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The Last (Really) Riverside Race

Posted in Features on August 17, 2016
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If you were to work at it, get a map of the old Riverside Raceway and do a little forensic-type work, you could figure out where to stand where 30 years ago, you would’ve been run over by at least 30 race trucks.

But now you’d find yourself standing in the parking lot of the Moreno Valley Mall, in the Riverside, California, suburb of Moreno Valley.

Where Thunder Trucks thundered and race buggies rubbed tires and went out of control, imported sedans now park peacefully. And not just off-road rigs, there were NASCAR sedans, USAC Indy cars, and sports cars like McLaren and Lola and Chapparel.

From the first off-road event in 1973 at Riverside Raceway, which is the topic of our discussion, until the very last event there, all the legends of off-road and on-pavement competed.

From Jimmy Clark of Formula One fame, to AJ Foyt, considered one of the best racers of all time, to four-time Indy winner Rick Mears, Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney—all the greats ran at Riverside. Add to that Bobby Ferro, Walker Evans and Roger Mears—the list is quite huge of all the class winners that ever ran there.

Even Dan Gurney, who had won in all types of racing, and was the last driver to win a Formula One race in an American car, ran a SCORE event, “I was entered just for fun in the truck race, and in the first turn, I looked up and saw the bottom of a truck go by me.”

But the last race was supposed to be the 1986 version of the SCORE Off-Road World Championships, and then again, 1987 was supposed to be the last year of the same event, but financial troubles stalled the construction of the mall and surrounding neighborhoods, and allowed racing to continue. NASCAR and sports car races continued as well.

Finally, in August of 1987, the end seemed near. Bulldozers had cut into part of the road course and were working their way north. It was just a matter of time now.

The last checkered flag to drop that started a race at R.I.R., as it became known to fans, was the Heavy Metal Challenge. At the end of the last day of racing Robbie Gordon was victorious, with Rod Hall second and Jack Johnson third. One of the favorites, Walker Evans, got mixed up in a first lap accident, which put him out, but he commented after the race “I would like to have put on a good show for the last time, Robby Gordon? That kid wins these races, and he’s not old enough to buy me a beer.”

Roger Mears, who had won 20 races at Riverside (twice as many as his closest competitor) said “Riverside has been very good to me and my friends and family. It’s really sad to see it go, and I honestly can’t believe it will go. In all my racing, Riverside has been one of those things that really pole-vaulted and helped my career.”

Roger and his brother Rick, who went on to four Indy wins, were there for the first SCORE event at Riverside, and they were there for the last.

Over the years of 16 Off-road events, 4700 entries had been posted, with about 3 million dollars in prize money, according the book “Riverside Raceway, Palace of Speed.”

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