Ascot Park is an
oval half-mile dirt racetrack with a motorcycle course meandering through its
infield, and where there aren't any billboards the wooden fence is painted what
they call Richard Petty blue. The track is located in Gardena, Calif. on top of
an old municipal dump, almost at the conjunction of the San Diego and Harbor
freeways. It is the fourth track in the Los Angeles area to bear that name over
the past 65 years, which gives the place a pretty good pedigree. Ascot is known
nationally as the most famous motorcycle track on the West Coast, and for
midget racers its Thanksgiving Day Grand Prix is the key prestige event on the
United States Auto Club calendar. Still, at first—maybe even third—glance this
is an unlikely setting for a man whose race cars have won two Indianapolis 500s
and seized the pole position three times, a man who may well be the single most
influential person in USAC championship car racing today.
But then J.C.
Agajanian, the 59-year-old president, pooh-bah and sartorial wonder of Ascot,
is a rather unlikely sort himself. The most significant thing about the current
part owner of the Agajanian-Leader Card Special is that he is the self-made
Number One son of a self-made Armenian immigrant, a fact that over the years
has dictated not only his personal life-style but his choice of professions.
Except for the circumstances of his birth, Agajanian today might be an ex-race
driver—or more likely a dead one, considering his long-standing indifference
toward the American motor car.
Once on the Los
Angeles freeways Agajanian literally drove Kelly Petillo, the 1935 Indy 500
winner, to distraction with his uneven stop-and-go driving. And when Petillo,
who was more romantic about such things, sought to admonish him, Aggie
retorted, "Look, I don't care what happens to this car. If I drive it into
the guardrail I can always get another one." Petillo slumped down in the
passenger seat and said sadly, "'Aggie, don't ever talk about a car like
But Aggie was
saved from himself because in certain clannish societies, notably the Armenian,
the oldest son is not only expected to enter the family business but to carry
on the family name. Since a prerequisite for the latter is living long enough
to propagate, Aggie's career as a professional driver ended in 1932, roughly 24
hours after he had bought his first race car.
First he got the
use of his father's street car, a Studebaker President 8, on the pretext of
having it washed every Saturday afternoon. Instead, Aggie used it to gain a
reputation as a street racer along Alameda, or "Truck Boulevard," as it
was then known. According to Aggie, "There were a couple of S turns that
were kinda hairy if you didn't get them done right," and his friends
thought that he negotiated them well enough to consider a racing career.
Friday afternoon when his father was out of town, Aggie secretly borrowed
$1,500 and bought a sprint car. The next day his father came home, saw Aggie
working on the car, and an Armenian drama ensued:
Father: What is
Father: You're not
Aggie: Yes, I