If you're going to have a Grand Marshal for the inaugural Monster Energy World Speedway Invitational, who better than two-time World Speedway Champion Bruce Penhall - inarguably the most famous American speedway racer of all time.
Industry Racing, the promoters of the race that see the best of the U.S. speedway contingent go at it against he best from the Speedway Grand Prix Series at the Grand Arena in the City of Industry, California, on December 29, have announced that Penhall will serve as Grand Marshal.
Penhall, the most iconic figure in American Speedway history who experienced success both in the U.S. as well as the most storied Grand Prix circuits around the world, won back-to-back AMA National Championships in 1980 and ‘81, and consecutive World Championships in ‘81 and '82 - the later of the two coming in front of a home crowd at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Following his retirement, Penhall turned to acting, becoming a co-star in the popular television series CHiPS, as well as several full-length feature films. In 1999, he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame and in 2011, became the first and only speedway racer to be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
Recently, Penhall dropped in at the Grand Arena to meet with race director Kelly Inman and to get a read on just what was going to take place on Saturday, December 29. Thirty years after his last victory, Penhall was genuinely enthused about the fast approaching race and took the time to talk about it.
In 1981 you won your first Speedway World Championship before 95,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in Great Britain. A year later, on Saturday, August 28 to be exact, you backed up your title here in Southern California inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It's now precisely three decades later and you, in the role of Grand Marshal, are associated with the most celebrated speedway race in the U.S. in years. What's your take on all of this?
I'm really excited about it and proud to be a part of it. I think Kelly Inman and Carol Perez [Industry Racing Owner], as well as Monster Energy have done a great job in trying to bring what I call ‘kids' [GP Riders] over to the U.S. I think it's a great stepping-stone for speedway right now to show it at its top level. I'm proud to be associated with it and its certainly going to be a great race. I'm sure of that.
As the most influential and recognizable figure in the sport in this country, what are your current thoughts on the American Speedway scene as well as the sport's immediate and long-term future?
Bruce Stjernstrom [Monster Energy VP of Sports Marketing] has been a fan of speedway since back in the ‘80s when I was riding and I think he finally has the right vehicle here to try and get it back on track again. Speedway is a really exciting sport, but as with all motorsports and all levels of any sport right now, it's suffered from of the recession, which unfortunately slows the development of riders in every aspect. However, I think we are seeing a resurgence and Monster Energy is certainly going to be a big part of that, with the GPs in Europe and now with the U.S. It's good for them and I'm proud to be associated with them.
If it all falls into place, the Monster Energy World Speedway Invitational could quite possibly entice the organizers of the FIM Speedway Grand Prix circuit to place a round here in America. In your eyes, what would it mean to have a round of the premier global championship in the U.S.?
I think it would huge, I really do. I think we need something like this U.S. versus the world atmosphere like we will have on the 29th. It's not like Industry Racing and Monster Energy are bringing over any sort of second-rate riders. All of these guys from Europe are AA riders; the absolute world's best. It's exciting to see that and see the American squad that's been assembled with all these young hungry kids. When we used to race the U.S. versus the world, there was nothing more I loved to do than beat up on the best in the world. I think a GP would serve American Speedway really well and I think it'd be huge for the sport. I hope that this process continues and that we can potentially generate a lot of money for the riders of the future, because that's what the sport really needs.
Having spent most of your career racing overseas, how do you feel about the FIM Speedway GP series and the competition it's producing?
I'm a fan of the GP system, although I still love the one-off, traditional event that I used to ride in. I think the GPs certainly prove the best man will win over the period of 12 events. On the other hand, the one-off competition takes a different approach to be able to put it together on one night, which makes it more exciting. I'm a big fan of GPs and I think it's doing really well and it's exciting to see it in all these really nice, big stadiums. Back in the day, we had a few of those, but not a lot. I'd really like to see them come back to the states and have an event somewhere such as the L.A. Coliseum or Angel Stadium.
What kind of competition and different styles of racing do you think fans will see between the Americans and the GP riders?
You're going to see a lot of really good racing on the 29th. I think the Europeans are going to try and prove themselves because none of these guys have ever ridden on such a tiny little track. The young Americans are hungry as hell and are going to do everything they can to try and beat up on the European boys, but the GP riders can certainly adapt to everything. This is a short amount of time to prepare, but this is America and Monster Energy is the presenting sponsor, so they will want to do well and want to prove to the world that there is no way they'll let the young Americans beat them. They know Billy Hamill and Greg Hancock and how good they are, but there are a couple riders they've never seen before or heard of who will be knocking on the door. I'm excited about the racing we're going to see and I'm even more excited to know we aren't going to get rained out with the roof over The Grand Arena.
Tickets for the inaugural Monster Energy World Speedway Invitational are available for purchase from now through December 22nd by visiting the event website at www.IndustryRacing.com. Tickets are priced at $18 and $10 for Juniors and Seniors. Tickets purchased the day of the event will be an additional $5. All kids under 12 are free with adult admission. Parking is $5 with motorcycle parking free of charge. The event will run rain or shine as The Grand Arena has a roof.