Thursday, December 16, 2010

Riverside International Raceway

John Marine | 12/16/2010 11:12:00 PM | | |
From 1957 to 1989, Riverside International Raceway was one of America's finest race tracks. Unfortunately, I was too young to know what this track had to offer. I was too young to remember what made this such a competitive track. The site of this former course is in Moreno Valley, California, USA; which is due east of Riverside. Riverside is well east of Los Angeles. Today, what used to be Riverside International Raceway is now a big shopping mall. This track has played host to series ranging from NASCAR to IMSA to even the 1960 Formula One United States Grand Prix. Indy cars have even raced at Riverside. There has even been go-kart racing and off-road racing (with the SCORE series) here. The long course of Riverside was over 3.3 miles long. It also contained a 2.62-mile road course for NASCAR, a 0.4 mile drag strip, and a 0.5-mile oval. This track brings back great memories for those who have seen racing here, and it draws curiosity for those who know nothing about Riverside International Raceway (like myself).

So this is my blog post to try to bring Riverside International Raceway to light. You probably know MUCH more about this track than I do, so feel free to comment.

--- Riverside International Raceway ---
Have a look at the map of this course:
Riverside International Raceway track map
^ from: - a layout of Riverside International Raceway.

Riverside's long course is 3.3 miles in length with 15 turns of fury. The NASCAR course utilizes Turns 1 through 10 before a cutoff, then it utilizes the backstretch of the long course that goes into Turns 14 and 15 of the short oval. The number of corners is either 9 or 15 depending on who you ask. Mostly, they'll say it's 9 corners. I'm just going on what I read on Wikipedia, so it's a 15-turn course.

It seems like the Esses would really upset the balance of your car. There seemed like plenty of opportunities to let your car go full speed here. The biggest full-speed threat is down that 1.1-mile backstretch. It would probably be a lot of fun to race on a track like this.


Let's watch some videos!

Here is a video lap around Riverside from 1965. Upon studying this video, the NASCAR configuration is used:

Want to know what an F1 car was like around Riverside? Check out this video. The driver pushes his beautiful SCARAB F1 car to the limit. And yeah... listen to that car roar! Enjoy:

Now a more modern look at Riverside via the IMSA GT Series. Check out Riverside in 1985 with the Los Angeles Times Nissan Grand Prix of 1985. The modern (if you will) long course is being used:

Here is the 1986 rendition of the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix endurance:

Finally, this is a look at NASCAR racing the road course. This is a look at the Budweiser 400 in 1986. It was the closing laps of this race:

Those videos will help you to understand what this track had to offer before its demise in the mid-late 1980s.

--- What If: Riverside Were Still Around? ---
Let's pretend Riverside International Raceway was still around. Let's imagine Riverside didn't have that big shopping mall in its place. How would it be any different today than it would be today? Here are other questions that I ask and answer (because I'm so cool!). In other words, pretend Riverside International Raceway is still standing and still being raced on today.

Would It Look Any Different?

When thinking about this topic, various advances in track design and driver safety have come along. So more than 21 years of innovation would come along. I think maybe the track would be smoother and with much cleaner-looking grassy areas. I think many of the tires in the dirt at the turns would be replaced by FIA-style curbing. I would imagine more grandstands and fancier facilities would be created between 1989 and now. I would probably imagine that use of SAFER barriers and other track innovations would make racing safer around Riverside International Raceway. I think a lot of modifications would have to be made to modernize and make this course safer and more modern. That is, unless you want to keep most everything classic like at Sebring.

Or, Riverside would probably remain as it had been in the past but with few innovations to remain current. It's long enough for a Formula One course, but could lap times be too quick around Riverside for modern F1 cars? If the answer is no, then various low-level single seater racing cars would suffice on the open-wheel front. Or at the most, the IndyCar Series.

The track may have to modified again for a motorsport you may not think about- drifting. From the long course, Turns 2 through Turn 8 would make a great drift course. I'm just not sure if you'd run this section in normal or reverse direction as a drift course.

What Series Would Race Here?

