Motor racing fans have been unable to smell the fumes of tire smoke, high octane gas and brake oil, along with the freshly grilled hot dogs and spilled beer, at Irwindale Speedway for nearly a year.
The last time those same 6,500 seats were filled was at last November's Turkey Night Grand Prix for midget cars.
They should be filled to capacity Friday and Saturday when the Formula Drift series holds its final event of the 2012 season.
But after that, it will be back to the same old-same old. There will be nothing but empty seats.
Irwindale Speedway, known as Toyota Speedway at Irwindale last year and now called the Irwindale Event Center, will sit empty possibly for another year.
"I don't know what is going to happen," said Jim Mnoian of Nu-Way Industries, who is one of the co-owners of the track. "Right now, we're hanging in there. I have a hard time seeing it other than a race track. For now, it's a race track. I absolutely miss it."
Irwindale Speedway LLC, which built and then operated the facility for 13 years, completed its bankruptcy court hearings in the spring, handing the operation of the property back to Nu-Way and co-owners Mnoian and Jay Garrett.
The L.A. Racing Experience, operated by Jim Cohan, has continuously held its racing school on the property through the issues and problems that evolved this year. In conjunction with Nu-Way, the facility has resumed weekly NHRA drag racing, commercial filming and other activities, including a recent motorcycle swap meet.
But what has been missing - which the facility was designed for and called the crown jewel of short-track racing by many - has been oval racing.
"We're not really sure when," Mnoian said of when he anticipates the return of oval racing. "We're not that bad with what we're doing now."
Agajanian Enterprises Inc., which operates the Turkey Night Grand Prix, one of the nation's biggest USAC midget races, pulled out of its Irwindale commitment in August, citing the facility's lack of preparedness.
"I do not blame them," Mnoian said. "It made sense. They were concerned that the track hadn't been used (for racing). Even though (the Agajanians) are my cousins, I cannot question their decision.
"Besides, Perris Speedway rolled out the red carpet."
The annual race will now be held on the dirt oval in Perris.
The problem is that in order for racing to resume at Irwindale in 2013, Nu-Way appears to need to make a quick decision. One Southern California racing promoter, who did not want to be identified, said that a deal must be made by Oct. 31 for racing to take place next year.
"That is the point where we might not be able deliver to sponsorship money" the promoter said.
The new promoter would need to work on infrastructure to get races resuming by next spring, including such things as track rules, car specs, tickets and concessions.
Mnoian admits that a deal needs to be completed soon for racing to resume next year.
"I sure hope so," he said. "We need to make a decision to do that. We`re not under a deadline, either."
There are at least two major parties that have shown interest in operating the facility, including Cohan's L.A. Racing group.
"We're trying to be selective," Mnoian said. "We're just looking for the best deal for our company. We really haven't looked at outside operations, only those with local interest. We do not want to try and go through (what happened previously) again."
As soon as the bankruptcy hearings were over, Formula Drift was negotiating to get its final event at Irwindale, which has been the site of the season-ending event since the beginning of the series.
Series co-founder and President Jim Liaw said that the series has had to take a more hands-on approach this year.
"I think having a full staff at the speedway (in previous years) helped quite bit with the smaller things such as ticketing, facilities, and catering vendors.”We've had to start from scratch. We've been working hand-in-hand in bringing a lot of the standard elements back to speed."
The series often has a lot of the same issues at its season opener at Long Beach, held a week before the IndyCar Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
"There are a lot of moving parts, so it is like Long Beach," Liaw said. "We've had to deal with Irwindale Police Department directly. But in terms of getting outside stuff in, everything has been great."
Credit and Special thanks to SGVN writer Keith Lair for allowing me to post his story.