By Jeffrey Best – Cougar News Contributor
Saturday nights at Saugus Speedway used to roar with the sounds of excited fans and racing engines, but nowadays the track sits silent in the evenings. The history of this track is one that may come as a surprise to some local residents.
Starting out as a rodeo arena in 1927, the stadium started attracting spectators immediately. A flood washed through in 1937, and two years later was bought by William Bonelli who turned the track from a rodeo to a speedway. It was a flat dirt racing surface, and in 1946 was paved for the first time, but dirt returned until the track was repaved in 1956. From then on, Saugus Speedway gained the support of the racing community from drivers and fans from all over the Santa Clarita valley, and the country. Driver Tim Huddleston recollected that “Saugus Speedway was the city of Santa Clarita, it really was. That’s what the city revolved around, and everybody in Santa Clarita revolved around the speedway. The local restaurants, the local radio station, I’ll never forget every Friday night or Sunday afternoon there was a personal appearance or take your car [event]; everyone there had a sense of unity.”
Several asphalt racing divisions ran on the track, being the home to many well known racers such as Ron Hornaday Jr. The speedway had touring divisions visit, regular weekly racing with modifieds, sportsman, and street stocks, as well as the fun and lighter side of action with demolition derbies, auto soccer, and train races. The track also had a wacky race where the lights were all shut off, and drivers raced with small roof lights, called “Things that go Bump in the night”. To add to the weekly racing excitement, the fans themselves were allowed to tackle the track in the “Ego challenge” where any car would take a few laps for a time trial against others.
Known as “L.A.’s Place to Race,” Saugus Speedway was the flattest track in the country. The track even hosted a race for what is now known as the NASCAR Camping World Truck series in 1995. With things looking to be at a prime for the speedway, on July 19, 1995 the track unexpectedly closed midseason. The sudden closing came as a surprise to even the drivers, who showed up on that day with race cars on their trailers. “When we heard that Saugus Speedway closed, it was the greatest secret that ever happened because nobody knew. I mean, racers went there to race, and the doors were closed. When we showed up to race that day the letter was posted on the door, the gate of the speedway, and that’s how we all found out.”
Nowadays, the track is still in operation, serving as the city’s swap meet on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. “We have easily at least 500 vendors per week selling on the premises” stated Saugus Speedway’s General Manager, Terri Burbank. She went on to say that they have approximately 10,000 customers per week. The speedway now operates with a simple, but effective business strategy “to be able to provide a fun, family entertainment venue with value shopping.”
When asked if anyone ever inquires about the race track, Burbank responded “Everyday there is some form of a question about bringing back racing, or why did racing stop, or people stopping by with memories of the races.”