Nineteen Seventies Speedway Racing at Irwindale

The Suave Ability of the Broadslide – Nineteen Seventies Speedway Bike Racing at Irwindale CA

“The steadiness of a surfer, power of a great middleweight fighter and uncooked braveness of a bullfighter. That’s Speedway Brief Observe”

Steve Evans (Nineteen Seventies Irwindale Speedway monitor announcer)

“Utterly with out brakes!” was the important thing phrase repeatedly harassed by Irwindale Raceway announcer Steve Evans as he described the drama of Nineteen Seventies Speedway bikes rocketing across the monitor. He was the voice of the devil-may-care fantasy of each Los Angeles driver hopelessly locked within the space’s monstrous visitors congestion[1]. The Nineteen Seventies Arab oil embargo mandated fuel-saving velocity limits that rubbed drivers the unsuitable manner. Speedway bike racers Steve Bast from Sherman Oaks, Sonny Nutter from Topanga, Mike Bast from Canyon Nation, Bruce Penhall from Balboa, Jeff Sexton from Montclair and others competed on the precarious fringe of management on the Southern California brief monitor circuit. The riders have been twenty-something heartthrobs with blow dried hair: costly ethanol (the champagne of fuels) guzzling heroes. They spit columns of grime into the viewers and used their clever talent to steadiness full-throttle velocity with the slingshot friction of the broadslide.  The bikes have been skinny and light-weight, hybrid hardtail body designs particular to the game:  500cc, single-cylinder, sixty horsepower, one gear transmission machines that made quite a lot of torque and topped out round 70 miles per hour on a good ¼ mile, flat oval grime monitor. Races have been structured into fast four- to six-member crew based mostly, 4 lap, round-robin elimination warmth contests. Evans described the warmth race crew purpose to the gang: “3 factors for first place, 2 for second, 1 level for third and 4th place is ZERO….” Emphasis on the Zee-row.

Steve Evans commenting on a Winston Cup Collection race. [Wikipedia]

There was a neighborhood summer season carnival vibe on the Irwindale monitor for the hundreds of followers seated day and night time in no-frills bleachers.  Low cost-foamy-beer-in-paper-cup-drinking working class individuals who lived round Lengthy Seaside, California: lengthy haired surfer guys and their ladies rubbed shoulders with thick necked, buzz-cut employee households, however everybody wound their heads round and round in similar, elliptical, syncopation as they adopted the screaming bikes. Lengthy Seaside is just fifteen miles from downtown LA, however in the course of the Fifties, 60s and 70s the realm was transitioning away from its historic legacy of cattle, sheep and horse ranching. Enormous parcels of then unused ranch land represented a possibility: the ascendency of car, bike and youth tradition in California prompted leisure entrepreneurs to place the huge tracts of idyll land to make use of and construct moto-race tracks. There have been blended use auto, bike, drag strip tracks throughout southern California: Gilmore Stadium (pre WWII), Ascot Park (1978-80), Bakersfield Speedway (1972-77), Irwindale Speedway (1970-77), Paso Robles Speedway (1966-67), San Bernardino-Inland Bike Speedway (1975-87), Santa Ana Speedway (1977-79) and Whiteman Stadium, Van Nuys (1967-68).

The excellent imagery of Pat Brady, utilizing no flash and capturing at night time, took time to excellent. That is three-time World Champion Rick Woodsnick, ‘the Huntington Seaside rocket.’ [Pat Brady Archive]

Brief monitor Speedway bike racing was actually an ideal match for Southern California communities like Lengthy Seaside. Observe house owners may really become profitable. The smaller oval tracks had decrease land-lease bills (your entire Irwindale Speedway monitor complicated was 63 acres), the low-tech, unbanked flat oval grime monitor was simple to assemble and preserve. Income from ticket gross sales and the snack bar may very well be used to pay the lease and reward younger riders with money prizes and trophies. Racing vehicles and bikes turned a theme in Lengthy Seaside tradition and there was one thing for everyone. In distinction to the beer consuming brief monitor crowd at Irwindale, glitzy Components One Grand Prix fashion racing on Lengthy Seaside streets was launched in September 1975 as a Components 5000 occasion that turned Components One in 1976 (Mario Andretti gained the 1977 US Grand Prix at Lengthy Seaside. Andretti’s victory stays the one time an American driver gained a Grand Prix on residence soil). The Lengthy Seaside space was outlined by its various racing venues.

