Photo by James Bunoan "You're going to run into a lot of men with really hairy legs tonight," said the woman at the press-registration booth. "It's Skirt Night tonight, and you're going to have a lot of fun."
Ahh, Skirt Night at the Costa Mesa Speedway, a special night when all skirts get in free to watch brakeless 500 cc bikes race around a short oval dirt track. And there were a lot of skirts out May 10.
"It's a kilt," said Kevin from Newport Beach a bit too defensively. "I love Speedway. And tonight is old, perverted man night."
Wearing a "kilt" saved Kevin and dozens of other men $12. Because of rain the previous Saturday, Skirt Night was also opening night for the Speedway's 35th season.
Some guys went all-out, donning black or purple minis that fit them surprisingly well. Many wore long ankle-length skirts over jeans or knee-length shorts. More than a few removed their skirts after entering the Grandstand Arena.
Those guys were cheaters, said James Jones, a middle-aged trucker from Apple Valley. A Speedway fan since the summer of '69, the gray-haired Jones walked into the stands Saturday night wearing a white long-sleeve shirt reading, "Christ is Alive"; a necklace dangling a bottle cap stamped JESUS; hiking boots; a Green Bay Packers cap; and a lovely Hawaiian-print skirt he bought for $2.45 at Goodwill.
"I started the practice of men wearing skirts at Speedway," Jones said proudly. "A long time ago, Speedway used to have 'Fox Nights,' when women got in free. But one day at the Victorville track, I told them I was going to wear a skirt so I could get in free. I also said I was going to wear shorts underneath and take my skirt off when I got in." Officials told Jones he'd wear the skirt all night or he'd pay full price; they threatened to make him the evening's "trophy girl." He took the challenge. "After I did that," Jones says, "they quit calling it 'Fox Night' and started calling it 'Skirt Night.'"
As Jones spoke, a woman walked by and smiled. "I love that skirt," she said. "I've got a tablecloth that matches it."
Jones has been going to Speedway tracks all over Southern California for the past three and a half decades. He doesn't care for the freestyle trick-riding nights—just the races. And he knows all about the riders. One guy is a stuntman when he's not at the track. Another is a cop. One racer used to ride bulls, until his wife told him to stop.
"I saw a guy wear a wedding dress one night," he said. "His back was real hairy. Hairier than hairy. It was ugly."
Jones said he used to go to every Speedway Saturday night in Victorville. "If I didn't come home hoarse, my wife would wonder where I was," he said. "My wife is a fan, too, but she usually has church functions on Saturday nights. I drive a truck for a living, and this is my way of letting loose."
As the air filled with the smells of cigar smoke, $6 Budweiser, Kettle Corn and alcohol-fuel exhaust; as each successive heat threw more dirt clods onto the seats nearest the track, Jones got out his program. "Wait until you see these guys," he said, pointing to a picture of motorcycle-sidecar racing. "Those are 1,000 cc bikes with two riders. It's crazy."
A few minutes later, the first sidecar heat began. The race was conventional enough, except the second riders didn't sit anywhere near the sidecars. Instead, they hung behind the first rider on the opposite side of the sidecar, balancing until they nearly touched the mud beneath them.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
A rare guy-and-girl team—the guy controlling the bike while the girl hung on the back—took the lead for the first three laps. Their bright red-white-and-blue rig looked an easy winner, even considering the second-place bike occasionally bumped the girl's back during the turns. Then, on the last lap, they tangled, leaving the girl flat on her face in the mud.
The crowd hushed as the girl lay still. Paramedics ran to the infield. Just as they arrived, she rousted herself to her knees. A minute later, she got to her feet and removed her helmet, letting loose her long blond hair. The crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief.
"I've seen some spectacular wrecks," said Jones when it was clear the girl was going to be okay. "I saw a guy fly over the wall once like he was a dummy and slam into the fence. Ten minutes later, he got up, and he was fine. It's fun to see wrecks, but no one wants to see anyone hurt. It's a dangerous sport, but it's still cool."
The crowd cheered as the girl brushed away track mud and walked back to the pit. As the Speedway crew prepared a new heat, a clown clad in a yellow skirt entertained the crowd by throwing a bright green Frisbee into the grandstands.