Whether you’re into NASCAR or off-roading, there’s a place for everything in the Inland Empire. Our eclectic scene offers up some of the best places to enjoy motorsports from the race track to the museum. So, start your engines, because ready-or-not, here are our picks for this year’s Motorsports Issue:
If it’s time for your motorsports mania to progress beyond those aftermarket gauges you botched into your “hot hatch” or occasional wheelie-poppin’ on that underused crotch rocket, head to Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway.
See, the vast Auto Club Speedway is as much about doing as watching. Though its grandstands can cram in over 91,000 fans for annual NASCAR races (and the returning IZOD IndyCar Series), the track also offers racing schools and entry-level competition for both drivers and riders.
Since it opened in 1997, Auto Club Speedway (known as California Speedway until 2008) has gone from strength-to-strength. Additional seating has been added, as have 28 skyboxes, a quarter-mile drag strip, a multipurpose road course and, in 2003, nighttime “under the lights” racing. But scheduling a second annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the Speedway in 2004 proved over-ambitious: attendances dropped-off dramatically and this year the track returned to a single annual NASCAR race weekend.
Though it may be down to just one top-tier stock car event (the next Auto Club 400 Weekend is March 23 to 25, 2012, including NASCAR Qualifying Day and the Royal Purple 300), many race enthusiasts would say that the return of floodlit IndyCar thrills next fall will more than compensate. The reintroduction of world-class open wheel racing for the first time since 2005 should provide the variety Auto Club Speedway needs to fill its gargantuan grandstands once again (2012 IndyCar Weekend tickets go on sale September 12).
The track’s Auto Club Dragway hosts regular happenings, with a PSCA event this very weekend which offers both affordable participation (from $50 per car/driver) and spectating ($20/day; $45 for the weekend). Later this month come NHRA Street Legal Drags (Sept. 17) and the Junior Drag Racing Pacific Division Finals (Sept. 23 to 25).
But drag racing isn’t Auto Club Speedway’s only opportunity to actually be on the track. The oval superspeedway also hosts numerous stock car racing schools and “experiences”; Fastrack Riders motorcycle racing schools (the next one is this Saturday, Sept. 10); the open-wheel Mario Andretti Racing Experience (next on Oct. 14 to 15); and CalSpeed Karting.
But perhaps the track’s most endearing event is the ChumpCar World Series, which rolls into Auto Club Speedway this year on October 15 to 16. This budget-friendly concept marries $500 race cars with 24-hour endurance racing to make motorsports accessible to everyman enthusiasts. Watching hardy amateurs gun should-be-scrapped CRXs, Miatas and Datsuns through their (probably) farewell laps, you’ll be reminded of motorsports’ core charms all over again. (Paul Rogers)
Though the Inland Empire’s primarily known for being a motorsports mecca in terms of dirtbikes, quads and sandrails, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also cast a spotlight on what the region’s tradition dictates in terms of horsepower and speed—the hot rodding culture of Southern California that has its roots in on-road motorsports as well.
But there’s a place on the western edge of the IE that isn’t letting memories slip of the great track burners of yesteryear, the Wally Parks NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) Motorsports Museum, a grand building packed with a host of both on- and off-road racers, all situated on the southern tip of the Fairplex in Pomona.
Named after Parks who started the NHRA in 1951, the association was founded to shift the burgeoning street racing culture off streets and onto far safer, sanctioned track environments. And according to the museum’s Executive Director Tony Thacker, one of the first places where they held sanctioned races was at the current site of Pomona’s Fairplex, hence the museum’s present location.
The museum’s origins can be traced back to a historical motorsports exhibit as part of the annual L.A. County Fair. Eventually, the association was able to secure a permanent home for its history in an unused building on the premises, and with the help of the fairgrounds, refurbished and restored the building to develop a permanent home as a shrine to all things motorsports.
Since its opening in 1998, the museum’s hosted a variety of exhibits and events, including a tribute to motorsports legend Mickey Thompson, its monthly Prolong Cruise Night, and its current “Axes and Axles” display, which mingles classic Fender guitars with famous musicians’ hot rods.
