Though the last motorcycle crossed its finish line more than three decades ago, Ascot Park Speedway, located in Gardena, California, continues to live on as one of the most incredible flat track motorcycle racing venues in the sport’s history. To say that the track is merely legendary is akin to saying that Elvis Presley could carry a tune sufficiently enough.
Ascot Park Speedway made many careers. If you won at Ascot Park, you became part of the legend. Others became part of Ascot Park’s story for a more tragic reason, as many careers and lives were ended there, as well.
Overall, the Ascot Park Speedway left an impression on the motorcycle racing community during its 33-year run. Tales of the legend are still strong amongst those who care to lend their ear and listen to the stories of greatness, triumph, and tragedy that occurred on its infamous dirt track.
The Ascot Park Speedway was built on the sight of the former Los Angeles Speedway by J.C. Agajanian and his sons. They named the track after the Legion Ascot track that burnt to the ground in the 30s.
The legend began during the 1957 season, and the family was able to keep the storyline of the Speedway alive until the value of the property became too expensive to maintain, closing the gates forever in November of 1990.
The venue was host to two national races each year: a half-mile and a TT. Typically these events would happen at two different times: once in the spring and one in the fall.
The Ascot Park Speedway was known as one of the roughest tracks that a motorcycle racer could participate on. It is thought that the dirt on the track was very tacky due to the seaside air that it was exposed to. That air was able to keep the track just moist enough to cause it to be almost sticky, thus making it very difficult to ride on.
This tackiness, combined with the sharp angles of the track, caused riders to be almost catapulted into the barriers onto the other side of the track’s high side. This made the track very dangerous for racers, even to the point where the most skilled rider put their lives in danger when running on the Ascot.
Due in part to the consistency of the track’s dirt, it is believed, and with good reason, that racers from the area had a “leg up” over other racers not from the region because the locals were able to practice on the track and were more adjusted to the track’s demands.
On the half-mile track, from its opening in 1959 until 17 years later in 1976, when Jay Springsteen took home the victory, every winner was a Californian.
If you made a name for yourself at Ascot, you made a name for yourself in the motorcycle racing world. Even Evel Knievel made a name for himself there as his first nationally televised jump took place at Ascot.
Others who showed up and showed out at Ascot Park Speedway included the likes of racing legends:
As previously stated, Ascot Park Speedway’s track was full of excitement and adventure at every turn; it was full of danger at every turn, as well. Many excellent racers lost their lives on the Ascot’s track. Though not in the way they intended, many riders became part of the legend of the track through horrific, sometimes even bizarre accidents.
A year after the Speedway’s gates opened, the first tragedy occurred when Jimmy Phillips died following a crash.
The final victim of the Ascot lost his life in 1988 when Ted Boody crashed into the wall during the last turn of the final lap of the race.
One of the most bizarre incidents involving a racer’s death occurred in 1967. Travis Petton had an accident on the track, requiring an ambulance ride to a nearby hospital. While en route to the hospital, he was killed as his ambulance collided head-on with another vehicle.
Even though the Ascot was known to be a perilous track, racers and fans alike were devastated when the track closed its gates forever.
Though it had a history riddled with tragedy, virtually no fan or racer could say they were happy that the track’s ride had ended. Many were actually that somehow the owners would be able to find a way to save the Speedway from its inevitable fate.
Unfortunately, their hopes crashed and burned, and the track’s life ceased. Even though no one has raced at Ascot Park for over 30 years, the legend of the track remains at the forefront of the minds of motorcycle racers and the sport’s fans.