The line had been forming all day and was three miles long at 10 o'clock last Saturday night when the gate on the backside of the Riverside International Raceway opened. Hearty and hardy, the vanguard of the 83,000 people who the next day would see the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix—the fifth of this season's Canadian-American Challenge Cup races—began to move slowly into the track through the thick, stifling desert dust. They came in campers, mobile homes, chartered buses, little sports cars and occasionally a good old-fashioned Ford or Chevrolet.
They were college kids, high school kids in the process of losing their alcoholic virginity and adults who should have known better. About 30% of them were honest-to-goodness car buffs, the guys who can tweak their engines with all the skill of top-flight racing mechanics, and the rest were just plain $5-a-head fans out for a weekend's high-speed entertainment.
Greeting them all, it seemed, was The Enforcer. Six feet four inches and 270 pounds, he walked slowly up and down between the double line of vehicles, making quiet conversation in a gentle voice. Now and then he flicked his flashlight at the trunk of a car and told one of the security men to open it. And, sure enough, a sheepish kid trying to save $5 would pop out. "You can tell," The Enforcer said. "If there are fingerprints on the trunk you'd better take a look." Mostly, though, the crowd was playing no tricks. They responded to The Enforcer's greetings and called out, "Hi, Les."
Les Richter, six years and 30 pounds removed from the unsubtle violence of professional football—in which he became a legitimate California sports hero as a linebacker with the Los Angeles Rams—turned and waved his hand and smiled.
Richter is The Enforcer to his friends, but he is the president of Riverside to his stockholders, and the night before a big race he gets no sleep. For two hours last Sunday the raceway belonged to Bruce McLaren (SI, Oct. 28), who won the Grand Prix and the first prize of $21,610. But in the long hours of the night before the race and through the morning, the track was Richter's. Any infield the night before a race defies the clich�s of sociology (or perhaps explains the need for the study of it), but Riverside has a distinct advantage: Southern California.
Richter moved slowly through the assembling crowd, first on a little motorcycle, then on foot. He was plugged into a walkie-talkie that kept him in constant contact with the security men around the sprawling 600-acre plant whose job was to maintain some semblance of order until the last spectators left Sunday night.
"I like to do this." Richter said. "I like to see what kind of people are here, where they're from and why they do a crazy thing like this."
Riverside is at once very easy and very difficult to explain: easy because it is located just 60 miles from Los Angeles and on the fringe of the Southern California population center of seven million. It is a good setting for selling just about anything, but the creature comforts are not exactly in evidence. The temperature approaches 100� during the day, when the smog permits, and at night the hot desert winds give way to a sudden chill, and it takes a good deal of ingenuity to make up for the old swimming pool and barbecue pit back at the split level.
Ingenious, though, the Riverside crowd was. Through the long night and well into Sunday morning, radios blared, portable television sets played and the inside of one magnificent truck looked like Hugh Hefner's living room. It was a huge thing, pinewood-paneled, with pictures of Playboy bunnies on the walls; a hi-fi stereo set blared country-and-western over most of Turn 5—the "jungle," as Richter calls the area—and out back the occupants were doing a real live buck-and-wing.
"I don't really think people would come to races if things were comfortable and antiseptic," Richter said. "This kind of thing brings out the gypsy in everybody. It's strange."