It opened 13 years ago with great fanfare, was called perhaps the best short track in minor league NASCAR racing and, on occasion, drew such star drivers as Tony Stewart and Joey Logano.
But Irwindale Speedway, which struggled in recent years with dwindling crowds and race entries, said Monday it has canceled its 2012 racing season.
The track’s one-sentence announcement did not elaborate on the reasons for the cancellation, nor did it address growing speculation that the half-mile oval track next to the 605 freeway would be shuttered or sold.
Speedway General Manager Bob DeFazio did not return a call seeking comment, and track majority owner Jim Williams was not available for comment. The track’s website had been taken down.
George Silbermann, NASCAR’s vice president of regional and touring series, called the announcement “an obvious disappointment.”
“Irwindale Speedway is a great facility that brought some tremendous racing to fans in Southern California,” he said in a statement. “We wish the track the best of luck and hope racing returns in the near future.”
The Irwindale track is a banked, paved oval with relatively modern fixtures and grandstands with 6,500 seats. The $10-million speedway had drawn positive reviews as a fan-friendly venue where drivers enjoyed competing. It frequently sold out in its earlier years.
In 2008, its name was changed to Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, but the track’s naming rights contract with the automaker ended in December.
After the speedway’s grand opening in March 1999, which was marred by the death that day of sprint-car driver Casey Diemert in a practice crash, the track mainly staged weekly Saturday night races for NASCAR’s minor league series.
The track also staged annual events such as the “Turkey Night” race for midget and sprint cars on Thanksgiving; drivers for that event at times included Stewart and Kasey Kahne. Another was the Toyota All-Star Showdown that brought together top drivers in NASCAR’s various developmental series.
Irwindale also was a favorite track for the sport of “drifting,” in which cars slide sideways, or drift, through the corners, accompanied by plumes of tire smoke and screeching brakes.
When the speedway opened, legendary driver Parnelli Jones said the track would help fill the void left by the earlier closures of other large and small Southern California race tracks, including Riverside, Ontario, Ascot Park and Saugus.
But the economic slump of recent years, combined with the many entertainment choices available to Southern Californians, took their toll on Irwindale’s attendance, track officials had said.
The same factors have helped hurt attendance at the two-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, where NASCAR’s premier Sprint Cup Series will race in March.