Costa Mesa Speedway has been pitching it sideways since 1969, and it’s not slowing down any time soon. The Oval dirt track is 1/10 of a mile long made up of a special combination of clay base and decomposed granite. From prior experience, that doesn’t feel so good hitting you straight in the face coming off a turn, ouch!
Sliding into the weekend like…Saturday nights were made to be enjoyed at the track!
The track has been passed down from father to son and still operated as a family business. Harry Oxley teamed up with Jack Milne to open the track back in 1969. Now, his son and daughter in law take on the responsibility of keeping the dream alive. Even in the back of the stands, the smell of methanol fills the crisp night air, the deafening roar of four-stroke engines and the announcer’s voice booms over the crackling speakers. You can’t help but feel that you’ve stepped into a time warp right here in Orange County.
Keeping it traditional and old school. Costa Mesa Speedway, seen through the eyes of an obvious flat track fan.
Sanctioned in 1954 by the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) flat track demands the very top competitive and highly skilled riders. This short track in Costa Mesa, CA. encompasses riders to bolt out of the starting line and immediately prepare their body and bike for a 90˚ turn. The trick is to go as fast as you can through a turn without slowing down the bike itself. Did I mention there are no front brakes!? The term going sideways is coined from how flat track riders whip their back end tire almost parallel to their front while in the turn. Saddling high, right foot nursing the back brakes and keeping the front tire lined up, it’s a beautiful thing to see these riders slide into their turns.
Getting that positioning off the first turn is crucial. This is where the experts dust the novice.
Support your local daredevils! These guys and girls risk their lives each time they get on the track. But you can say that about anyone who rides motorcycles in the congested SoCal traffic. Haven’t you heard of the 405 Fwy?? From 18 years to 60 plus years old, the reason they get on the oval track is purely from the passion that drives them. Hurling themselves as fast as they can to put everything on the line. There is no instant fame or fortune that comes into what these guys do, but the pay off comes from the fans.
A Gene “Burrito” Romero fan stands up to see who’s gearing up to race from the pit. The bleacher seats about 6500 people intimately. Anywhere you sit, you’re right on top of the action. From the usual old-timers that talk about the “heydays” to the first date couples that share nachos and beer together, there are no typical fans that go to the races but as diverse as the genres of California motorcycle riders on the road. Whether you ride a vintage caferacer or a custom Harley bagger, you’ll fit right in. As a matter of fact, I’ve met a few people while waiting at the beer line that were first-timers to the speedway. I asked them how they heard about the races and what made them want to come. The couple was in their early twenties and looked like they were either on a first date or early stages of their relationship. The girl blared out to me trying to talk over the humming engines, “it was his idea, but it’s pretty awesome!” After a couple of short-spoken sentences, the couple said that they were there for the Orange County Fair. They had learned about the races, which gets you into both attractions for the price of one. Neither of them rode motorcycles but was thoroughly impressed by the acrobatic-like performances by the riders on the track. They even said they would most likely come again for the next race event. I should mention a bit more about the Orange County Fair since it’s going on right now until Aug. 11th. What better way to celebrate Orange County’s communities, interest, agriculture, and heritage with the Costa Mesa Speedway in tangent with the Fair.
It’s simple: drink beer, have fun, ride motorcycles. Everything else will take care of itself.
The OC Fair seems to get bigger and bigger each year and attracts over a million visitors in a 23-day span. This definitely benefitted the track by getting some looky-loos to come over from the fair to sit on the hardwood bleachers to find out what the whole ruckus is all about. Sitting almost to the very top of the bleachers, twenty-five to thirty rows up, the sun settling calming over a row of palm trees, it’s not hard to appreciate how fortunate we are to be living in Southern California.
As the sun goes down, the floodlights around the stadium bring the focus back into the dirt track. I had to come down and get a closer look so I ran down to the corner wall off the first turn. The crash wall was filled with spectators waiting patiently for the race to start up again. Beer in hand and eyes glued to the racers fighting for positioning as they take the turn. Our eardrums checked with each exhaust flying by, we’re suddenly sprayed with hot dirt fresh from burning tires. The crowd on the wall dissipates to a few die-hard fans while I cover up my beer from getting anymore track debris in it.
A little protein in your beer don’t hurt nobody.
Ultimately the takeaway from this event is to have a good time! The speedway is meant for everybody. There is a lot of history that comes from these walls and you could certainly feel it from the seasoned spectators to the race crew all in white jumpsuits that take care of the dirt track like a manicured trophy wife. Anyone will tell you that the sport is an all-out adrenaline junky haven and for it to be considered a dying sport is unthinkable. The crowd seems to be thinning out a tad bit more each season and the age range is predominantly leaning towards senior citizens. The motorcycle industry as a whole has the same problem speaking to deaf ears. My only guess to that is we, as moto-enthusiasts have segregated ourselves into exclusivity and have done a great job at it. Even though I wasn’t even born in the decade of the Honda Motorcycle slogan, “You’ll meet the nicest people on a Honda” I seem to think that we should bring that slogan back into racing and motorcycling in general. The take away from this article is it’s okay to be a nice guy or girl and invite the non-riders to these events. Costa Mesa Speedway is the perfect atmosphere for that one person who’s always intrigued in getting on a bike for the first time. The next event is the Harley Night, Aug 17th. Hope to see ya’ll out there! And invite a friend to share a beer together.
Words & Photos by Mark Gamo / @LosAngelesMoto