The very fact that I’ve allowed myself to be delayed in making this entry underscores the fact that the experiences I related in Part One, and am about to relate here, really have had a profound and lasting influence on my priorities.
Living up in the E. Sierra, there are always plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, especially after the snow thaws. This year has been no exception. So, in between warm-weather projects, I’ve been staying fairly occupied with motorcycle preparation (for both road trips and off-road excursions), and field “testing”.
So far, so good! Now, back to stories of early influences in my MotoLife.
As I mentioned in Part One, with the variety of racing venues proliferating the Greater Los Angeles Area in the decades of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, it was really hard NOT to be favorably influenced by all of these motohappenings.
Probably the most influential of these venues for me, had to be the legendary Ascot Park, once located in the urban-industrial city of Gardena.
At one point, I can remember at least a half-dozen different motor racing disciplines being featured within the confines of its ½-mile-dirt oval retaining walls: Full-sized and Midget open-wheeled racers, Modified’s of a few classes, Figure-Eight thrashers, motorcycle Flat-Track (oval) and TT racers and Motocrosser’s, not to mention other annual events featuring other moto-angles.
I was privileged to be a child-spectator to many of these displays. It was certainly a special and unique perspective, as I hadn’t really had any familiar experience to draw upon, at the time. I mean, amusement parks of the day were about as close as I had come—but this was something really different!
Yes, there were whole families in attendance—but families whose interest focused on motor sport, not pursuit of passive safety within the confines of the “Magic Kingdom”. Beyond the family scene, the other attendees were of a kind purely germane to the race park crowd: motorheads and gearheads (mostly men) of wide-ranging demographic orientation, friends and family of participants (these were easy to spot), track staff, journalists, photographers, and others “in the show”, including participants—who always seemed “larger than life” while making the scene, and often making a scene—in their racing suit-clad personas.
For all that, one of the most noticeable features of the race crowd were the women in attendance. Whether they were moms, girlfriends, or singles—young or old—they all had a physical bearing which I eventually identified as a confidence directly related to familiarity, through hands-on experience—and actual attraction—to machines. Especially racing machines. These were generally not passive gals, no. They didn’t strike as “princesses” seeking protection from the potentially dangerous, either. They were actively embracing it!
Amongst all of this aural, visual, and visceral overload, I remember getting practice at trying to identify and track the participants through use of the low tech facilities of race program and (necessarily) bombastic announcer man on distorted and underpowered P.A. system (which seemed to me, at the time, to be surprisingly overpowered in between race heats. I soon became acquainted with how to identify symptoms of potential hearing loss!)
Then there were opportunities to go to the vendor’s booths and snag a piece of appropriate merchandise—product stickers and decals (some of which I still have!); and maybe a T-Shirt if I had been busy mowing lawns and saving whatever “allowance” I was fortunate enough to score from the week previous.
At the end of the evening or afternoon, I felt content that I’d been part of something that, on a number of levels, was very satisfying. I had seen a bunch of participants plying skills that I aspired to—and giving an exciting show in the process. It bore a definite similarity to what I would later experience when attending rock concerts.
An added bonus for living not far from Ascot, in the Torrance neighborhood of Walteria, was that, on an otherwise quiet night, when the full-sized Sprint Cars were running, the sound of the field charging down the back-straight toward Turn Three was plainly audible. I could imagine being there, in attendance; but I was totally enjoying the perspective right from where I stood. In any event, it was music to my ears!
Apparently, it was also music to a number of other residents of the “South Bay”—of which, Gardena was on the northeast corner—since it took many years for the N.I.M.B.Y.-oriented “anti-noise” protesters to finally carry the day and get Ascot closed down. The fact that land values were rapidly appreciating no doubt contributed additionally, and in no small way, to “The Park’s” demise, also. I think there are a couple of decent-sized hotels occupying the site today.
Although I attend fewer racing events and rock concerts these days—as I’m spending more time out there participating myself—I find them still to be worthwhile in much the same way, even as my skills as a spectator have improved with age. Let’s have a cheer for “Older and Wiser”, and the childhood experiences that paved the way for it to be possible!
Stay tuned for my next entry—as I believe there will be enough “Wonder Years” material for a Part Three…
Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage.