The first car that I remember my father buying, was, are you ready for this, A "Crosley"! Now most people will be saying "what the heck is a Crosley". Crosley was a small, independent American manufacturer of subcompact cars, bordering on micro-cars. At first called the Crosley Corporation and later Crosley Motors Incorporated, the Cincinnati, Ohio, firm was active from 1939 to 1952, interrupted by World War II production. Their station wagons were the most popular model, but also offered were sedans, pickups, convertibles, a sports car (which won the six-hour sports car race at Sebring in 1950), and even a tiny jeep-like vehicle.
I don't know but this might be the reason that I, and my brothers, grew up to love small sporty cars. If you can call a Crosley sporty. It was small though.
Subscriptions to Sporty Car mags soon followed. Road & Track, Sports Car Graphic, Autoweek etc. We learned about the adventures of famous sports car and Formula 1 drivers around the world. Fangio, Clark, Gurney, Moss and the list goes on. Of course, we now wanted to witness some of the action ourselves. We started looking for races that we could attend ourselves.
In the 50's and 60's many of the races were held on parking lots, airports, and even regular roads. Most of these "race tracks" are long gone but not completely forgotten. I have attended races at many of these places and I still have good memories of them. Here are some of the long forgotten places where brave racers have put on displays of speed and daring. I have to limit these to places in the U.S. as I was never fortunate enough to travel to other places with forgotten race venues.
This is a Crosley, ours was black
Crosley Hot Shot - Won it's class at Sebring in 1950
Below is an excerpt about SCCA racing at Southport in the 1960s, from EAA Chapter 25, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN newsletter (June 2006) called, "Southport Airport, A Time Forgotten" by Noel Allard.
"The Sports Car Club of America, Land-O-Lakes Chapter, staged annual sports car races at the field from 1963 through 1968 using the runway and taxiways. In 1969 the races at Southport were discontinued and moved to the newly completed Donnybrooke racetrack at Brainard. I attended the Southport races and one year watched them while orbiting overhead in a Cessna 150 belonging to the Cloud 7 Flying Club out of Flying Cloud Airport. Forrest Lovley flew overhead one year and when he wanted to land, chose a break in the races and landed, catching hell from the organizers."
I remember only attending 1 race at Southport. I believe it was in 1964 and an SCCA regional race. Which meant that mostly local cars and drivers participated and I was impressed by local racer Jerry Hansen who drove 3 cars in the races. A McKee Chevette, a Shelby Cobra and a Formcar formula Vee. Talk about a variety of cars.
In the late 50's the city of Minneapolis decided that they wanted a major league baseball team. So, in order to attract a team, they decided to build a baseball stadium. The result was Metropolitan Stadium. So Minneapolis pursued their baseball team (the Washington Senators moved from D.C.) and the S.C.C.A. got a new race track. The parking lot at the stadium. Races were held in the parking lot from 1959 until 1965, when Donnybrooke race track opened in Brainard, Mn.
I attended one race here in 1965. Looking back now, it's amazing how primitive and unsafe this was. There were no barriers, maybe a few hay bales and the parking lot was full of wooden poles marking off parking areas. I always remember this race because it was the first time I had seen a genuine King Cobra. The Selby racing team had sold one of their team cars (the car driven by Dave McDonald who had won several races with it) to Charlie Cox. He was racing against Jerry Hansen's Chevette. He led for 14 of the 15 laps, only being passed on the last lap. He finished 2nd to Hansen.
In 1965 the Viet Nam war was really going strong. I was invited by my "friends and neighbors" to join in the fun. After a bit of negotiations, I joined the USAF. I had a few months of fun and games and then I ended up in Denver. Of course I knew about a race track which was close to Denver, Continental Divide Raceway.