The recognition of Speedway racing was world within the Nineteen Twenties, {and professional} riders did very effectively on a worldwide tour of racing, from England to Australia to South America to the USA. Right here’s British rider Frank Differ racing on the Huracán circuit in Buenos Aires in 1929 on a Douglas ‘Crimson Satan’ Speedway mannequin. Notice his ‘leg trailing’ using fashion – the complete broadslide had not but been perfected, ‘Sprouts’ Elder is mostly credited with revolutionizing the game. [The Vintagent Archive]

Whereas racing on oval grime tracks predates motorcycling, the origins of Speedway racing on brief tracks are a bit fuzzy, however most agree some type of the game first (then known as Filth Observe) took form earlier than WWI in Australia[2] and migrated to England (and the Northern Hemisphere) at a monitor in Excessive Seaside in 1928, and rapidly turned the most well-liked motorsport on this planet.  Dominance of the game because it developed within the early 20s started with Douglas, then switched to Rudge and Harley-Davidson (who copied the Rudge body for his or her Peashooter mannequin), then lastly within the mid-Thirties it was JAP-powered specials with ultra-light, brief inflexible frames and limited-travel forks that perfected the shape, with little chassis change since then besides the make of engine (JAWA, Weslake, Godden, and so forth). Tracks utilized in skilled Speedway racing are regulated by the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) that was based in Paris in 1904. For spectators, the game is noisy and quick; tracks are between 260 and 425 meters in size with two straights joined by two semi-circles, and it takes a couple of minute to finish a four-lap warmth.

Manufacturing unit promo shot of a 1929 Rudge Speedway mannequin: be aware the body bracing throughout the crankcase and from the steering head to rear axle. The ‘keystone’ body resulted in an ultra-low heart of gravity. [The Vintagent Archive]

Pat Brady was introduced up close to the Irwindale monitor in the course of the Nineteen Seventies and explored the racing motion along with his 35mm digicam. It was difficult capturing at night time; Pat made trial-and-error experiments with the publicity latitudes, balancing ASA, F-Cease and shutter velocity to seize the motion. The attractive black and white images he shot throughout night time races at Irwindale at the moment are vital historic paperwork. “Right here’s what occurred,” Brady mentioned. “I used to be very thinking about Speedway racing that turned in style at the moment (early-mid Nineteen Seventies). As a photographer I assumed, Wow! That is kinda cool! I used to be going to design faculty and free-lancing as a photographer. As I used to be getting deeper into images, certainly one of my pals was racing Speedway. We met with one another and he mentioned, ‘Man… You recognize, your stuff is fairly good.’ I used to be coming extra from attempting to seize the artwork and the look of a ‘slide’. I used to be capturing 35mm Tri-X with a Nikon. I used to be utilizing a 50mm lens. There have been different guys capturing Speedway on the time who have been utilizing a Hasselblad and a flash, however I seen the flash made the riders seem like stick figures. The flash would freeze them and there they’re. So I mentioned, I wish to shoot this in a different way. My good friend Scott Sivadge was a very good racer and he mentioned, ‘OK let me work on getting you into Irwindale.’ I went to the monitor with my Nikon, 50mm lens and Tri-X movie and it took me a pair rounds. I’d develop my movie and go whoa, there’s nothing there… I’d go once more and shoot it and nothing…  After which someplace alongside the road I bear in mind I used to be within the storage creating my movie and seemed and Wow! There’s a bunch of photos! In order that’s after I mentioned, I feel I’ve one thing…”

Irwindale racing program from June 17, 1976, that includes an All-Star Match. [Pat Brady Archive]

“I took Tri-X and began pushing it to the place… OK right here’s the system… I pushed it to 1200 ASA and I used to be capturing at 125th of a second. In the event you go at 60 the whole lot is blurry. I found out, ah… I can freeze the precise rider… you may see I used to be panning with everyone to get the shot… It was F2 at 125th of a second… I may see the look was very cool of all these individuals racing and sliding and stuff. My entire factor was, I can’t give attention to them as a result of they’re coming down the road manner too quick. So what I sometimes did was choose a spot and I’d completely dial in on the grime at that spot and as they have been coming I might pan with them and I knew proper the place they hit that spot. You’re catching extra of the slide, not the everyday documentary kind shot. Then any person noticed what I used to be doing after which Filth Bike Journal contacted me and requested me to shoot some stuff.”