What future series would race here? I would imagine a handful of racing series would probably turn some laps around this track. NASCAR and the IndyCar Series would be great to see still race at this track. Considering the long layout of this course, I would question if motorcycles could race here. The course would need to be substantially be modified to make for better motorcycle racing. I would imagine a chicane or something down the backstretch would help slow down the bikes down the backstretch. [The series formerly known as Speed] World Challenge would absolutely be a great racing track for World Challenge.

Would the legacy of the 6-hour endurance race continue for sportscar racing? Very much so. I would love to see the American Le Mans Series compete here. However, something tells me that the six hour race COULD go to Grand-Am's Rolex Sportscar Series. Then again, could you have two or more three six-hour endurances in a season? I also wonder if the ALMS raced Riverside, could it be considered part of the Le Mans Intercontinental Cup if intrigued by other racing teams to compete at Riverside?

Also, would Riverside still be a good place to go drag racing? Remember that Riverside had a half-mile drag strip. I am not sure if this would be a good place to go drag racing even when you have the NHRA drag strip at Pomona. Riverside probably could play host to some grassroots drag racing. Or at best, maybe the IHRA.

Would Riverside be Raced Instead of California Superspeedway and/or Irwindale?

That depends. Unless Southern California wanted to have great racing at a superspeedway oval, Riverside would still be a great racing facility for racing (let alone for NASCAR). The final two corners of the road course layouts make up a half-mile oval. So therefore, Toyota Speedway at Irwindale is sort of like a by-product of Riverside's oval. And I guess California Superspeedway (nowadays called Auto Club Speedway) is the modern major race track of Southern California. So would racing resume at Riverside even if Auto Club Speedway and/or Irwindale weren't around?

Irwindale is popular for both short oval track racing and drifting. I don't know if you can bring the same level of fun the Irwindale drift track provides to a track like Riverside. I know there are a lot of people out there who don't care about drifting and think drifting is not a real motorsport. However, as much as we've tried to make drifting cool after being introduced to it from the Japanese, you HAVE to mention drifting.

But if you ask me, I think a modern course reminiscent of Riverside is Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. It has about the same overall style as well as its own drag strip.

Would Riverside Still Be Relevant in America?

For all the racing Riverside has provided including many racing memories, I think Riverside would still be a vastly relevant track. It is still a great race track in California much like Laguna Seca and Infineon Raceway are still two of California's best race tracks. Riverside is no doubt a great course. You also have to add tracks like Willow Springs and Thunderhill as California race tracks as good as, if not better than Riverside.

The bottom line is... what many racing fans know as Riverside International Raceway is now just a big shopping mall and a big shopping center. I wanted to play the "What If?" game because I know there are lots of people who would love to Riverside last much longer than it did.

According to YouTube comments from people who love Riverside International Raceway, the shopping mall that used to be Riverside International Raceway talks about stores that keep being closed there. I think it's really sad that you hear so much about Riverside. When you actually get to see videos and pictures of Riverside, you begin to see what is now a vast memory. Terribly sad that so many memories have been forgotten from a once incredible track. Again- you people probably know much more about this course than I ever will. All I have is the Internet and YouTube to help me to see what Riverside was all about. So many series racing here- NASCAR, IMSA, Indy cars, even Formula One. So many names raced at Riverside, including many legends and Hall of Fame racers- Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Ricky Rudd, Elliot Forbes-Robinson, David Hobbs, Rob Dyson, Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Tommy Kendall, Al Unser, Paul Newman, Doc Bundy, Price Cobb, Caroll Shelby Lyn St. James, Phil Hill, Stirling Moss (winner of the 1960 F1 United States Grand Prix at Riverside)... you go on and on.

I think we all need to better educate people on the many memories that made Riverside the great race track it was... until it became a shopping center and housing zone.

That concludes my blog post on Riverside International Raceway. While Riverside may be long gone (since 1989), efforts to preserve memories of Riverside are done with the Riverside International Automotive Museum. For more information on RIAM, visit the Riverside International Automotive Museum's home page.(

Here are a few other links online for you to show your support:\
* Riverside International Raceway Facebook Fan Page
* Legends of Riverside
* Riverside International Raceway on
* Riverside pictures from the '80s on Dean's Garage
* Tracks of Yesterday - Riverside International Raceway
* Flickr set on Riverside International Raceway

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