NORTHRIDGE : Malibu Grand Prix Site Nears End of Road

Malibu Grand Prix, where kids rode miniature race cars and businessmen slapped pinball machines on their lunch hour for more than 20 years, closes for good Sunday after losing its lease.

"I can't believe that!" said Andrew Caspary of Hidden Hills, after finishing his last go-cart ride. "It's terrible. I always look forward to coming here."

Officials of Malibu Grand Prix Corp., which runs 30 amusement centers across the country, said this week the company lost its lease on the Northridge site. The six-acre property has been purchased by Toyota, which plans to turn it into a dealership.

The Northridge operation opened in 1974, one of the first three in the chain to be built. "It's always been a successful location for us, and we regret having to leave that facility and leave that area of the Valley," said William Patterson, executive vice president for the Malibu Grand Prix Corp.

When Todd Lang and Niall Stewart, who work at the nearby State Farm Insurance Co. offices, heard the news, friends offered their condolences via computer messages. The pair came down to the amusement center on an early lunch break Friday, just to play their favorite games one last time.

The co-workers had run air-hockey tournaments they described as perfect midday stress relievers. The "Indiana Jones" pinball game was a favorite of Lang. On Friday, Stewart was trying out the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" pinball game.

"Our wives are going to be upset because we're going to have to take out our frustrations at home," said Stewart. "My office always knows where they can find me at lunch."

Among the kids, youngsters under the age of 14 were probably most sorry to see the Malibu Grand Prix close. It means they will never graduate from the 30-mile-an-hour go-carts to the higher-powered cars, which also run on the half-mile track behind the arcade.

"I've been waiting for so long," said 11-year-old Conrad Wilder of Northridge.

A driver's license, or at least a training certificate from track organizers, is required to get into the faster cars.

"It's exhilarating," said Wilder's mother, Jill Wood, 31, describing the ride in the race cars. She says she has been coming to the amusement center since she was 18.

A nurse at Valley College, Wood has found Malibu Grand Prix to be an easy place to meet her friends who have children. Anywhere else "won't be as much fun as this," she said.

Andrea Ashley of Hidden Hills had planned to have a birthday party for her son, Micky, at Malibu Grand Prix on Monday when he turned 10.

But when she called to make a reservation, she found out the track would be closed by then. So, she rescheduled it for Friday. Although her son and his friends were having fun, they showed their disappointment.

"I've only been here three times before," said Micky. "Now it's closing."

"I don't think they should close it down," added Michael Hurst, 10, one of Micky's friends. "It's fun."

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