Newsposted May 1, 2012
Tags: General News All Article Tags
You Meet the Nicest People at Speedway – Chris Agajanian – Retired?
Born in Hollywood , he grew up in Baldwin Hills. Childhood was normal except dad JC was never there for his birthday. Dad couldn't. That was qualifying week at Indy. Maybe the Agajanian car would win the Indianapolis 500 again like it did in 1952 when Chris was three years old. Maybe some day soon dad would take Chris with him. From the get go Chris loved racing and racers alike.
A childhood that couldn't get any better got better when JC started promoting at Ascot Park in 1959. The 1/2 mile dirt oval soon hosted every form of racing both four wheels and two. A ten year old Chris loved it, standing on the scoreboard to change the metal lap countdown numbers just feet from the speeding race. Getting to eat all the hot dogs you want. Selling programs, working around the track. Oh yeah, could life get any better.
It did. In 1963 JC took Chris to Indy. It was magical. Parnelli Jones won the race and drank the milk in the Winner’s Circle. Pinch me am I dreaming? Chris knew he would become a successful promoter. That first trip turned into a tradition and the Agajanian #98 received win number three on the Centennial Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2011.
In 1960 Chris started taking guitar lessons. Three years later the Beatles came out and he liked what he saw. TV, Girls, Rock & Roll. Sign me up. Chris and brother Jay formed a band called The Eliminators. They were good. The Eliminators won the Inglewood Recreation Center Battle of the Bands. A teenager’s wildest dream comes true. Maybe someday rock & roll royalty would know his name.
In 1970 the family moved to Trousdale Estates in Beverly Hills . Chris worked at the family refuse hauling company and graduated from USC. The family home was close to the Sunset Strip. Ray Charles, Tina Turner and Ringo Starr lived in the neighborhood and meeting up with musicians like, the Turtles, Peter Frampton, Mick Fleetwood, Jackson Brown, the Beach Boys, Crosby Stills and Nash and George Harrison he says was easy. They liked racing and I liked music. A match made in heaven. All took full advantage. Chris went on to become a manager at Warner Bros Records for Gary Wright of Dreamweaver fame and later managed Stephen Stills for a while.
JC asked him to worked fulltime at the track and Chris became the Ascot General Manager and Vice President of Agajanian Enterprises. Job one, rebuild the facility. New lights, billboards, crashwall, toilets, catch fence, PA system and more. They hooked up to the city water and got rid of the well. Drained and filled the infield ponds, tripled the concessions. Dad was impressed.
Like father, like son. Chris wanted to promote. That chance came in 71 when Moto Cross was dropped from the Ascot weekly calendar because of poor rider count. Promoter Stu Peters was losing money on the Wednesday night program and wanted out. A 22 year old Chris pleaded with his dad to let him try. When the 1972 season opened 220 riders signed up. It was the biggest weekly Moto Cross event in California . His first try and Criss Cross Productions was a success. Chris was a chip off the old block. Dad was proud.
JC supplied the education. No Chris I’m not buying a new water tank. I know it leaks but turn the tank over, weld the fill hole and it will be fine. Yes Chris I know that section of grandstands is worn out. Burn the bolts off turn the boards over and they will be fine. It’ll look like new when you paint them. Chris learned. Chris did it good. JC recognized his son’s work ethic and desire to promote. He encouraged it.
JC loved the passion Chris brought to the job and encouraged him to design and develop something on the empty grounds next to the Ascot 1/2 mile. Chris did and in 1984 Ascot South Bay Stadium came into existence. The complex was unique. A 5000 seat 1/8 mile dirt Speedway track, a BMX track, a Radio Control Racetrack (modeled after its big brother next door) and a Slic Trac go-kart concession and arcade completed the legendary 44 acre parcel.
Grandstands, flagpoles, concession stands and more were purchased from the 1984 Olympics that were held in LA the year before. Ascot South Bay Stadium was a marvel but unfortunately JC passed and never got to see it in its glory.
Speedway was a huge hit there. A state of the art track, a safety inspired foam mounted crash wall system, great food, loud music, half time stunt shows and bikini contests. Oh yeah the place rocked. Chris got his PA system from the Beach Boys. If you weren't at Thursday Night Speedway you were nowhere dude. Chris got into television production and produced over one hundred Speedway America shows from Ascot South Bay Stadium. They aired nationally on Prime Ticket and ESPN for more than five years.
Chris was the man working at the track but no-way was it a one man show. Older brother Cary was the attorney and ran the company while brother Jay was the voice of advertising. All love each other and get along well. Life was good. Ascot was successful.
Ascot Park closed in November of 1990. Suddenly after 33 years Chris was unemployed. No racetrack, no problem. I can promote at other places. Maybe thoroughbred tracks, they have nice stadiums he confessed. The new company, Agajanian Presents, Inc. did just that. Soon AMA Class C Championship Motorcycle Races with names like the Sacramento Mile, the Dallas Mile, the Seattle Mile and the Del Mar Mile were being run at venues like Emerald Downs, Lone Star Park , the Fairplex and the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Then there were the 1/2 mile events like the Knoxville 1/2 mile, the Denver 1/2 mile and the Las Vegas1/2 mile. It was good, real good. Chris received the prestigious Promoter of the Year award from the American Motorcycle Association.
In 2000 Clear Channel Entertainment bought Chris out and things changed after the sale. A consultant contract with Clear Channel kept Chris from promoting live events for five years. “After that I was involved in so many things that I just didn't have the time or desire to put myself and my family on that treadmill again” said Chris.
So are you done with promoting permanently? His reply was simple. Howie, I have a wife, two kids and a grandchild who loves Monster Trucks. I'm president of another company, I’m working with a Las Vegas casino to develop a Beatles Memorabilia Experience, we are developing an Ascot vintage apparel line and I’m overseeing the property and asset management of our belongings. Promoting is not in my present future.
So what happened to Chris’ surf band? Well I’m glad you asked. After The Eliminators he and Jay started a new band called Glass. Quite good, they were the opening act for Dick Dale and the Del Tones when Chris hung up his guitar. Jay Agajanian still plays with Glass to this day at small clubs near the beach.
OK just one more short story. When Carol Perez asked me to do promotion for Industry Racing I agreed but only if I could use the Chris Agajanian method. What’s that she inquired as I leaned over and whispered in her ear. What’s that you say? You want to know the secret. Well maybe next time. Some things are meant to be private.
Chris you’re my hero and I am pleased to call you a friend. Thanks for your continued support and I look forward to seeing you at The Grand Arena. Bring a friend or ten.
The Lucky 13 Season starts May 30th in the City of Industry .