Utilizing solely the stadium lights, Pat Brady captures the drama and balletic movement of Nineteen Seventies speedway racing. That is racer Sonny Nutter. [Pat Brady Archive]

“I used to be additionally very into what was happening. I began to get into the entire thing… It was like going to a live performance. At Irwindale it was very thrilling, it was on Thursday nights… Out of all of the circuit tracks… I feel there have been 5 of them…  Ventura, Bakersfield, San Bernardino, Irwindale, Costa Mesa (Friday night time races that acquired essentially the most attendees) however Irwindale was completely electrical. And it was due to sure issues: Irwindale was on a Thursday night time. The monitor was a bit of longer, a bit of wider so it was the quickest out of the circuit tracks. About 2-3 thousand individuals would present up. It felt like there have been lots of people there.

Pat Brady’s images was repeatedly printed in magazines and on the duvet of Speedway racing applications. [Pat Brady Archive]

“The seating was all the way in which across the monitor and it was very near the wall. The seating was like proper there! That made it like wow! This can be a spectacle. The lights that have been on appeared to be brighter than a number of the different tracks. That gentle helped me get the pictures as a result of I used to be by no means capturing with a flash. Bruce Flanders was the announcer and he turned kinda well-known. He turned the voice of the Lengthy Seaside Grand Prix. It’s the largest race west of the Mississippi. So all these items got here out of Irwindale. Like Bruce Penhall (b. 1957). The racing was fierce. It began in Could and would go to October. 500cc, one gear, no brakes… A number of torque, quite a lot of pick-up. They transfer quick. That’s the entire sport of Speedway… It’s an excellent fast dash. Late ‘60s early ‘70s the racing turned like a rock live performance. At Irwindale within the air was a robust scent of gas. Methanol… Heavy obligation… Some individuals would name it Nitro.”

Utilizing a panning digicam movement, Pat Brady was in a position to seize the movement on the monitor with readability of the rider. [Pat Brady Archive]

“Within the crowd they at all times had quite a lot of beer as a result of they’d beer stands…. So there was a mixture between the scent of beer and the scent of gas and the ‘electricness’ of the entire thing. The rider’s leathers have been actually colourful, their helmets have been sparkly. It was one thing. So I assumed I’m going to seize the slide a part of this. It was very aggressive, the blokes would go arduous. The common rider was 18-24 years outdated. Slidin’ Sonny Nutter (b. 1958) was the oldest man and he was 30. Very good-looking. All the women preferred him. He was thought of the outdated man.”

The Irwindale monitor program with Pat Brady’s picture for Thursday June 24 1976. [Pat Brady Archive]

“The gang was way more of a youthful, good trying, surfer ladies, it was extra like a live performance. It was very hip. A number of surfer individuals would go there. Rick Woods was a widely known surfer out of Huntington Seaside however he made his dwelling and his fame out of Speedway. Considered one of his superb pals was a well-known Hawaiian surfer out of the ‘60s and ‘70s David Nuuhiwa. He’d be within the pits standing with Rick Woods. It was that type of a scene. It was cool. Woods would pull up in a very cool, outdated bathtub Porsche.  A biker group would present up and also you’d have one large get-down all blended collectively. They’d play music on the PA so it was like a full-on leisure heart. There have been some completely different riders who had reputations and mystique. Bruce Penhall was younger and really quick; he was gearing off a pair different guys- Mike Bast (b. 1953) who was an excellent precision rider, Rick Woods… Rather a lot had nick-names, Rick ‘The Rocket’ Woods (1948-2012)… There was one man who was a spectacle, he was super-fast and tremendous good- Danny Becker (d. 2013) and he acquired the nick-name, Danny ‘Berzerko’ Becker. Sure guys would go right into a nook after which they’d pull up so the again finish would get traction, Danny Becker would do head-high wheel stands. Nobody may work out how he would keep on the bike. It seemed utterly uncontrolled. It seemed like he was going to kill everyone. Folks would present up simply to see him. It virtually appeared reckless however he would win races. The most effective guys would say, ‘This man’s loopy.’ And he was nick-named ‘Berzerko’. It was such a spectacle.

