Gone Forever, Part 1: 5 IndyCar Ovals That Disappeared from the Face of the Earth – Sports Illustrated
For more than 60 years (not including the 106-year history of the Indianapolis 500), the various forms of the top open-wheel racing series in the United States — USAC, CART, Champ Car, the Indy Racing League and since 2008, the merged IndyCar Series — have raced on dozens of tracks in dozens of cities across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, Japan and other points beyond.
But, with time, and the changing tastes of racing fans, as well as needs of corporate sponsors, support of cities and overall finances, many of these locations have fallen off the schedule.
In this series, which we’re calling “Gone Forever,” we go one step further by exploring some of the most significant tracks that have gone beyond losing a scheduled date on the racing calendar – they no longer exist as racetracks at all, gone and all but forgotten in the minds of racing fans even today.
Our series starts with a look back at some bygone ovals. What was once the lynchpin of the IndyCar schedule, ovals have become an endangered species with only a handful on today’s IndyCar calendar. These ovals all had high potential to be important parts of their communities, and racing history, but ultimately fate had other plans.
Without any further ado, here are five key ovals that have taken their last checkered flag ever and the legacies that they leave behind:
Ontario Motor Speedway (1968-1981) (Approximate Location)
Final track configuration: 2.5-mile rectangular oval
First IndyCar race: 1970 (California 500, won by Jim McElreath — watch highlights below)
Last IndyCar race: 1980 (California 500, won by Bobby Unser)
Now: Mixed-Use Residential and Commercial Development, including the nearby Ontario Motor Speedway Park
It was supposed to be the Indianapolis Motor Speedway of the West. Ontario Motor Speedway was built as an exact duplicate of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at a cost of more than $25 million dollars. With the support of IMS owner Tony Hulman, a prime location in one of the biggest markets in America, the promising track opened in August 1970, and hosted NASCAR, Indycar (USAC and CART), NHRA drag racing, road racing and more.
The facility featured many state-of-the-art features that we take for granted at modern race tracks today including VIP club suites, great sightlines for fans from almost every seat, permanent bathroom facilities, and electronic scoring pylons that kept fans abreast of the standings in real time. It also featured an infield road course, and a drag strip, with a goal of appealing to a wide array of racing fans.
A.J. Foyt would ultimately win 7 races at Ontario, by far the most of any Indycar driver.
The first California 500, won by Jim McElreath, was attended by 175,000 fans, and success looked secure. But almost immediately after opening, the track fell into financial trouble, defaulting on its rent in 1972. A consortium led by Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones took …….