Riverside International Raceway

Fifteen years ago (1988), Riverside International Raceway (RIR) threw the checkered flag at a major race for the last time.

Riverside International Raceway (RIR)

The famed Riverside track in California – a 2.62-mile track that produced some of the most memorable races in the sport’s history – hosted the Cup Series from 1958 to 1988 before closing in 1989.

The list of Riverside winners is a racing ‘Who’s Who’ from the late Dan Gurney, who won five races – including three in a row from 1964-66 – to Parnelli Jones, the 1967 winner and A.J. Foyt, who took the 1970 trophy. NASCAR’s “King” Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip each additionally won five times at the track, while Bobby Allison led the pack with six trophies.

‘Road-course racing continues to grow, flourish in NASCAR’ – March 2023, NASCAR.com

Long regarded as the most demanding road course track on the major racing circuits, the legendary track saw its share of race icons challenge its 9-turn, 2.62-mile track, burning many a transmission in the process. Dan Gurney, A.J. Foyt, Roger Penske, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Mario Andretti, Cale Yarborough, Al and Bobby Unser, Bill Elliot, Rick Mears, Johnny Rutherford, and Parnelli Jones — among others — all raced at the track.

Of them, local-boy Dan Gurney practically owned the arduous course. Gurney won 5 of the 9 ‘Motor Trend Riverside 500’ held at the track in the during the 1960s.

The track held numerous races in its 31-year history, including the inaugural International Race of Champions (IROC) race in 1973. Everything from NASCAR, Indy, IMSA, and F1 to local car club races. It even housed the Jim Russell British School of Motor Racing.

Sadly, all started coming to an end in the mid-1980s as the city of Moreno Valley experienced a phenomenal population boom, making the land much more valuable for development.

Today, the site is home to the Moreno Valley Mall at Towngate, and a host of other uses. Some of the site remains undeveloped, but the final vestige to RIR came crumbling down in 2002 with the removal of the Raceway’s former marquee during construction of a Lowe’s Home Improvement warehouse.

However, the newly built Towngate Park Community Center — located in the approximate area of the back speedway heading into the former track’s dogleg just before Turn 9 — celebrates the raceway with various memorabilia on display. A plan to construct a permanent memorial to RIR at Towngate Park is currently in progress. And, a historical accounting of Riverside International Raceway was recently published as part of Dick Wallen’s “Racing Classics” book series: Riverside Raceway: Palace of Speed.

In 1997, a new, modern oval track opened in nearby Fontana. Dubbed, California Speedway, the Fontana track carries on Southern California’s racing heritage. Not coincidentally, the track was built by Roger Penske and is run by Les Richter, both familiar faces at the Riverside track.

(2024 UPDATE: Fontana’s California/Auto Club Speedway held its last major race in February 2023 — at least in its original, 2-mile oval layout. Plans were announced — but have apparently stalled — in using a portion of the former track for a smaller, 1/2-mile, “bullring” style track. Demolition of the original track to make way for an industrial park began in November 2023. However, whether the smaller 1/2-mile track is still to be built as part of the redevelopment plan appears to be up in the air.)

Related

1965 – NASCAR Riverside 500

1969 – Los Angeles Times Grand Prix

1970 – Los Angeles Times Grand Prix

1978 – California Grand Prix

1967 -Motor Trend Riverside 500

1974 – IROC & Riverside Grand Prix

Circa 1960 – Turn 6 at RIR looking southward into the esses

1970 – Reynolds Aluminum / McLaren Can Am ad looking northward up into Turn 6 at RIR from the esses

1969 – Trans Am race ad

1988 – Cover of AutoWeek magazine

Circa 1978 – Highway 60 signage for RIR (near where Lowe’s Home Improvement is today)

2000 – Remnants of Turn 9 at RIR (RXSQ)

2002 – RIR marquee sign along Highway 60 just prior to dismantling (RXSQ)

2003 – Remaining stumps of dismantled RIR marquee sign (RXSQ)

2003 – Collection of residential streets east of the Moreno Valley Mall/former RIR site paying homage to the area’s racing history (RXSQ)

2003 – Collection of residential streets east of the Moreno Valley Mall/former RIR site paying homage to the area’s racing history (RXSQ)

2003 – Subtle racing motif at Towngate Park in Moreno Valley on a portion of the former RIR site (RXSQ)

2001 – California Speedway in Fontana (RXSQ)

(This site is heavily indebted to the following 2 sites for most of the images contained within the RIR gallery: http://www.progcovers.com and http://home.san.rr.com/fsheff/rirpicts.htm)

Correction: Updated the track length as 2.62-mile, the typical length for most major races held at RIR (various configurations produced other mile lengths, depending upon year and type of race).

Sources: Riverside Press-Enterprise (PE-20031201, PE-20031113), Wikipedia

2024 PAGE UPDATE: Removed RIR photo gallery; removed outdated links; added new Related links for RIR.

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5 Comments

  1. So sad that the raceway had to come down for a mall and housing (that turned into a getto and a bunch of empty buildings )

  2. @Chris — Indeed, it is sad that the raceway is gone. But we certainly would not call the housing on the former race track as being ghetto. Far from it.

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