Passing Memories of Riverside

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 05/2013
  • posted in: Great Garages

Riverside International Raceway is gone. But the Riverside International Auto Museum remembers.

Dedicated to preserving and presenting cars that celebrate the motor sports heritage of California, RIAM opened in 2008, just northeast of downtown Riverside, 815 Marlborough Ave., Suite 200.

Approximately 50 race and road cars are displayed, including Reynards, Ferraris, Jaguars and more than 20 Maserati’s such as A6Gs, all generations of Quattroportes, Ghiblis, Boras, Meraks — even a Khamsin and Kyalami.

The RIAM mission: “Create a culture of learning through experiencing the machines, innovative environments, events, and people who made California one of the international hubs on which motorsports wheels turned.”

In particular, RIAM recalls the history of Riverside racing: NASCAR, IMSA, Formula 1, Trans Am, Indy Car World Series, Can-Am as well as drag, oval, off road, midget, motorcycle and local club races.

Tim Kern, a member of the Can-Am team that won at Riverside in late October 1978, the circuit’s season finale, recalls that hot day: “The Haas-Hall Chaparral Lola 333CS was being driven by Alan Jones, who had taken the pole in all nine of the races where he drove. Jones, who became World Driving Champion two years later, led pretty much from start to finish . . . but not by any wide margin,” he says.

“One competitor was black-flagged for dropping ice on the track in practice,” adds Kern, an auto writer who lives just outside Indianapolis. His crew had built a kind of cage in the side pod air intake and filled each side with ice. “Can-Am brakes were more than the cage could tolerate, and the ice spewed forward, all over the track.” Kern, by the way, developed the very successful water-injected brake system, first used in 1978 Can-Am at Trois Rivières, he notes.

Stars and Legends

In January 1957, construction began for RIR, which was built for $625,000. Riverside closed July 2, 1989 — sold to a real estate developer who razed it for the Moreno Valley Mall. Today, two street names in the neighborhood east of the 130-store center remember Mario Andretti and Roger Penske, two of the many legends who raced at the track.

“The raceway had six courses to accommodate the different types of racing,” says Chris Miller, RIAM historian and newsletter editor. The long course, he explains, was 3.3 miles, the short, 2.54 miles. The drag strip was a standard quarter mile, the oval a half mile, NASCAR 2.62 miles. All courses were asphalt except the off road. Drivers negotiated nine turns on the track on the paved track.

The track starred in many movies, television shows and ads. These include Grand Prix, Winning, Fireball 500, The Love Bug, On The Beach, Thunder Alley, The Killers, Speedway, Viva Las Vegas, The Rockford Files, CHiPs, Knight Rider, Simon and Simon and HBO’s Super Dave.

The first race was Sept. 22, 1957 — a California Sports Car Club event. The race track had no crash barriers, and the cars had no safety devices, such as roll bars, says Norma Jordan, RIAM director.

The next race, November 1957, featured the top drivers of the day, including Carroll Shelby, Masten Gregory, Ken Miles and a Riverside youngster, Dan Gurney, who because of his success here, became known as “Mr. Riverside.”

Gurney became the first driver named a “Legends honoree” by RIAM — an outstanding competitor honored for career accomplishments and contributions to motorsport, primarily in California.

In March, the Valley’s Bob Bondurant, who competed at Riverside from September 1957 to 1979, became the museum’s fifth honoree — joining a distinguished list that also includes Carroll Shelby, Parnelli Jones and Bobby Unser.

During the opening weekend of Riverside, the 24-year-old Bondurant raced a Triumph TR2, then, in his ’57 Corvette, he won the B Production race in Dec. 1959, becoming the West Coast SCCA B Production champion and Valvoline Oil’s Corvette Driver of the Year.

He followed this at the track by driving Ferraris for Frank Arciero as well as the #614 Washburn Corvette. In 1962, Bondurant drove one of the first Corvette Sting Rays against Carroll Shelby’s new Cobra at the LA Times Grand Prix, and the following year, in the same race, driving the Shelby 289 Cobra #99, he was 1st Overall for the Carroll Shelby team, which two years later won the 1965 World Manufacturers Champion by beating Ferrari.

He later raced other vehicles at Riverside to great success. “I was excited about this event since I was told,” says Bondurant, this year celebrating the 45th anniversary of the Bondurant School and his 80th birthday.

Riverside Classics

Miller and Jordan selected five models from the permanent and loaned collection to discuss with Highline Autos:

•1966 All American Racers Eagle USAC-Indy Car, Chassis 201 — Based on the 1965 Indianapolis 500-winning Lotus 38 and powered by a four-cam Ford V-8, this very early Eagle made its race debut at the 1966 Indianapolis 500 piloted by Dan Gurney. The car failed to finish in either outing. Sturdily constructed and sound, chassis 201 continued competing into the early ‘70s.

•1969 All American Racers Eagle Formula 5000 Car, Chassis 510 — 510 won the 1969 Sports Car Club of America’s Continental Grand Prix Championship for Formula 5000 cars, driven by Tony Adamowicz. Following the last race of that season, the car was locked away without the engine until 2007. Almost 40 years to the day, Adamowicz returned as wheelman and competed in 2008. In 2011 and, again in 2012, chassis 510 won the F5000 championship, this time organized as an historical series.

•1951 Maserati A6G 2000 Pinin Farina — This sports touring car is only the second road-going car to be designed by Pinin Farina. Beautifully restored, it is one of only nine examples produced because of factory labor disputes in the early ‘50s.

•2005 Maserati MC12 — The MC12 Grand Touring car was the basis for the GT racing version which returned Maserati to motorsports victory after a 37-year absence. Only 50 of these low, sleek two-seat Italian missiles were constructed.

•’59 ‘614’ Corvette [on loan] — Shelly Washburn owned a Chevy dealership in Santa Barbara, Calif. The Corvette, with a fuel-injected 283 V-8 putting out 290 horsepower, was built to compete in the SCCA B Production class against similar B Production race cars from Mercedes, Jaguar and Porsche. Bondurant raced it throughout the 1961 season, finishing first at Pomona, Laguna Seca, Santa Barbara and second at Las Vegas. Today, Steve Earle, founder of the Monterey Historic Races, owns it and keeps it on display, when not on the track, at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

The Riverside International Auto Museum is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; a donation of $5 per person is requested. The museum is also available for special events and can accommodate groups up to 300-plus. RIAM memberships are available. For more information, see www.riversideinternational.org.

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