VG. The Fall and Rise of West Coast Racetracks

This is a bit of a look into the past, but bear with me. When Riverside Raceway closed after the 1988 racing season the west coast motorcycle road racing situation wasn’t very pretty. Ontario had disappeared in the early 1980s so the loss of Riverside left Southern California with a single decent racetrack – Willow Springs. Willow was a good, fast track but it was out in the Mohave Desert – nice racetrack, hostile environment.

Northern California had a slightly better situation with Sears Point Raceway near Sonoma and Laguna Seca Raceway between Monterey and Salinas. With rare exceptions, access to Laguna Seca was limited to the AMA National, so club racers had only Sears Point. Fortunately Sears Point is an interesting rider’s track

Farther north, there was one racetrack in Oregon, Portland International Raceway in north Portland, and one racetrack in Washington, Seattle International Raceway, actually located near the suburb of Kent. Some motorcycle racers I talked to didn’t think much of the Portland track. Basically flat with a long front straight, a few turns and a fast slightly curved back section it rewarded horsepower much more than racing skill. The Washington track also had a long front straight but some interesting curves and elevation changes to challenge the skilled racers.

Willow Springs was about an hour north of Los Angeles, Sears Point was just north of the S.F. Bay Area, PIR was in Portland at Delta Park, and SIR sat between the major population centers of Seattle and Tacoma. There’s been some name changes: SIR is now Pacific Raceway and Sears Point is called Sonoma Raceway.

Willow Springs: http://www.willowspringsraceway.com/

Sonoma: http://www.sonomaraceway.com/

Laguna Seca: http://www.mazdaraceway.com/

Portland: https://portlandraceway.com/

Pacific: http://pacificraceways.com/

 

Things have improved since then. There have been six racetracks added since those dark days. I could copy the track maps onto this page but instead I’ll give website references and you can look it up if you’re interested. Bear in mind that I have not visited these tracks (except for Auto Club Speedway) and the information about them comes from the track’s website and Google views, both satellite and terrain. Nothing beats actually riding on the track to learn about it, but it’s pretty amazing what you can find out on-line.

The first was Thunderhill Raceway Park near Willows in Northern California. Willows (not Willow Springs) is a small town about 90 miles north of Sacramento and 40 miles west of Chico. It opened with a 2 mile circuit in 1993 with an additional section added in 1995. The track has several configurations; the long one is 2.9 miles, with 15 turns. It’s in the eastern foothills of the Coast Range where there are gently rolling hills so the track has some elevation changes. The main straight looks to be about ½ mile, with two or three shorter (depends on your definition) straights. There’s a nice looking set of esses, somewhat reminiscent of Riverside. Looks pretty interesting.

Thunderhill: https://www.thunderhill.com/

Next was Buttonwillow Raceway Park, opened in 1996. The nearest big town is Bakersfield, CA. They claim they are a Southern California track but I think most SoCal people would call it Central California. It’s about two hours north of L.A. and four to five hours south of the S.F. Bay Area. Like Thunderhill it has a few different configurations, but the main one is 3.1 miles with 16 or so turns. It looks like it has no really long straights but lots of fast turns, with two tighter curves on each end of the short main straight. It’s in the southern part of California’s Central Valley, but not near any hills – the area is dead level so unless the builders trucked in a lot of dirt to make some artificial hills the track will be flat.

Buttonwillow: http://buttonwillowraceway.com/

Auto Club Speedway in Fontana California opened in 1997. This massive facility is a Daytona-like NASCAR/Indy tri-oval with an infield section for sports cars and motorcycles. This is so similar to the failed Ontario Motor Speedway it’s kinda spooky. Fontana is literally next door to Ontario. The track used to have AMA National road races but the MotoAmerica series does not race there at this time. I got the impression that the AMA racers didn’t like the course very much and it wasn’t a good place for spectators. I don’t think any motorcycle clubs have races there currently, but I don’t know whether it’s because the clubs aren’t interested in the track or the speedway isn’t interested in club racers.

ACS: https://www.autoclubspeedway.com/

Nothing happened for a decade or so, and then in 2008 a new track opened in Oregon, Oregon Raceway Park in the village of Grass Valley. Another multi-configuration course, the long course is 2.3 miles with 16 turns and some pretty interesting dips and rises. The builders have named the turns, including Pucker Factor, Half Pipe and Big Dipper. Sounds like a ski resort. This appears to be a scratcher’s track with no long straights. On paper it looks like a lot of fun. It’s in north central Oregon, a long ways from anywhere. It’s a 2.5 hour drive from Portland and the major population centers of northern Willamette Valley, and two hours from Bend.

ORP: http://oregonraceway.com/

Back to southern California, in 2010 a track opened in the town of Desert Center. Chuckwalla Valley Raceway is even farther from Los Angles than Willow Springs, a 3 hour drive east of L.A. It’s got one configuration, 2.7 miles long with 17 corners and some slight elevation changes. There are a couple of medium length straights but it looks to be pretty curvy. Looking at their website I see some MC track days, and races put on by Chuckwalla Valley Motorcycle Association. CVMA appears to be a “club” operated by the track owners. It looks like a fun track for motorcycles but a long way out in the desert.

Chuckwalla: http://www.chuckwallavalleyraceway.com/

The most recent West Coast track, added in 2011, is Ridge Motorsport Park, near Shelton, WA at the base of the Olympia Peninsula. It’s less than two hours from Seattle and 2.5 hours from Portland, OR. The road track is 2.47 miles long with 16 turns and significant elevation changes. The main straight is about half a mile long but the rest of the track is curves – sweepers and esses and a couple of hairpins. There really is a ridge there and the track climbs it just after the main straight, has a nice looking combo of turns in the upper section, then a claimed 50 foot plunge down the ridge to get back to the main straight.

Ridge: http://www.ridgemotorsportspark.com/

 

I’m not as familiar with tracks in other regions of the country. From looking at the MotoAmerica schedule I know there are eastern tracks in New Jersey and western Pennsylvania, southern tracks in Virginia, Alabama, Texas, and Georgia. There’s also one in Wisconsin (is that considered eastern or central?), and in Utah near Salt Lake City.

Besides the MotoAmerica venues I know of Mid-Ohio, Daytona in Florida, and one track near Denver. The AMA used to race at a track near Pikes Peak but I don’t know if it’s still active (I remember Eric Bostrom winning there on a Ducati). Maybe any U.S. readers could tell me about all the good racetracks I’m missing.

Why am I interested in regional motorcycle racetracks? I’ll let you know next time.

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