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  • On June 1989, the city of Riverside’s main claim to international fame, the Riverside International Raceway, held its last race and shut down for good. The racetrack, which opened in 1957, drew world-class racers and race fans from around the globe to the desert just outside the city limits. The NASCAR Championship was held there for seven years in the 1980s. But “progress”, which meant more malls and subdivisions, could not be held back forever. In 1988, the track was sold to Fritz Duda, who immediately started the racetrack’s rush to the checkered flag. What we got in its place is a half-empty mall and more chain stores.

    The closure of the track however, did more than take Riverside off the national sports map. It also destroyed one of the most vital economic lifelines in the city. Taking a drive down University Avenue is all you need to see the impact of the closing of the track. All those now skeezy motels were once full of tourists with money. The UCR extension center was a huge Holiday Inn. There once was a bowling alley that hosted PBA tournaments. You could go into the restaurants like the late, lamented Coachman or the Templo del Sol and have dinner next to Hollywood stars as well as the top race car drivers in the world. Every year the city would put on its best face and invite bands from all over the country for the race week parade. All that is nothing but memories now, which is probably celebrated by those pretentious Riversiders who would prefer their city not be associated with stock cars and professional bowling. That’s so Fontana!

    Today the city and county of Riverside, as well as UCR, are pumping millions of tax payer dollars trying to return University Avenue back to a semblance of respectability. The hookers and drug dealers that replaced the tourists get to watch trees getting planted and buildings torn down. Instead of bringing money into the city, the street has become a money pit, with tax breaks and redevelopment money for anyone with the proper connections. As I sat at Tina’s Tacos the other day and watched two cop cars drive up onto the sidewalk chasing after a running black lady, I remembered when the cars raced around a track in Riverside, when the city was more than just a generic suburb. When I could tell people when I traveled I was from Riverside, and they would have heard of it, instead of me having to say “it’s east of LA”.
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