hosted round one of the National Series in 2003. A indoor concrete race soon followed but dreams were shattered when a greedy fair board demanded a huge rent increase for the following season. Charlie tore Arrowhead Speedway down and moved on.
Next was the Golden Gate Motor Speedway in his home town of Vallejo Ca. After three seasons a new contract with the fair board could not be reached and again Charlie shut it down. "Maybe I'll promote Ice racing when I do it again" Charlie told me. "Don't know exactly when or where but promoting will happen for me again someday.
Venegas has always had good support and sponsorship throughout his career. Karl Cleeton and brother Denies were there from the start. The late George Wynn who built his motors and Frita Wynn who feed him dinner every Tuesday. Longtime mechanic and fellow Ice racer Eddie Martinez turns the wrenches. This article would not be complete without a shout-out to sponsors Thomas Borge from Borge Development, Troy Lee Designs and Kelly at Redline. Those and others have made the name Charlie Venegas a legend in Speedway motorcycle racing.
Did I mention the Xerox commercial? It was 2004 and Venegas had just collected a 15 thousand dollar purse by winning the first ever World Championship Open at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Xerox production people saw him ride and proposed doing a Xerox commercial around Ice Speedway racing. A storyboard was developed and approved. It called for more riders so The Edge was able to recruit fellow riders Bobby Schwartz, Shawn McConnell, Eddie Martinez, Charles Cooley and Doug Grayson into the project. The high dollar commercial was well produced and aired on network TV. The payday for all those involved was large.
How much longer will "the Edge" ride? "Well probably not when I get into my 50s five years from now but you never know" Venegas grumbled. "I love Speedway and somehow and somewhere I'll always be a part of it."
So there you have it. A street kid without two cents to rub together becomes a major Speedway star. What a concept. Some day I'll have to write a book. Hey maybe it could be a movie. We could call it As the Wheel Turns or something.
Gene Woods - 1980, 1981 and 1984 U.S. Open National Champion
Woods and Speedway have been synonymous since it's new generation rebirth of the mid 60's. Older brother Rick Woods was the first to set the sport on fire with his lanky take no prisoners racing style. Gene ten years the Junior of his superstar elder grew up with motorcycling from day one.
The Woods family lived all over Orange County but Gene's fondest memories were when they moved to Mammoth in 1973. He loved the place. Motorcycling in the summer and snowmobiling in the winter. Gene got to spend time, ride and work on bikes with older brother Rick and house guest Summer McKnight. It was a young racers dream childhood.
Mini Bikes were the first thing under the young Woods. He rode them well and won his first championship by age nine. The following year Gene was the Taco Mini Bike factory rider. Soon after he became a Honda Mini Bike test rider. Around that time brother Rick Woods and Ron Stewart built Gene his first Jr. Speedway hike. All hand crafted it was powered by a McCulloch engine. Speedway was ok but would have to wait. Woods was busy competing in snowmobile racing at Mammoth and racing mini bikes with guys like Jeff Ward at the Ellsinore GP and Virginia City.
At age 15 the family moved back to Costa Mesa and Gene rode Speedway for the last four weeks of the 1975 season. He went from 3rd to 2nd division. The next year he was drafted into the LA Sprockets. Gene was a D-2 rider suddenly thrown into D-1 with the big dogs. "There was a lot of flack for that choice because there were D-1 riders I could have chosen before taking a D-2 rider" Sprockets team manager Bruce Flanders told me. "I saw a lot of potential in Gene Woods. Fact is he turned out to be a excellent team member and was top scoring rookie that first year.
Well no lie. Fellow LA Sprockets team mates included #1 Mike Bast and Bruce Penhall. "It was like going to school" Gene told me. "Every time we rode it was a learning experience".
The demise of the team racing concept in 1977 made Woods a regular on the American Speedway circuit. The #3 rider won his share and more. He became the 1980, 1981, 1984 U.S. Open National Champion.
Gene was a bit of a rebel. His on track antics that included being able to wheelie a Speedway bike all the way around the track were very popular with his allegiance of fans.
In 1991 Gene bought Victorville Speedway from Jay Wright. Woods ran it for six years. Racing at the big Victorville track and a Automotive Swap Meet at California Speedway were also Woods promotions of the time. Racing, promoting and getting good sponsorship became a Gene Woods hallmark.
