Irwindale Speedway cancels season

Irwindale Speedway management has canceled the 2012 racing season at the track, it was announced in a brief statement Monday.

Irwindale Speedway has been hit with a number of setbacks over the past few months that all pointed to its closing. The grandstands in the pit area of the track were taken down on Saturday. The offices at the track, including vice president and general manager Bob DeFazio's, were cleaned out and emptied on to moving trucks. Only L.A. Racing Experience, a driving school at the track, remain.

The canceling of the racing season at Irwindale Speedway marks the end of stock car and NASCAR-sanctioned short track racing in Los Angeles County.

Drivers, employees and NASCAR were expecting that Irwindale Speedway was going to cancel its racing program, but some were hoping for better news.

"We are waiting for an announcement from the track," said Jason Christley, NASCAR senior manager of communications for regional and touring series. "We're hopeful. It's a great track. They have great competitors. Unfortunately, in the short track industry, there are a lot of variables that are out of our control."

Telephone messages left for DeFazio were not returned.

Jim Cohan, the president and CEO of L.A. Racing Experience at Irwindale Speedway, said the canceling of the racing season will have no effect on his driving school.

"It doesn't," Cohan said. "We look forward to working with the next owner for sure. I do not see racing finished here. I see too many people that love the sport."

There is no question the track has fallen on hard times. Car counts are down and sponsorship for teams and the track has been hard to find. The biggest blow came when Toyota decided not to continue as the title sponsor of the track at the end of the 2011 season.

The track has hosted NASCAR late model races in addition to K&N Pro Series races, USAC Midget and Sprint Car races, Legends Cars and a variety of stock car and truck touring leagues since it opened 14 years ago.

Toyota Speedway attracted top drivers from across the country from its opening season in 1999.

Kurt Busch won a NASCAR Elite Division Southwest Tour race at the track in its opening season. Joey Logano won two NASCAR All-Star Showdown races at the track during his rise to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Kasey Kahne brought his USAC Midgets to the track for the Turkey Night Grand Prix. Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart regularly raced his USAC teams at Irwindale.

Those were the good times. Things took a turn for the worst starting in August.

The first blow came when the NASCAR All-Star Showdown, a nationally televised event scheduled for January and run annually at Irwindale since 2003, was cancelled at the track over the summer. The two-day event included a NASCAR K&N Pro Series race pitting the top teams and drivers from the West and East Series.

A few weeks later, the race track in Irwindale lost its title sponsorship when Toyota decided to end its partnership.

When the K&N Pro Series West schedule came out in December, Irwindale was not on it for the first time since 1999, when the track opened.

The track cut the season short by two weeks last year and cancelled the awards banquet honoring the track champions.

With the cancelling of the racing season at Irwindale, there are no NASCAR-sanctioned tracks operating in Southern California. Ventura Raceway and Perris Auto Speedway are dirt tracks that host mostly USAC and open-wheel races. The Orange Show in San Bernardino shut down over the summer.

Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield is expected to open at the end of the summer and will have NASCAR Late Model and Elite Tour cars, the National Speed Sport News reported.

Tim Haddock is a regular contributor to ESPNLosAngeles.com.