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July 10, 2024

Flipping the track: How Irwindale Speedway holds two destructive events in three days

When rain forced ARCA and Irwindale Speedway officials to postpone the ARCA Menards Series West race originally scheduled for March 30, a unique opportunity was created. Irwindale would host two West Series races in the span of three days from July 4-6.

Such a doubleheader came with its own set of unique challenges that track promoter Tim Huddleston and his team had to overcome in order to welcome more than 12,000 fans and competitors for two spectacular nights of racing and entertainment.

This is how they did it.

Long before ARCA officials and teams began to arrive at Irwindale Speedway, preparation was underway days in advance of Thursday’s NAPA Auto Parts 150 presented by the West Coast Stock Car Motorsports Hall of Fame.

The grandstands, which can hold approximately 6,500 people, were pressure washed. The race track was given a new coat of paint. Trash cans were emptied. Banners and flags were hung around the facility. Barriers were moved into place.

These tasks may sound simple, but there’s no such thing on a hot day in Southern California.

Huddleston on Wednesday was in Las Vegas for another event, so Manny Gonzalez handled much of the pre-event work to prepare the facility to welcome fans and competitors.

Gonzalez has worked at Irwindale for more than two decades. In fact, he was part of the team that prepared the landscaping prior to the construction of the track.

As long as Irwindale Speedway has existed, Gonzalez has worked there. He now holds the title of Facilities Manager at the 65-acre property.

Huddleston likes to give fans as much bang for their buck as possible. That’s why, when the West Series comes to Irwindale, each event also includes the popular Night of Destruction program.

A Night of Destruction is exactly how it sounds. Attractions like trailer races, jet car burn downs and motorhome destruction races create big reactions from race fans … and one really big mess.

Gonzalez and his team are the ones who clean it all up.

Not to be left out, West Series director Chris Wright also has a hand in preparing the facility for competition. Before almost every West Series race, Wright uses a drag mat to collect any debris leftover from whatever event was last on track.

Wright on Wednesday covered Irwindale’s entire half-mile oval, plus the infield of the track as well as the pit area. The drag mat collected a variety of debris, including rubber, bits of metal and plastic.

“It gives me a chance to scan the track for areas of concern. It allows me to put my eyes on the entire facility.” — Chris Wright

Tim Huddleston at the ARCA hauler.

Lisa Huddleston stocks merchandise.

Paul Belvin delivers fuel to competitors.

By Thursday morning, preparations were all but complete for the first of two days of racing and destruction. But there was still work to be done. Huddleston, his wife Lisa and operations coordinator Paul Belvin were quite literally all over the facility Thursday.

Huddleston is more than a promotor. When the action begins on race nights, he takes on the role of hype man for the capacity crowd. Lisa joins him to hand out giveaways in the stands.

“We built us a little tiny home. It’s a 600 square foot mini house on the property. Me and my entire family, we will not leave that property. We’ll come in from Las Vegas at 3 or 4 in the morning on Thursday, and I won’t leave that property until Sunday night.” — Tim Huddleston

July 4 at 4 p.m. PT – GATES OPEN

Following the conclusion of Thursday’s West Series race (won by Sean Hingorani), the program shifted to the Night of Destruction.

Just as advertised, there was plenty of destruction and, thus, one huge mess.

And with a 10 p.m. PT curfew, the show had to move on in a hurry.

July 5 at 5:30 a.m. PT – CLEANUP BEGINS

Gonzalez arrived on site at 5 a.m. PT on Friday. He and his 10-person crew began clean-up efforts at 5:30 a.m.

Part of the crew was stationed in the infield, where they cleaned up the debris created by the Night of Destruction and jet car burn down.

Wednesday afternoon before the jet car burn down …

… Friday morning after the jet car burn down.

While Gonzalez and his group were focused on cleaning up the infield, a second team was in the grandstands picking up trash left behind by spectators.

Gonzalez estimated his team would collect between 200 and 250 bags of trash from the grandstands and the various trash cans around the facility.

The entire race track and infield had to be cleared of debris ahead of a practice session scheduled for 4 p.m. PT on Friday afternoon. Gonzalez and his team cleaned diligently over the span of four hours. Wright arrived shortly before 10 a.m. and joined the efforts with the drag mat.

By noon, all of the debris was cleared from the infield, and all the trash had been removed from the grandstands. The track was ready to welcome fans and competitors all over again.

“We used to have a different crew, and they’d take the whole day to clean up. When I start, it only takes four hours. We’ll start at 6 in the morning, and we’re done by 10.” — Manny Gonzalez

July 6 at 4 p.m. PT – GATES OPEN

For the second time in three days, Irwindale Speedway opened for business. The West Series once again started the show. Hingorani completed the sweep of both events in a three-day span.

The race was followed by another Night of Destruction program. It again left the facility covered in debris that Gonzalez and his crew spent Sunday morning cleaning.

In all, it was a busy-yet-successful weekend for the Huddleston family, the West Series and the entire staff at Irwindale Speedway.

“The absolute first and foremost and always most important thing for a successful weekend is to send everybody home safe, first, and happy, second. That’s a successful weekend for us.” — Tim Huddleston

Photos: Adam Fenwick