Friday, August 6, 2010

San Diego Rodders Riot

Very cool, It's a long read, but I think you will like it. Here is the article from the "SD UT." It takes us from San Diego's first drag strip at Paradise Mesa that was closed in 1959 and Hour Glass Field also closed in 1959 to what was going to be called "The Best Drag Strip in the Country", back in the day. It's hard to believe that kids would have done this...but they did.

"1960 Melee Sparked Creation of Local Raceways," By Richard Crawford July 24, 2008.

"The drag street riot on El Cajon Boulevard is symptomatic of the disrespect for authority so pronounced in some areas of our society. Those who riot or endanger the public safety to enforce their demands on government and law-abiding citizens cannot be tolerated. San Diego must not be intimidated."....The San Diego Union, Aug. 23, 1960.

It began as a mass demonstration on El Cajon Boulevard near Cherokee Avenue in City Heights. Young car-racing enthusiasts from throughout the county gathered to protest the lack of a legal drag strip in San Diego. When the protest turned into street racing, police moved in with tear gas and batons. More than 100 people were arrested in the bedlam that followed, known thereafter as the El Cajon Boulevard Riot, which led to the creation of raceways in Ramona and Carlsbad.

Drag-strip racing had been growing in popularity for many years. By 1959, there were an estimated 200 drag strips in the United States. Racers in San Diego used what was called the country's oldest official drag-race course, a retired airstrip on Paradise Mesa east of National City. A new housing development closed the Paradise track in 1959. With no other drag strips available, hot rodders used an old Navy airfield near Miramar Naval Air Station called Hourglass Field. Races sponsored by the California Sports Car Club were held on a 1.8-mile track. Unsanctioned drag racing also took place while the Navy turned a blind eye. But when a racing accident hurt four people Aug. 6, 1960, the Navy closed the field. Car clubs lobbied city and county officials for a drag-racing site. San Diego Police Chief A.E. Jansen was unsympathetic, saying, “Drag strips actually stimulate highway recklessness among those viewing such contests.” One car-club member cautioned, “If we don't get the strip, cars will be dragging in the streets.” The warning would prove prophetic.

In mid-August, fliers began appearing at drive-in theaters, coffee shops and car-club headquarters announcing a “mass protest meeting” on El Cajon Boulevard at 1 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 21. A disc jockey, Dick Boynton of KDEO, spread the news to listeners. That night, hundreds of teenagers and young adults began gathering along the boulevard. About 1 a.m., some in the crowd blocked off the street and began racing. Between 35th and 40th streets, “cars, of all models and shapes, raced two abreast,” the Union reported. “Thousands of spectators lined the sidewalk and center island, leaving almost no room for the cars to pass.” More than 65 police officers moved in about 2 a.m. and ordered the demonstrators to disperse. Throwing tear-gas grenades at the feet of the spectators, they waded into the crowd with riot sticks. “Almost everyone was running toward their cars,” a witness recalled. “Other people were on the ground, unable to run because of the tear gas.” About 100 demonstrators stood their ground at a service station lot and “threw a barrage of soft-drink bottles and rocks at the police.” Three young men broke into the Coca-Cola bottling plant on 38th Street, cracked open cases of Coke and began heaving glass bottles over a fence at the police. It took three hours to quell the “mob,” estimated at 3,000, the Los Angeles Times reported. Two police officers were hurt; others had their uniforms torn. A few officers lost their guns in the melee. Eighty adult demonstrators and 36 juveniles were arrested. For the ID technicians in the Police Records Bureau, it was quite a night. Two techs on duty the day after, a Monday, were swamped with fingerprint cards that had to be checked for warrants or prior arrests through huge index name files. The cards then were classified and searched individually in numerous drawers crammed with thousands of fingerprint cards from previous years. That Monday night brought more unrest and fingerprint cards for the harried ID techs. Cruising in caravans in San Diego and El Cajon, drag racers taunted police. About 100 people were arrested – some charged with disorderly conduct, others with weapons violations. More than 30 juveniles were picked up for curfew violations. Two days later, police arrested a printer named Herbert Sturdyvin, 20, on suspicion of conspiracy in the printing and distribution of the mimeographed fliers that police blamed for the original mass demonstration. Sturdyvin was released without having to post bail and was never charged.

The following weekend, police braced for more disorder rumored to be stirred from sympathizers coming from Los Angeles. The demonstrations failed to materialize. After the riot, new demands were heard in the community for an authorized drag strip. The San Diego City Council promised to appoint a committee to “study the possibilities.” The president of the National Hot Rod Association pledged help from his organization in getting an official strip, but insisted that enthusiasts would have to “reform” their conduct. Eventually, the campaign for a drag strip was rewarded. The San Diego Raceway opened in Ramona in 1963 and operated until it became a runway for Ramona Airport. The Carlsbad Raceway which would be called, at the time, the "Best Drag Strip in the Country," opened in 1964 and hosted drag racing until the track closed in 2004.

Richard Crawford is a local historian.

To share a comment, link to the post at:


  1. John,
    Butch Whitely was involved in the "riot" his picture was on the front page of the Tribune. He lives in Spring Valley and still has the 40 Ford Coupe he had at the time.
    Greg Boehm
    Valley Transmission

    1. Don't know how to reply to this format. I was in the riot and charged, appeared on TV and stories in the papers for my defending myself. I can be reached at

      Eric (Elwood) Miller