Irwindale, Calif. - - California Highway Patrol Chief "Skip" Carter, really said it best, "The only time that we usually all get together is when there's widespread trouble, for official police business, or for funerals." That was until the ...
Irwindale, Calif. - - California Highway Patrol Chief "Skip" Carter, really said it best, "The only time that we usually all get together is when there's widespread trouble, for official police business, or for funerals." That was until the Automobile Club of Southern California, the Los Angeles Police Department, and Irwindale Speedway teamed up to present "A Salute To Law Enforcement" on Saturday, September 29 at the Speedway. This time they were gathered together for some good old fashion fun.
It was a day of firsts for both the law enforcement agencies involved (18 different police and sheriff's departments participated) and the Speedway, who took the occasion to debut its brand new 1/8-mile Street Legal Dragstrip. Visiting with the many officers and their bosses gathered on site, it was quite evident that camaraderie, mutual respect, and the spirit of cooperation ran deep among these real-life heroes.
"Top Cops" from around the southland were invited to take part in a special drag racing exhibition against an impressive list of TV, film, and sports celebrities in showroom-fresh, equally-prepared Ford Mustangs. The six gleaming new sports cars were very beautifully-decaled and generously loaned for the occasion by the track's official supplier of cars and trucks, Advantage Ford in neighboring Duarte, California.
Although it was billed as a fun event for charity, when the final elimination rounds started at 3:30 it was all business between the remaining 8 top cops and celebs. Even though the day was brutally hot and humid (about 90 degrees with not a hint of a breeze) every "racer" was up hovering as close to the starting line as the officials would let them, watching every run, trying to figure out the fastest way off the line and the quickest route to the "big end" of the race track where a pair of lighted boards told the story for all to see.
Seeing the "win light" flash on in their lane was everyone's goal as they raced in single elimination rounds throughout the afternoon. "It was delightful to see these people all so intense about running off the best possible time in the 1/8-mile against each other." said Bob DeFazio of the Speedway. "The competition was fierce, even among people who had never seen a drag race before that day!"
"This event originally started out as a simple night at the races on our NASCAR oval track only for LAPD officers and families. But (LAPD) Chief Parks thought about it and told us that he wanted to open the event to as many local law enforcement agencies as possible. And then the Chief went and upped the ante," DeFazio related. "He asked how far along we would be with our drag strip by September 29, and we told him 'pretty close'. He then asked if it would be possible to hold a Cops versus Celebrities event on the 'strip on that date. We only thought about for a couple of minutes and said 'Let's go for it!'. And Irwindale ended up with one of our most fun, and most satisfying special events of the season. What a way to christen our new Dragstrip!"
The event, long in the planning before the tragic events of September 11, took on extra meaning on September29 as a way for Irwindale fans to show gratitude to the gallant men and women all sworn to serve and protect. And cheer they did first as the "Top Cops" ran off against the celebrities on the new Dragstrip, and later in the evening when the LAPD Motorcycle Drill Team, and the CHP Precision Driving Team wowed the circle track crowd with spellbinding exhibitions of speed and close order drill on two and four wheels.
During the oval track opening ceremonies at 6:30, every police agency that took part in the day's activities was represented by a vehicle in a special lap of honor in front of a packed grandstand. From fully-armored SWAT vehicles to color Funny Cars, to vintage police vehicles, to DARE cars, and regular cruisers, they circled the track with sirens screaming, lights flashing, and American colors flying to the delight of all.
The official LAPD color guard added a patriotic note to the pre-race singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" and LA Police Chief Parks spoke for all the law enforcement officers in attendance as he thanked both the Auto Club and the Speedway for hosting the special day and evening. Chief Parks (aka "Burn-Out Bernie" a name he earned earlier on the Dragstrip) then energetically waved the green flag on the night's NASCAR racing.
Irwindale Speedway sincerely thanks all the men and women in uniform who helped to make our first "Salute To Law Enforcement" day such a success. We also want to thank our event sponsors: the Automobile Club of Southern California and Advantage Ford Lincoln Mercury who really came through in a big way for the event.
Just for the record here's a list of the participants (law enforcement first): LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, Assistant Highway Patrol Chief Skip Carter, Anaheim PD Chief Roger Baker, Covina PD Chief Kim Raney, Irwindale PD Commander Chuck Crawford, Pomona PD Chief Fred Sanchez, Arcadia PD Chief David Hinig, El Monte PD Chief Bill Ankeny, Alhambra PD Chief Larry Lewis, Glendora PD Chief, Paul Butler, Long Beach PD Chief Jerome Lance, Pasadena PD Chief Bernard Melekian, Santa Ana PD Chief Paul Waters, Monrovia PD Chief Joe Santoro, and LA Schools PD Chief Wesley Mitchell.
And the stars: Don Diamont and Scott Reeves both from "The Young And The Restless", Michael Dudikoff of "American Ninja", KZLA's Shawn Parr, Danny Masterson of "The 70's Show", Joey Lawrence from "Jumping Ship", Melissa Reeves of "Days Of Our Lives", Paula Trickey from "Pacific Blue", Judson Mills of "Walker, Texas Ranger, Chris McDonald from "Family Law", Willie Gault former LA Raider, John Salley former LA Laker, Matt Lawrence of "Boy Meets World", Kelly Perine from "Parenthood", Jose Solano of "Baywatch", and George Lopez star of "The George Lopez Show".
Kim Raney, the Covina Chief and Judson Mills from "Walker, Texas Ranger" were the fastest final pair with Mills edging Raney by a scant hundredth of second. But everyone, cop, celebs, and fans alike were all winners at Irwindale Dragstrip on Saturday.
By about halfway through the day the words: "Annual Event" were already on the lips of almost everyone in attendance. Hey, that sounds good to us!