Former Fontana Mayor David Eshleman, whose extensive involvement in auto racing was one of the factors leading to the development of Fontana's speedway, has died.
Eshleman, a long-time resident and business owner in Fontana, was elected to the Fontana City Council in 1990. He then was elected mayor in 1994 and was reelected in 1998, during a period of time when the city was growing tremendously while also in the process of steadily overcoming the financial troubles which had been plaguing the city.
Because of Eshleman's enthusiasm for racing, he pitched the concept of a speedway at the site of the former Kaiser Steel Mill to motorsports legend Roger Penske. In 1997, Penske's company opened the facility which is now known as Auto Club Speedway.
Eshleman began racing in 1968 when he participated in the Racecar Technology Program at Chaffey College.
"At the time, I had graduated from high school and had taken a year off, and I heard about the class and thought it was exciting, so I signed up for it," he said later.
In 1971, he drove the Chaffey College Ford Mustang for an SCCA competition at Ontario Motor Speedway. Over the next decade, he regularly raced at Riverside Speedway and other venues and won regional championships in both the SCCA and Formula A classes.
While driving the Chaffey College Mustang and receiving sponsorship from Ford, Eshleman set a world speed record for a modified street car of 185 miles per hour.
By 1985, both Ontario Motor Speedway and Riverside Speedway had closed, and Eshleman stopped racing and focused his efforts on business and raising a family before entering politics.
Eventually, though, he returned to racing at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale and Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino.
He later led his own small team with his sons and had several opportunities to fulfill his dream of competing at the Fontana speedway (as both a driver and owner) in his "Spirit of Fontana" car.
"I am very excited and consider it to be a great honor to be participating in a first-class professional sporting event at the California Speedway, and at the same time bring attention to a first-class community like Fontana," Eshleman said prior to his entry in the Winston West race in 2001.
Eshleman's wife Pamela is a real estate broker, former Fontana Planning Commission member, and community contributor.
Members of the Fontana City Council paid tribute to Eshleman during the May 11 meeting.
"He did his motorsports like nobody could, he believed in it and loved it, but he really loved being mayor," said Mayor Acquanetta Warren. "We are all so saddened by his death."
Warren said that flags were being flown at half-staff in Fontana in Eshleman's memory and she looked forward to a memorial event in the future.