A racers racer with good mechanical design and workmanship skills Gene Woods did it all. Always the guy with the most toys the Woods race shop was a functional piece of art. Didn't matter if I was truck racing or stock cars or spinning doughnuts in a sprinter. The Woods race crew could build most anything.
Gene did it all. If it went fast and you could race it Woods wanted to tame it. In 1995 he built a Monster truck called King Cobra and finished second in the series.
96 though 98 saw Gene campaigning a SCRA Sprint Car. Hand built in the Woods race shop it was a regular on the Victorville, Ventura, Bakersfield circuit.
Spec Trucks were next. A busy circuit with about 20 different race dates and venues. Great training for a guy that wants to get a Bachelor's degree in non traditions motor racing.
1999 saw Woods in a Dick Midgley Stock Car. Dick no stranger to Speedway motorcycles had sponsored Scott Autry to a ride long before the Woods guy got there. Gene called the NASCAR circuit home for three years and finished in the top ten every year.
2002 and the Woods Race Team was at it again. This time a factory Dodge Grand National Winston West truck. Hand built the Circle K - Monster Energy machine would finish top ten for two years.
2008 and it was the LUCAS Truck series. A Woods creation powered by a factory Dodge motor. Gene drove the circuit for two years. A faltering economy dried sponsorship. Money was tight.
2010 saw Gene move to Vegas. His hallmark be at the right place at the right time luck was working and several sweet real-estate deals have made him a mogul once again. " I bought some condominiums and sold them" he smirked. "then I bought some more. Next thing you know I'm in the black large".
So now that he's a zillionaire again what's next for the Woods guy? "Speedway Motorcycle Racing at the Sport Center of Las Vegas he answered. I'll call it Sin City Speedway. All those people in this town. They'll love it. I can make it work. Think of the possibilities.
Well I guess it all comes full circle in the end. Sin City Speedway has a seven event schedule. Find out more at http://www.sincityspeedwaylv.com/.
Gene Woods. Motorsport Racing and promotion. A work in progress. You sir are positively One of the Nicest People at Speedway.
Bruce Flanders – The Voice of Speedway
There's a bunch of those Flanders lads. John, Bruce and Paul is their birth order. All native Californian, all born in Pasadena. Dad, Earl, hailed from Canada before marrying local Altadena resident Lucile Flanders. A bus driver during most of the great depression Earl built machines for P51 landing gear components during World War II. When the war ended Lucile and Earl decided to turn their cherished hobby of motorcycling into a full time career and in August of 1945 they opened Flanders Company. The early 50s saw Flanders Company became the Western U.S. Distributor for BMW and NSU motorcycles. A Flanders Racing team soon followed with riders like Dave Ekins and Harlen Bast. It was a great life for three boys growing up around racing and the network that supports it. Visit Flanders Company at www.flandersco.com. Making handlebars and cables are still their specialty to this day.
Earl liked Speedway and at it's pre-war height he raced four or five venues a week. The 1948 AMA Jack Pine Enduro win made him the first rider from the West to capture the grueling 500-mile classic. Little did Earl know how deeply his love for motorcycles would affect the destiny of his newly born family.
They grew up a motorcycle family and did it all. Earl an AMA competition committee member, AMA district referee and Southern California race promoter also managed the annual speed trials held on the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Long story short, the family that motorcycles together stays together. Desert, Bonneville, Speedway, Enduro. Didn't matter. The boys were in heaven and loved motorcycles as much as mom and dad.
Middle brother Bruce graduated from Saint Francis High School in La Canada. Pasadena City College with plans on an AA degree in Business was next. A Geology course requirement, which is a very visual science, became a stumbling block. Geology is very color sensitive. A very colorblind Bruce ended up dropping the Geology class. Now carrying less than 15 and ½ college units. Bam, three weeks later Flanders was drafted. His 21st birthday was in boot camp and his 22nd in Vietnam. He served in the Army 1966 through 68. Don't ask. War is hell.
Normal life returned once Bruce became a civilian again. Motorcycles, Flanders Company, racing. Yea this was more like it. Family friend Jack Milne was putting a deal together to run Speedway in Orange County and needed an announcer. Jack's 1st choice, Earl, was not available so 2nd choice Bruce got to come up to the plate. POW, Zoom, Friday, June 13, 1969 Bruce Flanders became the first announcer at Costa Mesa Speedway.
Tradition in the Flanders family dictated that in August Earl and the boys go to Bonneville. 1969 was no different. When Bruce returned home from the salt flats Larry Huffman had replaced him as the Costa Mesa announcer.
