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Duels were more common back then, he explains, because riders would race so much throughout Southern California—plus, they were still kids. "There might have been somebody who knocked someone off [their bike] one night, and [that] became a feud, and then it would turn to the next night, the next night, the next night, the next week, and then the next night, the next night—and it would carry on."
But for all the drama, the draw of Costa Mesa Speedway for racers has been the track itself, where young Americans came to cut their teeth in the sport before launching into wider fame in England, the sport's hotbed. "It's always been the premier track of the circuit we were on back then," Schwartz says. "When I started, we were racing five nights a week: Tuesday was Ventura, Wednesday night in San Bernardino, Thursday night at Irwindale, Friday nights in Costa Mesa, Saturday night in Bakersfield. We did that circuit for quite a while, and Costa Mesa was always the biggest."
Many tracks have come and gone in California, but Costa Mesa has remained. On Oct. 5, it will host its 1,000th event, the United States National Speedway Championship, the biggest speedway event of the season.
Riders attribute the Speedway's longevity to its always being family-owned and -operated. "[The Oxleys] treated [it] as a professional sport," Schwartz says. "It was that way from the beginning."
Harry Oxley's children Brad and Laurie inherited the family business as their parents aged. Now the reins are mostly held by Brad and his wife, Jaleen. "I'm just the janitor here, dude," Brad Oxley says humbly. He believes the key to keeping the Costa Mesa Speedway alive is maintaining a good relationship with the Orange County Fairgrounds. "We respect our neighbors, but it's mostly because I don't want to get a real job."
And the extended Oxley family continues the legacy. Brad's daughter Roxanne even married a legendary speedway racer, the "fastest mullet in the west," Mr. Flyin' Mike Faria. (Roxanne's name is proudly displayed on Faria's racing suit, with a heart for the "o.") Faria raced in the early days at Costa Mesa and continues to win at the track. "I have my own philosophy on racing," the 56-year-old Faria says. "We're not going to the moon or anything like that; we're just going in circles."
Faria began racing in 1970 in Northern California and was persuaded by Harry Oxley to come to Southern California because he could make more money here. "So in '82, I moved on down here and have just been loving it ever since," he says. Like so many other American racers, Faria was eventually picked up by an English team, following the money, the fans and the chance at winning big-time championships. "I went to England in '88 for the Belle Vue Aces, went from reserve rider all the way to the No. 1 rider."
He hopped back and forth across the pond for the next decade, earning honors on the Edinburgh and Scottish Monarchs teams in 1995 and 1996. Faria says he's always loved racing at Costa Mesa Speedway, where he thrice won the biggest event of the season, the United States National Championship, as well as took the prize at the Fair Derby, which takes place during the Orange County Fair, eight times. Faria credits his success over the past 43 years to the longtime support of his sponsors, such as Jack Mattson of Mattson Radiator, and, of course, Roxanne. "My wife really pushes me, too," he says. "Her and Jack are . . . kind of the same. They're poor losers. They don't know how to take me because I say, 'You know, I'll get 'em next week.'"
Faria concedes that the wins don't come as much as they used to, especially after he turned 50, but when they come, they feel good. "Well, when you win, you got all kinds of friends," Faria observes, smirking mirthfully. "They come out of the woodwork." And when he loses, he jokes, "I have no friends. Nobody likes a loser!"
He's being modest, though: In the 2013 season at Costa Mesa alone, Faria has taken home two first place wins and a fourth place.
And now, Faria's son Danny is following in his footsteps; he began racing speedway in 2007.
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A night at Costa Mesa Speedway offers not only a chance to watch living legends in action, but also showcases what put the track on the map in the first place: rising talent. Division Two riders learn the tricks of the trade on the same night Division One masters race. There are even a few Youth rounds in which elementary-school-age kids haul ass on mini bikes and the bigger kids ride on 150cc and 250cc motorcycles. The mud may not fly as fast or hard into the crowd when the Division Two guys race, but they are usually younger than the Division One guys, so they take bigger risks, which either pay off for a win or send them crashing into one another.
One of the more boisterous characters of the second division is Damon "Don't Look Back" Barry. He doesn't always win, but he says he enjoys putting on a show anyway, whether it's popping wheelies or rocking pink and zebra print on his suit and bike like no other man can. "If you gotta go down, you gotta look good going down," he muses, adding that speedway is essentially a rock & roll show.