Bruce Penhall will be Grand Marshall at the December 29th Monster Energy World Speedway Invitational

 You meet the nicest people at Speedway ­ Bruce Penhall ­ World Champion to be honored at The Monster Speedway Meet, December 29th.

Born in Anaheim California to Bonnie and Leroy Penhall the future World Champion had a great childhood of hard earned wealth and privilege.  At thirteen Bruce, older brother Jerry and sister Connie accompanied mom and dad to their new home on the Balboa peninsula.   Their house was right on the beach.  A dream home for any teenager thinking about surfing and girls.

“Yes it was a wonderful childhood” Bruce stated.  “But if you think I was spoiled fuhgeddaboutit” he told me.  “My dad would work my butt off.  I was down at his company Penhall Construction learning the family business from the ground up”.  From cleaning to cutting dad Leroy made sure son Bruce learned it all.

Fortunately for Bruce; Leroy Penhall was also a racer.  Motorcycles, cars, boats airplanes.  He was good and well respected.  Still he would always preach, “ Bruce racing is not a life's work.  It’s a hobby.  Remember what pays the bills”.

Baseball, water and snow skiing.  BP liked racing best.  Something's are just natural and meant to be.  Bruce knew it when he got his first mini bike at age five.  Motorcycles would play a big part in Bruce’s future.

High School, surfing, girls, motocross desert racing and of course work occupied young Penhall’s time.  Bruce would go help dad work on the boats, P-51 airplane or F-86 and T-33 jets.  Friends Don Preston and Tony Sigalos raced with Leroy.  All family sports Bruce would play with their kids Ronnie Preston and Dennis Sigalos.  It would be a lifetime relationship that lasts to this day.

In 1971 Tony Sigalos and Leroy Penhall decided to sponsor a young Speedway rider by the name of Rick Woods.  The sport was in the beginnings of a resurge in popularity and drawing huge crowds.  Both were fans and the families were regulars at the Speedway races in Costa Mesa.

Dennis and Bruce both loved the sport.  No brakes, slide sideways to slow down.  Where do I sign up?  Still it wasn't that easy.  Unlike today there were no Junior Speedway bike manufactures.  No problem.  Being race guys they’d  just make our own.  Bruce and Dennis rode the wheels off them but with no organized Junior program racing the Speedway circuit would have to wait.

Even so they got their fair share of laps.  Tony Sigalos had a little practice track behind his Orange County food service property. “The boys” would take a lap or two on the big full sized machines whenever possible.  Both were infatuated with the power, speed and grace. 

Speedway rules were you could not ride a 500cc machine till you were 16.  May 10th his 16th birthday saw Penhall at Irwindale Speedway winning his first race and first Division Three main.  He was D-3 for two weeks before they transferred him to 2nd Division

D-2 was a little harder and BP spent all of 1973 there.  It was the best thing that could have happened.  Its where he learned about traffic and passing on the outside.

Then came Team Racing.  Irwindale Sprockets team manager Bruce Flanders quickly drafted Penhall.  “A lot of people thought I was crazy picking a second division rider when there was still some D-1 talent available but I knew Penhall would rise to the occasion” Flanders boasted.  Mike Bast was the team captain and Irwindale was the longest track on the five night a week circuit.  What a great classroom and professor.  Bruce Penhall was a star pupil and learned his lessons well.

Over 10000 people attended each Costa Mesa race.  Speedway was really getting popular and a sport that Bruce originally saw as an opportunity to meet chicks soon turned into a big money making business.  Riders got 30% of the gate and it was not uncommon to make over $1000 a night.  Even the small tracks like Ventura or Bakersfield paid over $300.

“I’ll never forget my first win over Steve and Mike Bast” Bruce recalled.  “Hey good job but don’t get use to it”, Mike told me.  Yea Bruce was young and reckless.  Life was good.

Then in an instant it changed.  On January 2, 1975 an airplane crash claimed the life of both Bonnie and Leroy Penhall.  The family was devastated.  Their will stated that Penhall Construction was to be sold.  Both parents and the family company gone Bruce threw himself into his Speedway career harder than ever before.   "I wanted to do this for me but after the tragic accident, I wanted to do this for them as well” Penhall said.

“Young and full of throttle”  BP did the five night a week circuit.  Special events at the Ascot 1/4 and 1/2 mile were a particular favorite.  “I  loved the big track” he gloated.  Guess so because it would be his career calling.

A trip to England with his sister Connie’s husband Mark Cherry set the stage.  BP would race in the Mecca of the Speedway world.   It was magical time.  Two world championships.  Four gold medals.  Bruce was the super star of the Speedway universe.

All things must come to a end and so it was when Penhall announced he was stepping down from Speedway.  Achieving back-to-back World Individual Championship titles BP told a stunned crowd "Well that's a wrap!"  They had seen his last race.  “I gave ten years of my life to Speedway.  Five in America and five in Europe.  Most athletes only have ten years.  I was burnt out.  I was done”.

Three days after his August 28, 1982 World Championship win at the Los Angeles Coliseum Penhall stepped on to the MGM lot and began filming CHIPs for NBC.  A prime time television hit BP co-stared opposite Erik Estrada.  Bruce’s acting career include a handful of B-movies as well as TV episodes on "Growing Pains," "The Love Boat", Betty White's show "Just Men” and a staring role in the motorcycle classic "On Any Sunday II.”  “I liked acting but was not an actor.”  A bored Bruce looked for a different challenge..

Off-shore power boats caught Bruce’s attention.  Tony Sigalos supplied a fast 37-foot Scarab they named after their sponsor “Ocean Spray”.  A two man machine, best friend Dennis Sigalos would handle the throttle and BP would drive.   Both had won gold together during their Speedway motorcycle careers so the partnership worked well.  They won Off-shore power boat World Championships in 1994, 95, 96, 97.  Winning gold in two different disciplines made Bruce Penhall the only American to win back to back World Championship titles in two completely different sports.

Funny how the age and family thing works.  Married to wife Laurie and four kids, Devin, Ryan, McKenzie and Connor, BP went back to what daddy had taught him.  Cutting and coring.   Sure he still had the race urge.  Some drag racing, the Baja 500 and anything to do with motorcycles.  Still this time was past and now it was family that came first.

Tragedy struck the Penhall family again on April 2012 when son Connor was killed while working on the 10 freeway.  Bruce and the family were stunned.  Months of limited or no contact with the outside world followed.  Bruce was devastated.

After months of seclusion Bruce Penhall is slowly emerging from the tragedy of his loss.  He has started a new company in his sons honor called Connor Concrete Cutting and Coring.  “It’s what my dad did and I did and Connor did.  It’s my destiny and I plan to fulfill it”.

Bruce Penhall will be Grand Marshall at the December 29th Monster Energy World Speedway Invitational in the Grand Arena of the Industry Hills Expo Center.  Featuring Americas best eight vs. the Worlds best eight this caliber of Speedway riders haven’t been seen here in the United States since the World Team Cup of 1988.   more information <> 

Dusty Brandel

President of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, Inc. Worked with Mike Hollander since Tapsis, Compuserve, etc. and has posted to the website since the beginning. First Female photo-journalist to be given a garage and pit pass for the NASCAR garage, 1972 at Ontario Motor Speedway. One of first seven female writers, photographers given access to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage and pits in 1971. Past President of Greater Los Angeles Press Club, 1992-96, and first female editor of the 8-Ball publication for the Press Club

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Volume 2012, Issue 10, Posted 2:40 PM, 12.19.2012