No hard feelings Bruce would rather race. 1970 saw Flanders competing at Costa Mesa. First, was a JAP from owner Butch Fairchild. Next it was a Velocette powered Speedway bike that Flanders Company shop foreman George Williams designed and helped build. The Velocette engine was provided by longtime Velocette aficionado Ernie Pico. It was a very light combination but suffered from too much chassis flex. Bruce a D-1 rider in Lancaster and Bakersfield and D-2 at Costa Mesa raced Speedway for four years. He retired from active competition in 1974, his announcing career was in the process of taking off bigtime.
Lions Drag Strip needed an announcer for Motor Cross and hired Flanders. Race fans, competitors and sponsors all liked what they heard. Soon it was Flanders the announcer that was getting all the attention and Flanders the racer well not so much.
1975 and Bruce was announcing Speedway Motorcycles four night a week. Car promoters soon came calling. 1977 Ascot hired him to announce the Saturday night Sprint Cars. 1978 was year one announcing the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Fade to present day, 2012 and Flanders is still at Long Beach, along with good friend Terry "Ike" Clanton who joined the LBGP announcing team in 84.
"I have announced more different forms of racing machines in more places for more different people than I can remember." says Flanders. In 78 it was over 100 gigs for the year. "Announcing has taken me all over the world." "My only regret is that I didn't become a baseball announcer. Have you seen what kind of money those guys make" he chuckled.
There were the TV and cable shows. The Toyota Pro Celebrity race, the Formula Atlantic, and the Oldsmobile Pro Series. In 1983 Bruce hosted two Formula One shows for television. He also hosted award winning television productions for Mickey Thompson, Ultimate Frisbee, the short lived "Fast Company" and many more.
Can't forget about Bruce the Promoter. It was 1981. Flanders and partner Tom Blattler were promoting an Outlaw Sprint Car show at the no longer existing "Corona Raceway" half-mile dirt oval. Run what you brung, open show, sounds good on paper but in reality it is very dangerous. A tragic wreck with a multi-car pile up ended up with one driver spending over a month in the hospital. "It was the only one I ever promoted." Says Flanders. "After that day I decided promotion was not my cup of tea".
In 2008 Bruce came down with pneumonia. He spent several days in the hospital. It was diagnosed as severe Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). ""They sent me home from the hospital to die." says Flanders. Bruce could hardly move. Daughter Megan and wife Vickie nursed him back. Oxygen machines (24/7) and up to three mile walks gave him strength. "I smoked cigarettes for over forty years." That's what causes a lot of the COPD cases. Damn, should have, would have, and could have. Flanders further states, "Sure hope I live long enough to see stem cell therapy help to fix this problem."
"Please understand," says Bruce, "I have ridden the bull for the full 8 seconds and it is not over yet, so I'm not complaining. I lived through VietNam; I've got a great family. I set a land speed record for "Pops" Yoshimura on a Kawasaki KZ 1000 at Bonneville back in 1973, rode Speedway and everything else with two wheels for years. I hope that I'm respected in the industry as an announcer. Regardless of what else happens, it's been a good life" Flanders joked in a hey that's the way it is tone.
Well Flanders you can add the love of countless racers, fans and supporters to that list. Your title as "The Voice of Speedway" is not an honorary one. It's been earned with sweat and blood. Thank you for your contribution to motorcycling and for being One of the Nicest People at Speedway.
Bruce Flanders is the voice of Speedway on the Industry Racing 2012 Lucky 13 race season at the Grand Arena in the Industry Hills Expo Center every Wednesday http://industryracing.com/schedule.html and is also the IMS voice of Speedway at the Orange Show in San Bernardino every Friday. Come have a listen. You'll be glad you did.
Margo King - A girl in a mans world?
She's always been a little different. Kind of a tom-boy in a lady like way. Get your hands dirty, work hard, get sweaty, you bet. Still that's not so unusual when you live on a Dairy Farm in Maryland.
It was a good childhood. Lot's of cows, chickens, pigs, dogs, even a pony. A 4H club member Margo was one of the first women to join the FFA (Future Farmers of America). A girl in a mans world? Well we'll have to see about that.
Damascus High School was uneventful. Wanting a career in Anthropology the University of Maryland was her next stop. Collage. meant moving into a dorm. That meant work. That meant boys.
A part time job at Safeway lead to a co-worker romance. He had a 500cc Triumph. Going on rides her thoughts always came back to the machine. Could she ride one? Would she ride one? The answer soon came.
