1980 Los Angeles Times 500: Parsons Wins Ontario Finale

Ontario Motor Speedway

Ontario Motor Speedway had virtually everything, but was decades ahead of its time. (Photo: ISC Archives)

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About forty miles east of Los Angeles, and just off “The 10” (Interstate 10), Auto Club Speedway has risen on the site of the former Kaiser steel mill.

About two miles away from ACS, you’ll find a multi-use development including shopping, restaurants and residences. But if you roll back the calendar about three decades, you would see what was then called the “Indianapolis of the West” although its formal name was Ontario Motor Speedway.

When the shovels were turned and development began in 1968, the plan was to build what would be the world’s grandest speedway. It would include a 2 1/2-mile pure oval, much like the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway, except wider and faster. The master plan also included a road course in hopes of attracting the FIA Formula One World Championship, something Indy didn’t have. It also included a drag strip to gather the attention of its Southern California neighbor, NHRA. Add a first-class restaurant and Victory Club, and it’s easy to see that when Ontario Motor Speedway opened its doors for the first time in August, 1970, it was the most expensive racing facility ever built to that time.

The track joined the schedule for NASCAR’s premier series as host to the second race of the 1971 season, and also played host to a number of races for what is now known as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, as well as a long list of USAC open-wheel events.

The NASCAR Winston (now Sprint) Cup Series went to Ontario for the 31st and final race of the 1980 season on November 15. There would be no shortage of storylines heading into raceday.

Just six weeks before, car owner M. C. Anderson handed Benny Parsons his notice that someone else would be driving his Chevrolet after the season ended at Ontario. The 1980 Los Angeles Times 500 would mark Parsons’ last ride with Anderson.

For another car owner, Californian Rod Osterlund, it was time to go back to the West Coast and see if the driver who won rookie of the year honors for him in 1979 could end 1980 as series champion.

Dale Earnhardt put Osterlund’s No. 2 Chevrolet on the front row in qualifying alongside Cale Yarborough, who was at the wheel of a Junior Johnson Chevy. Earnhardt led only three laps all day, and nearly threw his championship chances away. He pitted too early and fell a lap behind when the caution flag flew on Lap 71.

It took Earnhardt 70 laps to erase the deficit. When the day’s fifth caution flag waved, his plan was to come to pit road for fuel only. His crew didn’t get the message and started to change tires when the car came into its pit stall. Earnhardt peeled away, but there were only two lug nuts in place on the rear tire. Earnhardt was black-flagged, and lost nearly a lap in the process, but managed to battle his way back to the front.

Bobby Allison finally managed to get to the lead with 26 laps remaining and started his march to the checkered flag. A tire went flat on Allison’s Bud Moore Ford, forcing him to pit with eight laps left.

Parsons took the lead and held on to beat Neil Bonnett to the finish by over six seconds. Yarborough was just behind Bonnett in third, while Allison had to settle for a fourth-place finish instead of victory.

As for the Earnhardt fellow who almost threw things away twice . . . he finished fifth. It was good enough to lock up his first series championship. He would grab six more before his career came to a close.

Only 15,000 people – the smallest crowd in track history – were present to witness Parsons’ win. Since the track’s revenues were unable to cover debt service and other costs, and since real estate values were exploding in Southern California, it probably came as no surprise that the property was sold to Chevron four months later. The oil company’s first post-purchase decision concerning the track appeared to be easy. Tear it down.

This week’s edition of MRN Flashback Friday turns its attention to the final NASCAR race ever run at Ontario Motor Speedway. Barney Hall and Mike Joy lead the MRN Radio coverage team for the 1980 Los Angeles Times 500. You can hear the special rebroadcast beginning at Noon (ET) Friday, exclusively on MotorRacingNetwork.com.

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