Brian Golden

FONTANA — The Valley is about 85 miles northwest of Auto Club Speedway here in the Inland Empire.

Just the same, they represent a crossroads of regional motorsports history.

Think of it as the largest intersection in southern California.

It was November, 1994 when the late Dale Earnhardt, having watched ESPN’s Winter Heat Series from Tucson Raceway Park and seen Ron Hornaday, Jr. remind him of himself, placed the fateful phone call to the Pride of Palmdale’s household on Sierra Highway.

“Can you call back?” asked Hornaday, who raced inside having just pulled into the driveway from the 500-mile haul from Tucson. “I have to use the bathroom.”

Before that call, Hornaday, Lance Hooper, Jr. and Dennis Dyer formed The Palmdale Posse, and nobody knew them outside California, much less where the (&^%$) Palmdale was.

Palmdale’s favorite son dominated the early NASCAR Truck Series, and opened doors for Dyer and Hooper and later, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson.

Hornaday was the first Californian enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2017 because he is credited with opening the floodgates of talent from the Golden State.

As of 1994, NASCAR wasn’t just a distant dream anymore.

In 1995, Roger Penske bought the shuttered Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana and built California Speedway.

The Captain built it for IndyCars. No one thought of NASCAR at the time.

But as the sons of Saugus Speedway and the Men of Mesa Marin headed east, the big time in NASCAR returned west, young man, in 1997. 

It ended an eight-year SoCal Cup Series drought after the closing of Riverside International Raceway in 1989.

Once upon a time, Basketball Hall of Famer Ralph Lawler of the Clippers was the voice of Riverside Raceway. He will celebrate that Sunday by introducing the drivers before the Auto Club 400.

Hornaday still lists his first stock car racing start, at Redman Grandstand at the former eastside Antelope Valley Fairgrounds in 1979, as his biggest racing thrill.

Hopefully we’ll take a major step next Saturday toward some other Valley resident making the same claim.

The Antelope Valley Fairgrounds Grandstand will host “Motorsports Mayhem,” a totally homegrown racing production on a temporary dirt track.

Longtime Valley racer Johnny Troesch, along with Western Pacific Roofing colleagues Payton Zamrzla and Shawn Kirkland, have organized an all-day smorgasbord of racing.

AutoXCross, Stock Figure 8, Pro Figure 8, Four Wheel Modifieds and a Mod Demolition Derby will all be held.

And the powers that be at the Fair Board and Lancaster City Hall will be watching.

Will the Valley support 20 weekends of NASCAR-sanctioned racing every year, as loudmouths like me and many others insist?

This is the time to put up or shut up.

The temporary dirt track is irrelevant.

When the stillborn Antelope Valley Ravens, who helped push our minor league baseball dream across the finish line, played their games at Rosamond High’s Creech Field, fans had to bring their own lawn chairs.

The 4,500 seats at The Hangar, many with cupholders, prove the effort was worth it.

The JetHawks, and the Barbacovi Family’s resurrection of Los Angeles County Raceway Motoplex, prove that grassroots efforts work, if they only work hard enough.

A  huge crowd Saturday at the Fairgrounds Grandstand will blow away the current argument that that space is more valuable to us as an empty scrub patch.

Ron Hornaday didn’t believe it was Dale Earnhardt on the phone.

The dreams all got easier after that.

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