Now you've heard the expression boy crazy. Well for Margo it was motorcycle crazy. Same deal only more excitement. She borrowed $390.00 from the bank and bought a 250cc DT1. Lesson one, DMV wouldn't let her register it for the street. Lesson two, take everything off you don't need and run it on the M/X track at Buddy's Creek. Oh no, what happened? A monster had been unleashed. Life was about to turn upside down.
Margo liked the track and loved the racing. A VW bug with a Holesclaw trailer delivered bike and rider so they could compete. Great now it was off to the Winchester TT Track and more.
The madness got worse. Margo moved off campus and in with a bunch of bikers. Trouble, no way. They paid her the highest honor and compliment. On the track or protesting the war. She was one of the boys.
At 24 Margo graduated with a Anthropology degree and moved back home. Didn't matter the only past and present on her mind had two wheels and a motor. Mom supported Margo's motorcycle addiction. Dad built a workshop and it soon housed four of the two wheel dragons. Margo did all her own work on the beasts to keep them in top racing shape.
A Penton 250 was her favorite but it just wasn't enough. Informants told her of Gary Nixon a Yamaha Dealer in Cockeysville Maryland. He had the hard stuff. 360cc, Champion frame. There was no turning back now.
She bought a real van in 1976. Converted for living, sleeping, cooking, it held two motorcycles. Now she could compete on the 1/2 mile Flattrack circuit. The schedule was brutal. Ohio to New York to Pennsylvania to Maryland. Every town had a dirt track and she raced them all. Margo became the first ever women to race the Barbara Fritchie Classic. The need got worse and she drove further for that speed fix. Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota. Sometimes as many as fourteen races in a two week period. .
Speedway came on her radar in 1977 after meeting Steve Nutter in Daytona Florida. Tales of Speedway Races got the taste buds ready. The opportunity to ride one came in Owego NY. She was not impressed. Speedway star Rowdy Rick Stone was there. His van had brown up and Margo towed it to Maryland for him. Payment, a Speedway bike. Guess it was time to give it another go.
Not much Speedway in Maryland so in 1978 Margo loaded up her van for a road trip to California. "I'll be back in a couple of weeks" she told her mom. But mom knew better. Margo would not be coming back.
Like most racers with limited funds she stayed with friends (Fontana CA). Perris (now the PAS) had Speedway practice on Thursday and all the local hot shoes went there. One was exceptionally fast and cute. Borrowing a tool from him lead to a relationship and more. Margo King would marry John Sandona.
Sandona was a top ten Speedway pilot and competed in the United States National Championships. He knew and did it all. Racing, set-up, gearing, maintenance, rebuilding. Hands on Margo learned and used. The handwriting was on the wall. 1979 saw Margo sell the flattracker and compete only in Speedway.
Like most of today's racers you had to have a real job to pay the bills so Margo went to work for Dales Cycles. She liked it and stayed for three years. Making $3.50 per hour she wouldn't have left but Dales refused to match the $5.00 per hour their competitor Cycle Rider offered.
Margo loved her new job. Owner Ed Eastton took Margo under his wing and by October 1981 she became the manager for the six store chain. "Ed treated me like his daughter and I thought of him as my second dad" she explained. "I really loved that guy". In 1995 Ed had a accident and was electrocuted. Several months later Ed's wife committed suicide. In 2000 the estate decided to sell Cycle Rider. In 2001 she bought the Montclair Cycle Rider store. Margo still owns it and goes in two days a week to work the counter. You can visit Cycle Rider on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cycle-Rider-Montclair/207598715943182
When not at the store Margo raced Speedway. Run it like it's alive John always told her. Margo turned into a successful well established Speedway jockey. But hold on. A third career was on the horizon.
I was Hardhat Howie back then and doing video. Friend Barry Landen had a ESPN gig to shoot Speedway at IMS is San Bernardino. Needing talent he hired Bruce Flanders (the Voice of Speedway), Sliding Sunny Nutter (a Speedway legend and cousin of Steve Nutter) and Ms Margo King. Her interviewing skills were good and many noticed. Harry Oxley asked her to do interviews at Costa Mesa during 1/2 time. That lead to being the on camera interview person for a Speedway TV show the late Steve Evans was doing at the Costa Mesa `Bullring". Next it was announcer for women's Motto Cross from Carlsbad, then Rick Mears Tune Up America. Color talent for Chris Agajanians Speedway America followed. SRA Pace hired her to work with Larry "Supermouth" Huffman on twelve Monster Truck shows. Need to mention Margo's interview with Bruce Penhall and Kenny Carter at the 1982 Speedway World Championship.
