If you’re reading this, I assume you’re either a hardcore Monster Energy fan or you simply love racing. Either way, you probably already know that Cajon Speedway, the legendary California racetrack, closed down last year due to a lack of funding. The good news is that the track’s management and some of its cars have recently moved to Baja California in Mexico, which is now home to the largest racing series in the world, the Baja Challenge. The series runs from mid-November until mid-January, so if you want to join in the racing action, you have a short time to act!
While it was sad to see Cajon Speedway close down, it was both fortunate and inspiring that the cars and staff moved down to Baja California. The iconic track had an incredible history, and it will be missed by many. Here’s a quick look back at some of the most noteworthy moments from Cajon Speedway’s storied past.
Cajon Speedway was originally established in 1953 and was one of the first purpose-built oval tracks in the region. It was originally named for the nearby community of Cajon, California, but is now most widely known as ‘Cajon Speedway’. When it opened, the track was considered a world-class facility, and it still is among the most challenging tracks in North America. According to Motorcycle Magazine, the terrain varies from very rough to somewhat rough, with a few smooth patches here and there. The track itself is very narrow – barely a few car-widths wide – which means that there is high action and visibility on every lap. It also means that the cars have to work very hard to keep their wheels on the ground. As a result, every driver and their team work very hard to create a fast car; even the older models at Cajon Speedway are still competitive today and draw in top-level racers from all over the world.
World’s Greatest Grand Prix
Yes, the World’s Greatest Grand Prix was held at Cajon Speedway. The first race was held in 1968 and was modeled after Mario Andretti’s famous car race at the 1964 Mexican Grand Prix. It was one of the major events at the track, and it attracted some of the biggest-name drivers of the day. The race was initially designed to be a fundraiser for an American Legion Riders Post 40 golf tournament, but it quickly grew in popularity and became a yearly tradition. One of the most memorable things about this race is that it was the event that made Alan Jones famous. The Australian broadcaster covered the event for the BBC and is now best known for his catchphrase, “It’s not golf. It’s Motorcycle Grand Prix.”
NASCAR National Championship
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, better known as NASCAR, held races at Cajon Speedway from 1965-1971. As with many tracks at the time, it was originally known as ‘The Californian’ before getting its current name in 1968. The track is most famous for its participation in the 1966 NASCAR National Championship, which was won by Bob Welborne. The year before, the track had hosted Bobby Isaac, but he’d been involved in a fiery accident on a previous lap and suffered severe burns. Due to popular demand, the following year’s championship was moved to Cajon, and it was decided that future championships would be held at the track. The other noteworthy event from this time period is the 1969 Grand National, which was won by Jack Smith. The NASCAR races at Cajon Speedway were instrumental in the development of many up-and-coming drivers, including Richard Petty, Johnny Rutherford, and Donnie Allison. Many of these drivers went on to have long and successful careers in racing.
Yes, the World Championship was also raced at Cajon Speedway. The inaugural event was held in 1968, and it became an annual tradition for the next seven years. The main event was initially a round-robin style organized by the Automobile Club of Southern California, and it was won by Jim Clark. The other noteworthy event from this time period is the 1971 World Championship, which was won by Jody Herrell. The track also saw a number of one-offs and exhibition events during this time, including the 1970 Indianapolis 500, which was won by Jim Clark and the World Championship Alaskan Open, which was an endurance race that reportedly lasted for 23 hours and 44 minutes. The 24-hour event was won by Jack Smith and his brother, Bob, while the two-day event (including a night race) was won by Mike Knapic.
Final Grand Prix
The final Grand Prix was held at Cajon Speedway in 1976. It was the final race at the track and was won by Pedro Rodriguez. Rodriguez was the only driver to complete all 180 laps, and he also won the last of the twelve annual USAC sprint cars races at that time. After the last race, the track permanently closed and has been abandoned ever since.
Mike Knapic has the distinction of being the most successful driver at Cajon Speedway. The former road racer won the 24-hour event in 1971 and 1972, and he also won the 1971 and 1972 USAC sprint cars tournaments. He’s also the only driver to win both the World Championship and the 24-hour event. His record of twelve career wins is incredible, considering he only competed in six of the twelve annual races. In 2008, at the age of 78, he became the oldest licensed driver in the history of NASCAR.
It’s not just about winning races, though. Knapic is most famous for his aggressive driving style, which earned him the nickname ‘Mad Mike’. His car was always among the first to make its way around the track, and he’d jump starts his engine from time to time to keep it running. Sometimes, he’d even push his car to the very start and finish lines just to ensure he got that little bit of extra speed. He was also known to pull off daring overtakes and pass other drivers in the middle of the race. In his younger days, Knapic was even involved in a few serious accidents, but he always came back stronger. In 2008, he even had a go at IndyCar racing, impressing many with his skill and longevity, but unfortunately, an injury sustained in a late-model car accident ended his driving career prematurely. Sadly, Mike Knapic passed away in 2010, but his impact on the racing world and the generations of drivers that followed will never be forgotten.