Some how, some way Irwindale Speedway manages to keep one step ahead of the grim reaper.

The facility, officially known as Irwindale Event Center, was set to shut down permanently as of Jan. 31 with plans to build an outdoor strip mall.

But it was announced last Thursday that a two-year lease to operate the facility was signed with a new operating group led by Tim Huddleston and Justice Brothers.

This is the third time the track, which underwent bankruptcy in 2011, had been left for dead only to be revived.

The closing of Irwindale was announced last July when owners of the land told Jim Cohan and his operating group that their lease on the facility — which includes a half-mile paved oval, a third-mile oval inside of that and a popular eighth-mile drag strip — would not be renewed.

The Cohan group had operated the track on a yearly lease for the past five seasons and put out a new release stating that the track would cease operation Jan. 31, 2018.

But rumors quietly swirled that the track would be in operation in 2018, albeit with a new group as the lease holders.

That turned out to be the case.

Larry Collins, who wears two at at times — that as Managing Partner of the traveling Spears Southwest Tour Series as well as General Manager at KCRP, said he is pleased that Irwindale will be in operation for at least two more years.

“People have asked me if it would be good if Irwindale closed and I’ve said it might be a short-term gain (for KCRP) but it would be a steady decline of racing in this region if we lost a good track like that,” he said. “If it makes our industry stronger we all benefit.”

The loss of Irwindale would have been a significant blow to the Southwest Tour Series, which released its 2018 schedule just before Christmas with two tentative dates which are expected to be filled with Irwindale dates.

“It’s one of our major tracks on the schedule,” Collins said. “It’s an important venue for a lot of race teams, us and our sponsor. We definitely have a much better schedule with Irwindale on it than if we don’t.”

As for Kern County Raceway, several Irwindale-based Late Model teams made the trek over the Ridge Route to race at KCRP last season as the two tracks worked together on rules and scheduling. Huddleston’s son,Trevor, won the Kern County Raceway Late Model track championship last season.

“Last year we did pretty well with quite a few of their Late Model teams coming up,” Collins said of how the tracks worked together.

Collins said KCRP officials have been working closely with Huddleston’s group to further align rule packages and race schedules.

“We’ve been working on them with rules and we’ll fine-tune that,” he said. “As for schedules, with all things being equal, there’s no reason to have conflicts. It’s better for us to stay off each others dates.”

With the Irwindale announcement, Collins said the finishing touches are now being put on the KCRP schedule which he expected to release within a week.

Irwindale is continuing with its Thursday Night Thunder drag program throughout January with a Night of Destruction set for the oval track on Jan. 27. Doug Stokes, Vice President of Communications, said the 2018 schedule will not be released until after Feb. 1.

“I just came out of a meeting with Jim Cohen and I think the change is going to be imperceptible, outside of the office,” Stokes said. “This is a great place. I started out here and hopefully there are a number of years to go with it.”

Mike Griffith can be reached at 661 395-7390. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeGriffith54. 

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