By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
He didn't start when he was a teenager, as did many of the other racers; instead, Barry was captured near middle age after a night at the track. Barry's wife, Sherine, recalls, "One day, he backed his truck up with a speedway bike in the bed. I was on the phone, and I said, 'Hold on, I gotta go kill Damon.'"
It has been eight years since that day. Barry, a carpenter by day, is looking forward to many more years of racing. "The adrenalin I get, the bitchen camaraderie I have with my fellow riders . . . the rush you get when you pull up to the tape. I almost throw up in my helmet," he says. "It's kinda like my birthday every day."
Clanton always points out the rising talent to the crowd. One such racer isn't even in Division Two yet. The girl in the eye-catching white suit with hot pink accents is Courtney Crone. Only 12 years old, with long blond hair and braces, she rides the hell out of her 150cc bike, usually leaving the boys in the Youth division in the dust. On Sept. 14, she became the track champion of her division at Costa Mesa and has taken home three first-place wins there since debuting in early 2012.
Another kid Clanton is quick to highlight is "Mad" Max Ruml. The Huntington Beach 16-year-old landed a spot in Division One in just four years. He was in the Youth division last year, and now he's smoking past the older legends. This year, he won the American Motorcyclist Association Under 21 Championship—an unlikely honor for such a young racer. Since 2011, he has taken home three first-place wins at Costa Mesa.
While respectful of the young talent, older riders such as Schwartz can't help but feel nostalgia for their own, long-ago exploits. "I like being around the younger guys," he says, adding that it makes it all the harder for him to ignore his age. "I still won a few times this year, but I don't take some of the chances I used to."
When he sees teenagers rocking Division One as he did when he began at age 17, it makes him think back to his days as a young World Champion—a rare title for an American rider. "I wish I was young again, and I could do it again," Schwartz concludes. "But really, I had my day. I'm proud of the days I had."
And while Ruml will likely leave for Europe, he'll eventually come back home, just as Schwartz, Faria and countless others did, just as sure as the swallows return to Capistrano. And when they do, they'll be welcomed home warmly. "It's not just a sport; it's a family," says longtime speedway photographer Jim "J.T." Thorn.
"It's this club from here to New York to England—it's a brotherhood," Barry adds. "You're in a club whether you like it or not."
Costa Mesa Speedway invites fans to be part of the family as well. After the race, the gates of the crash walls and the pit open to allow the crowd to walk on the track or go behind the grandstands and meet their favorite racers behind-the-scenes. Sometimes, a half-dozen or so fans will circle around a particular racer in the pit. Most of the riders say they're more than happy to take pictures, sign autographs and chat with the audience.
"A lot of people get hooked, and they come for life," McConnell says.
Faria says he's meeting old fans' grandkids now.
"It's really a niche sport, but it has an über-hardcore following," adds Oxley. "No other event can draw 5,000 paying fans with the longevity we have."
Forty-five years might sound like a long time, but to those who've never left the speedway, the rush of time seems just as fast as the frenzied, danger-filled, so-loud-you-can't-scream-for-help minute it takes to circle the track four times in a high-stakes race.
Oxley leans over the crash wall, looking out at the freshly laid dirt that's about to be ravaged by a dozen screeching tires. "The '70s aren't over," he says of both his youth and the sport's heyday. "They're just behind us."