“That’s probably been one of the most well-received exhibits we’ve done,” says Thacker of “Axes and Axles.” “Fender’s a local company that’s in Corona and they’ve got a Custom Shop where they build guitars like we build cars.”
The museum’s also collaborated with auto manufacturers like Ford and Toyota for various displays, and it even cooperates with other museums.
“All car museums, it’s a small group of people, so we all work with each other,” says Thacker. “We’ve worked very closely with the Petersen [Automotive] Museum in downtown L.A. We’re always swapping cars with them, we like to do that.”
Up ahead, the museum plans to launch an anniversary celebration of the Indian motorcycle, a Mooneyes exhibit, plus a show featuring the Shelby Cobra. The museum also hosts somewhat non-motorsports-related activities, including a slideshow this December with local historian/author/comedian Charles Phoenix.
“We call it a ‘living museum,’” says Thacker. “A lot of the cars in the museum run, even though many are too old to be raced anymore, but we take them out, fire them up, put people in the cars and say, ‘Hey, this is what it was like to sit in a 2,000-horsepower dragster in the 1960s.’” (Waleed Rashidi)
The Four Wheelers and Off-Roading
There’s nothing like the feel of the wind in your hair, especially when it’s sped up by the throttle of off-roading mayhem. The Inland Empire is home to some of the most pristine trails courtesy of the U.S. National Forest.
Tom Severin, owner of Badlands Off-Road Adventures 4×4 Training and Guide Services, recommends Bullfrog Trail in the Cougar Buttes area of Johnson Valley off Highway 247 and Camp Rock Road. There are plenty of boulders to tackle, lines to pick and more. It’s easy enough for most newbies to tackle with a little coaching, according to Severin.
“You can spend a lot of time on the trail just stopping and taking pictures and investigating,” Severin says. It’s history involves the Mojave Indians, mountain men, settlers, the Army, U.S. Mail, cattle ranchers and more making their way west. “It has a ton of history,” he says.
For families, Holcomb Valley U.S. Forest Service Road 2N09, Polique Canyon Road, located north of Big Bear Lake heading toward Lucerne Valley is great. It offers not only green, grassy areas perfect for picnicking, but a bit of a history lesson as well, as recommended by Heather Thomas, mother and co-owner of All J Products, in Big Bear Lake. “Kids can handle the bumps,” she says.
The route is terrain-heavy enough to elicit some squeals from youngsters, but also captivate their attention as they learn about the rich gold mining history of the area, its cattle ranchers and the saga of settler William Holcomb. A modified vehicle is not required for the trek.
For the more hard core off-road recreationist, Thomas recommends Mottino Wash, on the east side of Big Bear Valley, which remains a little hush hush. It is a spur off of Rattlesnake Canyon Trail in Lucerne Valley (careful of the cattle).
The trail is best for four-wheelers with modifications under their vehicles to handle the rugged, more advanced terrain, Thomas says. There are large boulders to climb, consistent challenges, uphill and downhill traversing, off-camber areas and more.
For non-street legals, like quads and desert racing bikes, as well as dual-sport motorcycles and modified four-wheel vehicles, one of the best areas around is the newly reopened, black diamond trail Holcomb Creek Road, FS 3N93, says Don Alexander, whose company Backcountry 4×4 publishes backcountry adventure maps.
Adopt-a-Trail volunteers from My Jeep Rocks worked tirelessly for four years to restore the area devastated by the Butler II Fire near the Big Bear Valley area. “They increased the difficulty for those who enjoy that part of being in the outdoors,” Alexander says. “It’s also a somewhat unusual eco-system.”
But for the view, the black-diamond White Mountain trail at the very northern part of the San Bernardino on FS 3N17 can’t be beat. The pay off for getting past the rocky, sandy hill climbs is that it looks out over Lucerne Valley and Hesperia for miles. “It’s spectacular,” Alexander says. (Arrissia Owen)
The Monster Trucks
Once you’ve been to a few monster truck nights, simply watching absurdly lifted vehicles with tires the size of studio apartments careen around a muddy stadium just doesn’t do it anymore. So, like most guilty pleasures (aka mild addictions), it takes bigger and bigger doses to satiate our snowballing cravings.