From its opening day in 1959, Continental Divide Raceways near Castle Rock was one of the top-ranked race tracks in the West. Not only did they host SCCA races, they also hosted USAC Indy car races. So this gave me the chance to see greats like Dan Gurney, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Gordan Johncock and so on. As soon as I could afford to buy a car, I went to every race I could. But I decided I wanted to get more involved so I became a corner worker. This gave me free access to races, access to the pits and free lunch. All I had to do in return was stand 2 feet from the edge of the track and watch the cars go by at some insane speeds. I may have to wave some flags, run to a burning car(if necessary), and keep from getting killed.
I have some really fond memories of being a corner worker at CDR. Back in those days, corner workers had no protection. We stood right by the track. What we would do is, have 2 people at a time at the corner, one looking away from the oncoming cars and another looking at the cars approaching. If the person saw something like a car losing control and coming toward them he yelled to the other person to run and then you would run as fast as you could. Hopefully you ran the right way.
I worked several corners but the ones I remembered most are corner 1 and corner 10. I worked corner 1 during the Rocky Mountain 150 in 1968. This was a USAC race for Indy Cars and all the top drivers and cars were there. Included were 2 Lotus Turbine cars. One of these cars, driven by Joe Leonard had almost won the Indy 500. Working corner 1, which was about a 150 mph corner, we noticed that we couldn't hear turbine cars coming. That added an extra element of excitement. After working corner 10 for an SCCA National race, one of the drivers, Hank Candler who drove a Lola T140, told me he liked where I stood, when I was working the corner, because he was using my foot as his apex marker. I had noticed that he was usually about 2 feet from my foot. I did have an MG Midget go behind me. It's a good thing I didn't run away from the corner. He looked up at me and said "Sorry about that!"
Most people would go to Roswell New Mexico to see flying saucers, but not me. I wanted to go because I heard that the SCCA was having a sports car race at Bottomless Lakes state Park close to Roswell.
After telling my roommate, Norman, about it he was ready to go. So we went to the base recreation center and rented camping equipment and packed up my new Triumph TR3. New for me, but it was really 10 years old, and I didn't have any idea that it could make that trip. Also Norm was from Brooklyn N.Y. and had never been camping. So we left from Denver to head 500 miles to Roswell. The trip turned out to be quite the adventure.
We left Friday afternoon so we decided to stop for the night, about half there, at Raton Pass, N.M. Norm then decided that he would light up the Coleman gas lantern. I told him, since he had never done this, that I would do it but he insisted. I gave him some pointers and headed for the out house (we were camping). When I came out, flames were shooting about 5 feet in the air from the lantern and Norm was putting out the fire with his jacket, which he proceeded to do. Too bad his jacket was a nylon ski jacket and it melted. He had a cold night.
The TR3 was also starting to show it's age. I started to hear what I thought was piston slap. This could be a problem with the piston rings, but it was still running. Next time we stopped for gas I put in a can of STP. We were starting to smoke a bit but we made it to Bottomless Lakes.
I don't remember too much about the races except the course and the 3 mile long, somewhat curvy, front straight. I also remember that the race was won by a Group 7 McLaren Chevy. I often wondered how fast that car went on that straight.
Now we only had to make it back, 500 miles to Denver, in a wounded TR3. We were now burning oil pretty good and had a cloud behind us. So I stopped every 100 miles and put in some more STP. STP is wonderful. We made it back, just. I took the car to the auto hobby shop and tore the engine down and found that there was almost no piston rings. Triumph engines are tough and work well with STP. Oh well, I wanted to rebuild that engine anyway.
The race ran one more year and then was never run again. A driver fatality sealed the deal. It was a very intimidating and dangerous course
The infamous TR3
I also attended races at a few other lost but not forgotten venues. MAR - Mid America Raceway in Wentzville Mo. It seemed like ever time I went there it rained. It was an interesting track, a real road course not an airport or park. It's now a shopping center.
Ponca City - a race around a lake in a park in Ponca City, OK. I camped out in the park. There is nothing like waking up in the morning to the sound of warming up race engines. Just in case you wondered, Ponca City was home to Conoco Oil and had a refinery there.
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