I watched the building of Ontario Motor Speedway, starting way back in 1968 and construction moved along at a pretty good clip until the devastating floods of 1969 that affected the entire Inland Empire. After the floods work was stopped on the racetrack so that the completely flooded infield off-road track, car sheds and office facilities could be pumped out. The opening day race in 1970 was in jeopardy, but the management company was able to get the water out and the track finished by the scheduled September Labor Day race date.
Ontario Motor Speedway was a 2.5-mile race track built with the same dimensions as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.. Track Management planned to make the speedway an exact replica of Indianapolis. There were some exceptions though.. The track was 2.5 miles round, the same as Indy, but the racing surface was one lane wider and the turns were fully banked, which made the Ontario track slightly faster than Indianapolis. In addition, Ontario Motor Speedway was built with an infield road course, making it a multi-purpose facility.. Ontario Speedway also included a circle of bricks unearthed from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that were laid down in the Ontario track's victory lane.
That first race, The California 500, held on September 6, 1970, was a huge success with over 180,000 people in attendance. The Indianapolis 500 was traditionally held Memorial Day weekend, so track officials decided that Labor Day weekend was a perfect choice for this new event. However, 1971's race was a flop as far as attendance was concerned with only 80,000 people attending the race. The Labor Day Race never lived up to the success of the inaugural event, and the track started a downhill slide soon afterward.
Lack of promotion and an inability to capitalize on the inaugural race's success by the management company, Parnelli Jones & Partners, contributed to the eventual closing of the track to Indy Racing after the 1972 season. Indy tried to make a comeback in 1974 but was only able to draw 75,000 people to the event. Ontario Motor Speedway the venue for the California Jam in an attempt to promote the track more.. The California Jam featured numerous rock music bands, and was profitable for the track, but the management company was unable to turn that profit into long term gains, instead squandering the 'take' on inept projects and advertising for the company's tire stores.
NASCAR continued to run races at Ontario Speedway for 10 years and would hold the last race of the NASCAR Winston (now Nextel) Cup Series, the Los Angeles Times 500, in 1980. A few Drag Race Events were held held at Ontario but the Pomona Fairgrounds still drew the larger crowds with the Winter Nationals and the new AAA fall race, and was considered the premier Drag Race facility in the Inland Empire.
Eventually, track management went bankrupt. 1980 would be the Speeway's last year of operation and the City of Ontario took over the land from the now defunct management company.. Parnelli Jones filed several lawsuits trying to recoup money lost on the racetrack but those cases were always lost or thrown out as frivolous, and the city eventually sold the track for $10 million to Chevron Land Management in the fall of 1981.
The Speedway was partly demolished in 1981 at a cost of $3 million and left as an empty lot, but the grandstands remained as did the seating in turns one and three. Remaining as a haunting reminder of what could have been, but never was. The property remained vacant for several years until the mid-1980s when a Hilton Hotel was built on turn 4 of the old speedway site. Soon after, several office buildings and several upscale eating establishments would fill in what once was the main parking area for over 25,000 cars along the Interstate 10 freeway. In 1992, as a process server and courier, I delivered a certified bank-check for $400 million to the Chevron Corporation for the first office buildings to be built on turn number 4 and along the 10 freeway.
As of this writing in 2007, development on the former site of the Speedway had increased. Over half of the old speedway property, adjacent to Interstate 10, has been developed commercially and several hundred town houses and condos are being built where the grand stands and number one and two turns used to be and across Milliken Avenue is the Ontario Mills Shopping Center. The entire area is filling in quickly with new office, commercial and community complexes.
In 1997, barely 2 miles away from the old Ontario Motor Speedway site, the new California Speedway was opened in Fontana. Time will tell if Fontana Speedway is able to survive at least as long as Ontario Motor Speedway did and hopefully, the new California Speedway will survive well into the future.