Enter this weekend’s Monster Trucks Night of Fire and Thrills Spectacular at Victorville Raceway Park—an event of such over-the-top, infantile poor taste that it stretches the tolerance of even this most over-the-top, infantile and tasteless of genres. And that’s the whole glorious point.
This grab-bag of vehicular thrills includes a street-legal fire truck that—wait for it—actually starts fires. Get it? The jet-powered “Raging Inferno” spouts 75-foot flames that will, according to the event’s baritone-voiced promo video, be “melting cars to the ground.”
Amongst the giant trucks leaping up to 30 feet into the air over various unlikely obstacles will be “world champion” Bounty Hunter (though how a monster truck becomes a champ is anyone’s guess), and the apparently also rather famous Iron Outlaw. Everyone who buys tickets in advance will even get the chance to “meet” the 555 cubic inch-engined Bounty Hunter but, bearing in mind that it’s an inanimate vehicle, don’t expect a stimulating chat or legible autograph.
A little different (and appearing for the first time ever in Victorville, don’t ‘cha know) is the Dr. Danger Hollywood Stunt Show, which seems to consist of explosions, car crashes and some poor chap—presumably the good doctor himself—making a living by toddling about in a flame-retardant suit while heartily ablaze. The wonderfully Evel Knievel-ish Dr. Danger lists his personal interests as: “Blowing shit up (including myself at times), writing and singing.” He’s sensitive too, see.
Rounding-out this impressive bill are mud bogs and tuff trucks, plus—as if they could ever forget this coming-of-age carmageddon—a toy monster truck for each of the first 500 kids through the gates as a memento.
So, if “just” seeing school buses get crushed flat by real-life Tonka toys no longer pumps your tires, look at your purchase of Monster Trucks Night of Fire and Thrills Spectacular tickets as a very necessary fix. But hurry, ’cos there are only limited quantities of special $10 tix available (from NAPA Auto Parts or OutlawMonsterTrucks.com). (Paul Rogers)
The Electric Motorcycles
The motoring public’s slowly (and finally) getting introduced to a new ride with a new sound over these past few years: the quietly-operating electrically-powered automobile. Now, the electric car is nothing new—history points back to the turn of the previous century for early examples—but its technology has vastly improved in usefulness and performance, allowing for vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf to be used as daily drivers.
For those on two wheels, the tide is also starting to turn in favor of a practical, economical and livable electric ride. Such innovation is the core of Zero Motorcycles, a California-based electric motorcycle company that engineers, designs and manufactures its bikes in the Golden State.
Scot Harden, vice president of global marketing for Zero, realizes that introducing a shift in the traditional paradigm of motorcycle propulsion isn’t an easy task. But he also believes that his roster of on- and off-road bikes—plus the innovations his company has developed throughout its years—has what it takes to change minds of those who’ve been riding for years, and also those who’ve never rode a motorcycle before.
“We’re bringing a lot of new people into motorcycling through these products,” Harden says. “A lot of people were intimidated by the traditional gas-powered bikes—you know, they’re big, they’re heavy, they’re hard to operate, they have clutches and gears, all of those things. And our product, you just turn the throttle and go, it’s completely solid, and they’re very lightweight in comparison to a regular motorcycle, so it’s less intimidating to ride and maneuver.”
Without a clutch or shifter, some veteran riders might be puzzled when hopping on a Zero bike, but Harden notes that the exit of such items just takes a simple shift of the mind (“After you ride the bike for a few minutes, you quickly adjust and you forget about it,” he says.)
Another operating difference is the lack of noise, which means that the rider needs to ride with more vigilance, especially around pedestrians and bicyclists. But there are some enlightening aspects, too.
“I’ve been a lifelong rider . . . but when you remove that wall of sound around you, it changes the experience in such a positive way,” says Harden. “It makes it more immediate, you feel more of the environment, it’s just you, the feeling of speed, the wind rushing through, all of that stuff, it’s just really refreshing.”
Zero’s 2011 bikes—which includes the Zero S with a battery range of nearly 60 miles, according to Zero’s website specs—can be seen at Malcolm Smith Motorsports in Riverside. And look for Zero’s 2012 models to be introduced in November. (Waleed Rashidi)