December 22, 2009
By Allen Madding
Designed by California architect Walter Ted Tyler, Ontario Motor Speedway was built in the summer of 1970 just off of I-10 east of Los Angeles near Ontario, California.
Nicknamed the “Big O”, the 2.5-mile paved oval was described as a carbon copy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway built at a reported cost of 25.5 million dollars. In actuality it followed the footprint of Indianapolis but had banking in the short cutes and was one lane wider than the Brickyard. A 3.19-mile infield road course was later added to the track, and the grounds contained a drag strip that was host to the NHRA.
The 2.5-mile oval hosted Indy Cars and NASCAR stock cars events. And was a part of the IndyCar Series triple crown, which was the Indianapolis 500, the Pocono 500, and the California 500. USAC/IndyCar Champ Cars ran at Ontario for ten years. Jim McElreath, Joe Leonard, Roger McCluskey, Wally Dallenbach, Sr., Bobby Unser, A. J. Foyt, and Al Unser all scored wins in Champ Cars at Ontario.
In 1971, the road course hosted the F1 and F5000 series. Mario Andretti won the 1971 F1/F5000 Challenge, the Questor Grand Prix, on the road course at Ontario.
NASCAR ran its first event at Ontario Motor Speedway on February 28, 1971. A.J. Foyt won the Miller High Life 500 at Ontario driving the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Mercury. Foyt won again at Ontario in the 1972 Miller High Life 500.
NASCAR did not visit Ontario in 1973. In 1974, NASCAR moved the race date at Ontario to November making it the final stop on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule. Bobby Allison scored the win that year in the Los Angeles Times 500 driving Roger Penske’s No. 12 Coca-Cola AMC Matador.
Buddy Baker grabbed the trophy for the 1975 Los Angeles Times 500 at Ontario driving Bud Moore’s No. 15 Norris Industries Ford. The Silver Fox, David Pearson scored the win in the 1976 Los Angeles Times 500 at Ontario driving the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Purolator Mercury. Neil Bonnett won the 1977 running of the Los Angeles Times 500 driving Jim Stacy’s No. 5 Dodge leading 96 laps of the 200-lap event. Bobby Allison returned to Victory Circle at Ontario in the 1978 Los Angeles Times 500.
In 1979, Benny Parsons scored his first win at Ontario in the Los Angeles Times 500 driving M. C. Anderson’s No 27 Chevrolet. NASCAR held its last event at Ontario on November 15, 1980. Benny Parsons won the Los Angeles Times 500 driving M. C. Anderson’s No. 27 Melling Tool Chevrolet.
The track officially closed in 1981 due to financial problems. The City of Ontario sold the facility to Chevron Land Management for $10 million who then spent $3 million to completely raze the property.
The property set vacant until the mid-1980s when a Hilton hotel was built where turn four had once been. Much of the remainder of the property became a mixed-use development with condominiums, business offices, and some retail stores. Many of the streets developed on the property hint of its history with names like Duesenburg Drive and Ferrari Lane.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.