Life was good but dark clouds appeared with the death of husband John Sandona. In a flash it didn't matter anymore. Speedway, racing, Margo's joy was gone and rebuilding her life would be a time hungry process.
"I desperately needed something to occupy my life" see told me. To many memories in Speedway so I reverted to my youth, bought a Flattracker and raced it at Daytona Memorial Stadium. I joined ARMA and started road racing a BSA Gold Star. World Champion Kevin Schwantz taught me some skills and in 2001 I road raced Daytona. In 2003 I rode the Del Mar Mile on a Harley Davidson XR-750. .
Money and motorcycles can't fill a broken heart so Margo retired and bought a farm. "It's my dads fault" see stated. "He was a farmer and animal lover. I'm just following in his footsteps. I get up every morning a 5am to feed the chickens, goats. pigs, horses and whatever else I have living here. It's a good life and I enjoy it. Funny how things go full circle".
"I still love" she told me. "My new husband Lance Holst is a great partner and makes me smile. Motorcycling is still important to me. I sponsor several riders and tracks. I try and race the Eddie Mulder West Coast Dirt Track Series as well as Super Moto and trails. I don't take it serious. It's just a fun thing".
Margo owns many licensed bikes and you can often find her on the street. Her favorite a 1995 two valve Ducati Monster is housed in a huge warehouse built on her farm property. It houses a large collection of bikes and some automobiles. Next to it a makeshift race track just so she can stay in shape.
For entertainment they drive their 45 foot Freight Liner to races and venues all over the country. The "Mothership" as it's called has a large living area and can haul about 15 motorcycles in style. Naturally there is a plush place for their pet pig and dogs who always go along. "I've raced on almost every race track in the lower 48. Now as a professional spectator I go and visit them in style".
Margo King is a exceptional person and I'm blessed to have know her all these years. Keep the rubber side up girl. We'll be watching.
Bruce Penhall - World Speedway Champion
Born in Anaheim California to Bonnie and Leroy Penhall the future World Champion had a great childhood of hard earned wealth and privilege. At thirteen Bruce, older brother Jerry and sister Connie accompanied mom and dad to their new home on the Balboa peninsula. Their house was right on the beach. A dream home for any teenager thinking about surfing and girls.
“Yes it was a wonderful childhood” Bruce stated. “But if you think I was spoiled fuhgeddaboutit” he told me. “My dad would work my butt off. I was down at his company Penhall Construction learning the family business from the ground up.” From cleaning to cutting dad Leroy made sure son Bruce learned it all.
Fortunately for Bruce; Leroy Penhall was also a racer. Motorcycles, cars, boats airplanes. He was good and well respected. Still he would always preach, “ Bruce racing is not a life's work. It’s a hobby. Remember what pays the bills.”
Leroy Penhall’s boat Hot Cinders
Baseball, water and snow skiing. BP liked racing best. Something's are just natural and meant to be. Bruce knew it when he got his first mini bike at age five. Motorcycles would play a big part in Bruce’s future.
High School, surfing, girls, motocross desert racing and of course work occupied young Penhall’s time. Bruce would go help dad work on the boats, P-51 airplane or F-86 and T-33 jets. Friends Don Preston and Tony Sigalos raced with Leroy. All family sports Bruce would play with their kids Ronnie Preston and Dennis Sigalos. It would be a lifetime relationship that lasts to this day.
In 1971 Tony Sigalos and Leroy Penhall decided to sponsor a young Speedway rider by the name of Rick Woods. The sport was in the beginnings of a resurge in popularity and drawing huge crowds. Both were fans and the families were regulars at the Speedway races in Costa Mesa.
Dennis and Bruce both loved the sport. No brakes, slide sideways to slow down. Where do I sign up? Still it wasn't that easy. Unlike today there were no Junior Speedway bike manufactures. No problem. Being race guys they’d just make our own. Bruce and Dennis rode the wheels off them but with no organized Junior program racing the Speedway circuit would have to wait.
Even so they got their fair share of laps. Tony Sigalos had a little practice track behind his Orange County food service property. “The boys” would take a lap or two on the big full sized machines whenever possible. Both were infatuated with the power, speed and grace.
