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.

Flyin’ Mike Faria: The fastest mullet in the West
Eleonor Segura
Flyin’ Mike Faria: The fastest mullet in the West
They race without brakes, you know
Jim Thorn/Back It In Photos
They race without brakes, you know
Gunning toward the finish line
Jim Thorn/Back It In Photos
Gunning toward the finish line
Mike Faria (inside) and Bobby Schwartz (1988)
Jim Thorn/Back It In Photos
Mike Faria (inside) and Bobby Schwartz (1988)
Two-time world champ (1981, ’82) Bruce Penhall (inside) and Mike Bast, seven-time U.S. National Champ (1987)
Jim Thorn/Back It In Photos
Two-time world champ (1981, ’82) Bruce Penhall (inside) and Mike Bast, seven-time U.S. National Champ (1987)
Brad Oxley (inside) and Steve Lucero (1988)
Jim Thorn/Back It In Photos
Brad Oxley (inside) and Steve Lucero (1988)
Grandfather of American speedway Harry Oxley and son Brad Oxley, the current promoter of Costa Mesa Speedway (1987)
Jim Thorn/Back It In Photos
Grandfather of American speedway Harry Oxley and son Brad Oxley, the current promoter of Costa Mesa Speedway (1987)
Jack Milne, the first American to win the World Speedway Championship (1987)
Jim Thorn/Back It In Photos
Jack Milne, the first American to win the World Speedway Championship (1987)
Alan Christen (front), Keith Chrisco (inside rear), Kelly Moran (middle) and John Sandona (1990)
Jim Thorn/Back It In Photos
Alan Christen (front), Keith Chrisco (inside rear), Kelly Moran (middle) and John Sandona (1990)
Dub Ferrell (front) and Brad Oxley (1990)
Jim Thorn/Back It In Photos
Dub Ferrell (front) and Brad Oxley (1990)
Bud Gray from the TV show Father Knows Best (1987)
Jim Thorn/Back It In Photos
Bud Gray from the TV show Father Knows Best (1987)
John Cook (inside) and Schwartz (1986)
Jim Thorn/Back It In Photos
John Cook (inside) and Schwartz (1986)

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."

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17 comments
RuStupid-2
RuStupid-2

If it wasn't for Billy Gray I  wouldn't  have known about speedway . He at least should get some credit. Nothing about Bruce Penhall?  Doesn't seem right.

OC Weekly
OC Weekly

Thank Y'ALL for what ustedes do!

liscarkat
liscarkat

It was Friday, June 13, 1969 when Costa Mesa Speedway opened, not 1968. Speedway had already been going on for more than a year at Whiteman Airport Speedway in Pacoima, promoted by Dude Criswell. Prior to that, the sport was held at Lincoln Park Speedway in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, and was quite popular at a large number of California tracks in the 1930s. 

paullamar
paullamar

well came to cal in the 80es. my dad took me, fell in love went every weekend. sure do miss.. #gaboy

bonbontvl
bonbontvl

How can you do an article on Speedway and NOT mention Bruce Penhall ( except for the tiny little picture). He put Speedway on the map!

warrenburt
warrenburt

BRUCE ALMIGHTY PENHALL !!! Those were the DAYS my friends.....and sitting in the corners,plus the BIG BEERS....ah those wonderful memories !!!

David Reinwald
David Reinwald

I thought this story was about the 55 Freeway. ;-P

Bob Rodman
Bob Rodman

Great piece of work Taylor thanks for sharing with all of us.

ocsurfgirl
ocsurfgirl

Now you're taking me back. I remember sitting at turn 1 everybody yelling 'More Red Snapper' and that big Dude (Gene I think) would dance on the rail.

Hubby just said 'We're lucky we survived coming home from Speedway! We would get crazy!

Still can hear the names over the pa...Oxley...Faria...Penhall!

We grew up at Speedway along with Bruce and we were so saddened to hear of Bruce's son Conner's passing. RIP.

chatillon_500
chatillon_500

That little girl Courtney rides bad ass! She always gets the crowd going. Costa Mesa speedway rocks!

Walter Huxley
Walter Huxley

This is awesome! I used to root for this guy as a kid.

code4productions
code4productions

BRUCE PENHALL WROTE THE BOOK & SET THE STANDARD FOR ALL RIDERS.........

skidmark
skidmark

Stoked on this article. I have only been going to the races for a little over 3 years now. Its awesome to see these folks get recognition and to know more about them. When I first started going it was like I had been transported to somewhere else. I didn't think things like this happened in Orange County. Its like a piece of living Americana. I could go on and on.

I started going when I was in a ruff spot in my life and seeing a guy like Mad Dog who is really doing things he loves ie hockey, surfing, speedway, stunt stuff was awesome then seeing that guys like Eloy Medlin whose a total family man who works a job you wouldn't expect being a speedway racer.

Fuck people whatever it is you want in life, go for it!!! ok nuff outta me!

sybarite6
sybarite6

@warrenburt Big beers with HUGE dirt clods raining into your cup @ duck and cover , shoot I forgot to remember Yea .... turn 2


 
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