The El Cajon Speedway had its start somewhere in the heart of San Diego in the 1950s. The track took its name from the city and was a proving ground for young race car drivers. The track originally consisted of a 1.25 mile oval, but over the years grew to encompass the 3.9 mile street course that circles the center of the city. It was also the site of the Southern California Grand Prix from 1970 to 2002.
The track’s heyday was in the 1960s and 70s when it was considered one of the top 5 tracks in North America. In addition to being a test bed for young race car drivers, the track also saw the likes of the greats like Al Unser, Parnelli Jones, and even Mario Andretti race there. It was also the site of a record 12 Grand Prix wins by Mario Andretti. Unfortunately, the late 1970s and early 1980s were hard times for the track. The costs of racing increased and the economic bubble burst, leaving an enormous debt that the track was unable to pay off. They were also finding it difficult to attract top-notch drivers given the high fuel costs and tough competition at other tracks. Finally, a major overhaul was needed. The track was closed in 1989 and over the next few years the stands, offices, and garage were taken down. Only the grandstands remain from the grand old days.
The Return Of The King
After a 20-year layoff, the King of Cajon has returned to bless us with his presence on an oval! On June 5, 2016 IndyCar Series racing returned to the 1.25 mile oval (officially known as the Grand Ole Opryland Hotel & Casino Track) and it was definitely worth the wait. The track’s new owners had started an ambitious project to bring the King back to life and they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. On August 27, 2016 the track held its grand opening with a race that saw Scott Dixon claim the checkered flag ahead of local favorite Josef Newgarden and 2015 Toronto Grand Prix winner Alexander Rossi.
The track’s new owners spared no expense. They outfitted the track with high-tech cameras, installed wider and straighter banking, and expanded the layout, removing the long straightaways that made the track so unforgiving in the past. This year’s race was rained out one time, but the track was open for business the next day as scheduled. It was a true believer’s dream come true for those who had been longing to see the track return. This year’s race was also special because it marked the 100th anniversary of the Indy car. The teamsters, drivers, and fans of the sport were fortunate to be able to celebrate this important milestone at the King of Cajon. It’s truly amazing what a little determination, vision, and some rain-proof investments can do.
Racing At The Source
The King isn’t the only change that the track made this year. They also completely overhauled the way that they do business. It was no longer acceptable to just show up and wait your turn at the track. The new rules stated that anyone wanting to be a part of the action needed to make a deposit. Once you made the deposit, they would let you know what days and times they saw fit for practice and qualifying sessions. For race days, you were allowed to come in and watch, but you had to purchase a ticket in advance (or the day of the race).
The owners invested heavily in the infrastructure of the track. They purchased new paddocks, created a driver assistance program, and added additional security measures. They had also worked hard to rebrand the track and give it a makeover that would attract more spectators. The result was amazing! Before long, the track was easily attracting some of the top drivers in the sport and even had tickets available for the general public on a first come, first serve basis for race days!
Back To Basics
The track also made a concerted effort to slow the pace of the cars and bring it back to what made the place famous in the first place, namely, hard racing. In order to do this, they implemented some pretty extreme changes, including bringing back the old timers’ meeting (which had been held at least once a week prior to the race), changing the format to suit the old-school mentality, and simplifying the rules to make the racing as close to the original version as possible.
One of the most drastic changes was to reduce the amount of cautions. In the past, they had been plentiful, but the new owners felt that too many stoppages would hinder the racing action rather than enhance it. They also limited the amount of time that the track would shut down for bathroom breaks. In the past, the track had closed down for 45 minutes to 1 hour while competitors went to the bathroom or grabbed a bite to eat. Now, only a 5-10 minute break is needed.
Another change that they made was relocating the media center. In the past, the media had set up in the same area where the drivers took their brief stroll to the line before the start of the race. Now, they’ve moved it to a new location right in the middle of the track. This will give the media more room to work and create more content for the fans.
It’s been a busy month for King of Cajon. They had the IndyCar celebration, they opened their doors to the public for the first time in 20 years, and they saw some incredible racing. Now, they’re looking forward to rounding third and heading for home.