August 30, 2017

Unfinished Business

[Ed: Update 12/31/17 11:42 AM PT: According to a San Gabriel Valley Tribune article updated on 12/30/17, the Irwindale Speedway has been granted a temporary reprieve and will operate for at least two more seasons while Chinese investors try to find an anchor retailer for their mall.]

The Irwindale Speedway, a 6000-seat twin track NASCAR motorsports stadium, is going to be shut down at the end of January 2018 and eventually bulldozed (presumably for a shopping center).

It was already one of the last of a dying breed, in an area of California that used to be covered in race tracks (at Paramount Ranch and the Farmers Market, just to name a couple).

And while it was sad to see yet another one fade into just a memory, hearing of its imminent demolition also made me just a little bit mad.

Because I've got some unfinished business with Irwindale Speedway.

Back in 2013, I'd already started earning my racing stripes by learning stick shift in a Formula 1 racer and perfecting my skills in a stock car. I'd caught the bug, and I was looking for new sets of wheels to race on new tracks, anywhere and everywhere.

I wanted to hit them all—and my next stop was Irwindale, where you could not only spectate drag races and such but also take a course from  a stock car driving school called LA Racing Experience.

As all of these miniature, amateur driving "lessons" do, this one first sat us in a room and lectured us about safety. I felt pretty confident, given my recent triumphs on the track—but that's exactly what our instructor warned us of. "The ones who've done this before are always the ones who mess up," he said.

And that turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy—but only because the instructor ended up blaming me for his own mess-up.

With these schools, you can't just drive willy-nilly around the track. You've got to obey the orders barked into your earpiece—and, since you don't have a microphone, you have no opportunity to ask any questions to clarify if you're confused.

It's a one-way line of communication, and it's their way or the freeway. One wrong move, and you can say goodbye to the speedway.

I must've only made my way around the track one or two complete times when the command center called out instructions that referred to me by the wrong car number.

That was the beginning of the confusion.

Based on what the other car numbers were, and how close the number he used was to mine, I kind of figured out he meant me—and so, I got in position to do what he instructed, which was to pass the car in front of me.

He ordered that car to move a lane over and for me to speed up. And then he started saying "NOT YET NOT YET NOT YET," without referring to any car number.

Of course, the driver ahead of me thought it was for him, so he didn't move over. And because I didn't hear my car number—not even the wrong number that I figured to be mine—I just kept going.

Understandably, the lesson screeched to a halt with the wave of a red flag. It could've been disastrous otherwise.

But then, to my horror, I was ejected from both my car and the track and sent to the equivalent of the principal's office.

I explained my case to the safety manager, who thought I'd gone rogue, like so many of those cocky race car drivers before me. But I was so bewildered and remorseful—thinking that I had obeyed to the best of my ability—that I burst into tears.

It burned that I was being punished for a human error that wasn't entirely mine. I was also steamed that the other driver—who seemed to me to be equally as at fault as I was, by not moving over when he was told to—was allowed to finish the experience, while I cried in the office.

Not to mention the fact that I'd spent not a small amount of money on that track experience and driven not a short distance to get there—and I'd only gotten a fraction of what I'd hoped for.

Shockingly, the manager said that he believed me and that although he couldn't put me back out onto the track that night, he'd send me a voucher to come back and try it again.

Maybe he only told me that to stop the tears from streaming down my face—a tactic that worked quite well—because after periodically following up with him by phone and email, I never got that return pass.

My desire to avoid conflict having eclipsed my need to avoid regret, I eventually gave up on the LA Racing Experience.

But I hadn't given up on the Irwindale Speedway.

Instead, I'd just convinced myself that I would find some other way to get back behind the wheel on that track, put the pedal to the metal, and burn rubber like the racing champ I was meant to be.

I haven't raced since. And now, it looks like if I ever do race again, it won't be at Irwindale.

Related Posts:
Another Missed Calling
The Need for Speed
Off to the Races, Part One
Off to the Races, Part Two

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