Danny ‘Berserko’ Becker is highlighted in a foursome at Irwindale. [Pat Brady Archive]

“The phrase acquired out about Danny and folks have been displaying up from all completely different places- extra than simply bike individuals. Then the best of all Speedway racers exhibits up; Ivan Mauger from New Zealand, Barry Briggs from New Zealand, Peter Collins exhibits up from England… These are world champions… They’re the weapons… The American guys are younger and brash… They’re like fuck you and your popularity… let’s race. The Europeans are bowled over, like who’re these youngsters? There have been some intense battles with these guys. The Europeans known as the younger California guys the “Younger Lions”. Bruce Penhall then goes to Europe and wins the World Championship in Europe. This opens the door and since there have been quite a lot of People who’ve gone to Europe and gained the World Championship. It’s important to bear in mind the bikes have been principally identical- 500cc, no brakes. Possibly some specialised tuning, however principally the bikes have been similar.”

Scott Sivadge at Irwindale. You’ll be able to see the roostertail of grime being sprayed in his wake. [Pat Brady Archive]

“There was a subculture concerning the grime. A particular combine to the grime on the monitor. Earlier than the race a water truck would go across the monitor and water it down to assist the traction. Racers would seize a clump of the grime and test it out. They have been delicate to the grime texture and had a sensibility about it. Midway by means of the night time, the water truck would go round once more. Totally different riders used completely different sorts of knobby tires relying on how the monitor seemed that night time. Totally different tracks arrange alternative ways to cope with the grime. Every monitor had a man who was doing the grime with a tractor and he’d come round and get the monitor grime composite to be a sure manner. It wasn’t simply grime… That they had some type of particular combine to it. It was great things as a result of these guys have been going to race on it. I noticed some guys get harm in the course of the races however by no means did I see anybody die racing Speedway. I knew a man who broke his leg one night time. There was a particular aspect of hazard nevertheless it wasn’t the place they have been carting individuals to the hospital on a regular basis. It was fierce, loud and harmful.”

Speedway racing at all times had a whiff of hazard, though deaths are very uncommon. This can be a spectacular getoff captured on an Australian monitor within the late Nineteen Twenties. [The Vintagent Archive]

“Right this moment, the racing tradition of Irwindale and tracks that existed in the identical Southern California area have disappeared. The Irwindale Speedway and a well-known drag strip that was part of that property (Lions) is now a brewery the place they make beer. This tradition went away. The unique operator Irwindale Speedway LLC filed for chapter after the 2011 season and the monitor sat vacant. An actual property group developer bought the 63-acre website, September, 2022. The flat monitor races at Irwindale was a magical loopy factor that occurred on Thursday nights. Speedway racing nonetheless goes on at Metropolis of Business (within the San Gabriel Valley, jap Los Angeles) that’s not very removed from Irwindale. There may be some Speedway in Costa Mesa proper by Huntington Seaside on the Orange County Fairgrounds to at the present time throughout Speedway season. Nevertheless it’s not on the similar stage of attendance and pleasure that came about within the mid-seventies. (3000 plus at Irwindale Thursday night time races, Costa Mesa boasted having 10,000 in attendance at Friday night time races, with round 25 elimination warmth races every night time).

Mike Bast racing – be aware he has no glove on this throttle hand, preferring complete really feel for throttle management. [Pat Brady Archive]

“Success on the monitor got here all the way down to using talent and technique – how good are you at discovering the traction on the slide and going quick down the straightaway. In the event you look rigorously at my picture of Mike Bast (b. Van Nuys, CA 1951-2007), he was so exact using the within line… a really precision rider of Speedway. In the event you look, he isn’t sporting a glove on his proper hand. He at all times wished to really feel his throttle. That was his factor. 1972-1976-77- that was the zone. I’m glad that I documented the tradition of the broadslide at Irwindale.

[1] A Historic Perspective on Los Angeles’ Visitors Congestion Battle. Melany Curry, 2020.

“Understanding why visitors congestion issues is… not a matter of documenting actual, observable circumstances, however relatively certainly one of revealing shared cultural understandings.” Asha Weinstein

[2] An in depth article titled: Bike Speedway is accessible at Wikipedia. Different articles on Speedway historical past on The Vintagent embrace:


Michael McCabe is a New York Metropolis tattoo artist and cultural anthropologist. He’s the writer of New York Metropolis Horsepower, Kustom Japan, New York Metropolis Tattoo, Japanese Tattooing Now, Tattoos of Indochina, and Tattooing New York Metropolis. For New York Metropolis Horsepower, Mr. McCabe spent two years discovering and documenting underground customized bike and automobile garages within the Metropolis, as speedy gentrification put their tradition underneath large stress. He interviewed and photographed New York Metropolis customizers about their private histories and inventive sensibilities.