Irwindale Speedway isn’t just another race track for Tim Huddleston.
The 49-year-old has been racing at the Southern California track since its inception at the turn of the millennium. He began racing late models in 2000 and visited Victory Lane later that season. All in all, he won 45 times and collected three NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track championships at Irwindale.
But it wasn’t just about racing for Huddleston.
In 2003, he started a driver development program which has seen the likes of Cole Custer, Ryan Reed and Dylan Lupton, all California natives who have competed in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, come through it. The program grew his love for the track. He wanted to do more.
When the speedway closed for the first time in 2012, Huddleston almost ponied up to buy the facility. Instead, a different group decided to. In the five seasons that followed, Huddleston and company kept winning races and making their name synonymous with Irwindale.
Another opportunity came knocking at the end of 2017, one that he couldn’t pass up. Not again.
The Irwindale Event Center was up for sale again for the second time in half a decade. Huddleston wasn’t prepared to let all the history, prestige and love for the track he calls his home go by the wayside. So he took action.
"On Christmas eve 2017, we bought all the assets on the property," he said. "We put a lease together and started operating it in 2018. Before that, I promoted five events there. Three other K&N races in conjunction with Bill McAnally Racing, Southwest Tour races and four celebrity races where we bought them in to drive and raise money for charity."
And that was that. He added "track president" and "track operator" to his sparse driving and ownership duties at the track. Something he’d dreamed of doing for awhile.
He’s won as a driver, team owner and promoted events across a plethora of racing series in his nearly two decades at Irwindale. But before there was Irwindale, Huddleston spent his time as a fan at the third-mile Saugus Speedway in Saugus, California.
"For me, I started my racing career in 1987 as a high school auto shop project," he said. "Me and three buddies built a car in high school auto shop under direction of the auto shop teacher, and we took it out to the famed Saugus Speedway."
That’s where he met his wife, Lisa. Later, the two had a son, Trevor, a series regular in the K&N Pro Series West, who has won three track championships (2015, 2016 and 2017) at Irwindale — just like his father.
"For us, racing has always been what we do, it’s our family thing," he said. "When we started racing at Irwindale, my kids grew up in the grandstands. My son Trevor, from the time he was three years old, was in the grandstands. He wore a little M&M’s driving suit from a costume store every Saturday night. It’s kind of just what we did."
After not having a K&N Pro Series race last season, the speedway has been preparing for months. From smaller details like painting every last wall, ensuring billboards are up to date, running 25 radio spots per day across the Los Angeles area.
Racing-Reference: ENEOS NAPA Auto 150 Entry List
Bigger plans have been in the works, though, like getting NASCAR Hall of Famer and Saugus Speedway legend Ron Hornaday Jr. to swing by for the Saturday night slate of events.
"Ron was our hero," he said. "He was our guy. The local guy that made it for all of us. It was a natural for us to call Ron. This weekend, we’re going to have a Saugus Speedway reunion. We’re inviting all the old timers that raced and we’re building this whole event around the Saugus reunion. Plus the K&N race, fireworks show thats going to rival any 4th of July and also combining with night of destruction. We’re kind of doing something I don’t know if anybody’s done before. I want these people to see what real short track stock car racing is all about."
A big part of short track racing is the family atmosphere that surrounds the entire community. Huddleston wanted to make it a point of emphasis to keep the family he’d come to cultivate in the past once he bought the assets of the property.
"There’s so many great people there," he said. "Most of the staff is still there, I was able to keep a lot of the staff I already worked with on a day to day basis already. For us, I raised my family there. It’s a 65-acre gorgeous facility built by Jim Williams, who’s just an amazing guy to put all his money into building that place.
"I knew that if it went away, never again in anybody’s lifetime would there be a racetrack in the city of Los Angeles. It’s just not possible. Hopefully, it never goes go away. But I know you can never again build that facility in the city of Los Angeles. Land is too valuable, and it’s too hard to come by to be able to build it. We’ve gotta keep it there."
Huddleston is determined to do just that: keep Irwindale as the preeminent motorsports venue in the Los Angeles area. A location which has many other draws for tourists and residents.
"When we lost Saugus Speedway (in 1994) which was here since the 1950s, there was a huge void for five years," he said. "Until the promoter at Saugus Speedway, Ray Wilkins and a gentleman named Jim Williams built Irwindale Speedway, there was a huge void in Southern California. We just didn’t have it. Central California always had Mesa Marin, now Kern County Raceway Park. But as far as LA, that’s it. There’s nothing else and there’s 18 million people in the city. There’s a lot of people but there’s a lot to compete with," he said. "You got that ocean thats free right down the street, but motorsports is still alive in LA and theres still a huge group of automotive enthusiasts in LA."
Huddleston operates a program aimed to keep kids in the LA area off the street, a 1/8-mile drag strip and an enduro division on the property. The enduro division is one of the most affordable in the country, giving those who may not have normally been able to compete a chance to.
"For $1,000, you can become a NASCAR driver in our division," he said. "The hardest thing about racing today is what I call the barrier of entry. It’s too hard for people that don’t have the last name of somebody who’s been doing it forever, or an uncle, friend or buddy who’s been doing it forever. It’s too hard to get in."
As if he didn’t have enough on his plate already, Huddleston mans the public address announcing duties on a regular basis. Having his son, Trevor, racing in the K&N Pro Series for the first time at the track he grew up at will be something the father-son duo will never forget.
"It’s going to be just amazing," he said. "Super excited about it. I hope to see my son at the end of the night (in Victory Lane). Just having a good race will be enough for me. I always wanted to drive in the K&N series as a kid and when they used to come to Irwindale, it was a treat. What a great opportunity to do it now that we’re running it."
The ENEOS NAPA Auto 150 will take place on Saturday, March 30 at 7 p.m. (approx.) with the race being streamed live on FansChoice.TV.
K&N Pro Series West News & Notes:
- Two drivers will be making their series debuts this weekend: Dylan Garner and Cole Cabrera. Garner will drive the No. 50 Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing and Cabrera will drive the No. 27 Ford for Jefferson Pitts Racing. Garner finished in the top 10 in the NWAAS standings at Irwindale last season and Cabrera has won at the LVMS Bullring in a late model and has raced sprints, legends, ASA Speed Trucks and late models.
- Rich Delong III will be back at home in Irwindale, as the seven-year series veteran has won two super stock championships (2010, 2018) at the California half-mile.
- Bill McAnally Racing will look to extend their streak of victories at Irwindale. The team has won the last five races (Todd Gilliland three times, Chris Eggleston and Patrick Staropoli).
- Irwindale Speedway’s division I is LKQ Pick Your Part Late Model division. Trevor Huddleston and Ryan Vargas split the twin features on opening night and NWAAS racing resumes on April 13. Lawless Alan is the defending champion, and Jagger Jones finished fifth in the points.
- Other divisions at the speedway include Irwindale Race Trucks, Super Stocks, Sharky’s Spec Late Models, INEX Legends, Enduros and Jr. Late Models.