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Firebird Raceway's last night out bittersweet for fans

After 30 years in business, the lease on Firebird International Raceway in Chandler ran out. Negotiations between the Gila River Indian Community, which owns the venue, and the current operators stalled, so the Valley racing institution is closing down completely this month.

But the Raceway went out with a bang this weekend at their final event Firebird was the place to go to see cars tear down a track at over 200 miles an hour. And the Final Event had it all on display: About 200 cars in total screeched across Firebird’s track at the Final Event – jet dragsters, nitro-powered funny cars, and souped-up Mustangs and Camaros.

Curt Eyerdam’s family has been racing here since the track opened.

“For us we’ve been doing as a family for forever” Eyerdam said as he prepped his car for the race. “My brother drives the Avenger, I drive the Invader. Most of my crew is friends and family.”

Eyerdam’s father brought out the family’s first Invader car in 1974. It’s one of the long, skinny, fire-spewing, jet engine powered dragsters.  Curt’s been behind the wheel for 12 years now, and he says the Valley is losing something special.

“It’s something the area needs,” Eyerdam said. “It keeps kids off the streets for Friday night drags, keeps them having a nice safe place to run, keeps a nice place for the sportsmen to bring out their vehicles. So it’s really a shame that it’s come to this.”

For Bille Tamisiea, Firebird means family. She met her husband here 10 years ago.  These days, Tamisiea and her husband make the trip up from Coolidge with all three of their kids. They were just one family in the crowd of more than 25,000 people who piled into the track for the last time.

“It's sad. We’ve always come out here for all the major events - the Bug-O-Rama and the car shows and the Friday night drags,” Tamisiea said. “It’s always been a Valley institution.”

And after the races were done, monster trucks took over the arena, crunching piles of cars and jumping cars and stunting across the track.

Seven-year-old Mason Hollenbeck says he likes the racing and the monster trucks, but he was really waiting for the final event: A 40-foot metal dinosaur called Robosaurus that has been Firebird’s closing attraction for 20 years -- a real life transformer that spits fire and literally eats cars.

“Last time I saw him, he almost lit a building on fire,” Hollenbeck said.

Robosaurus did not disappoint with his last spectacle at Firebird International Raceway.

At the end of the night, fans streamed out of the bleachers and into the parking lots. The announcer opined the end of an era.  And then invited the fans to come meet the drivers for an autograph.