Speedway rules were you could not ride a 500cc machine till you were 16. May 10th his 16th birthday saw Penhall at Irwindale Speedway winning his first race and first Division Three main. He was D-3 for two weeks before they transferred him to 2nd Division.
Division 2 was a little harder and BP spent all of 1973 there. It was the best thing that could have happened. Its where he learned about traffic and passing on the outside.
Then came Team Racing. Irwindale Sprockets team manager Bruce Flanders quickly drafted Penhall. “A lot of people thought I was crazy picking a second division rider when there was still some D-1 talent available but I knew Penhall would rise to the occasion” Flanders boasted. Mike Bast was the team captain and Irwindale was the longest track on the five night a week circuit. What a great classroom and professor. Bruce Penhall was a star pupil and learned his lessons well.
Over 10,000 people attended each Costa Mesa race. Speedway was really getting popular and a sport that Bruce originally saw as an opportunity to meet chicks soon turned into a big money making business. Riders got 30% of the gate and it was not uncommon to make over $1000 a night. Even the small tracks like Ventura or Bakersfield paid over $300.
“I’ll never forget my first win over Steve and Mike Bast” Bruce recalled. “Hey good job but don’t get use to it,” Mike told me. Yea Bruce was young and reckless. Life was good.
Bruce Penhall and Mike Bast (courtesy Scott Daloisio)
Then in an instant it changed. On January 2, 1975 an airplane crash claimed the life of both Bonnie and Leroy Penhall. The family was devastated. Their will stated that Penhall Construction was to be sold. Both parents and the family company gone Bruce threw himself into his Speedway career harder than ever before. "I wanted to do this for me but after the tragic accident, I wanted to do this for them as well” Penhall said.
“Young and full of throttle” BP did the five night a week circuit. Special events at the Ascot 1/4 and 1/2 mile were a particular favorite. “I loved the big track” he gloated. Guess so because it would be his career calling.
A trip to England with his sister Connie’s husband Mark Cherry set the stage. BP would race in the Mecca of the Speedway world. It was magical time. Two world championships. Four gold medals. Bruce was the super star of the Speedway universe.
All things must come to a end and so it was when Penhall announced he was stepping down from Speedway. Achieving back-to-back World Individual Championship titles BP told a stunned crowd "Well that's a wrap!" They had seen his last race. “I gave ten years of my life to Speedway. Five in America and five in Europe. Most athletes only have ten years. I was burnt out. I was done.”
Three days after his August 28, 1982 World Championship win at the Los Angeles Coliseum Penhall stepped on to the MGM lot and began filming CHIPs for NBC. A prime time television hit BP co-stared opposite Erik Estrada. Bruce’s acting career include a handful of B-movies as well as TV episodes on "Growing Pains," "The Love Boat", Betty White's show "Just Men” and a staring role in the motorcycle classic "On Any Sunday II.” “I liked acting but was not an actor.” A bored Bruce looked for a different challenge..
Off-shore power boats caught Bruce’s attention. Tony Sigalos supplied a fast 37-foot Scarab they named after their sponsor “Ocean Spray.” A two man machine, best friend Dennis Sigalos would handle the throttle and BP would drive. Both had won gold together during their Speedway motorcycle careers so the partnership worked well. They won Off-shore power boat World Championships in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997. Winning gold in two different disciplines made Bruce Penhall the only American to win back to back World Championship titles in two completely different sports.
Funny how the age and family thing works. Married to wife Laurie and four kids, Devin, Ryan, McKenzie and Connor, BP went back to what daddy had taught him. Cutting and coring. Sure he still had the race urge. Some drag racing, the Baja 500 and anything to do with motorcycles. Still this time was past and now it was family that came first.
Tragedy struck the Penhall family again on April 2012 when son Connor was killed while working on the 10 freeway. Bruce and the family were stunned. Months of limited or no contact with the outside world followed. Bruce was devastated.
After months of seclusion Bruce Penhall is slowly emerging from the tragedy of his loss. He has started a new company in his sons honor called Connor Concrete Cutting and Coring. “It’s what my dad did and I did and Connor did. It’s my destiny and I plan to fulfill it.”
Bruce Penhall will be Grand Marshall at the December 29th Monster Energy World Speedway Invitational in the Grand Arena of the Industry Hills Expo Center. Featuring Americas best eight vs. the Worlds best eight this caliber of Speedway riders haven’t been seen here in the United States since the World Team Cup of 1988. More information at www.industryracing.com