Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Racing At Pomona

"Along For The Ride" blog follower and contributor, Marty Goldsmith has done a special piece along with photos to share. Enjoy!

In the 1950's, the venue we now call Fairplex was called the LA County Fairgrounds, but to auto buffs it was simply Pomona. I don't know when the track was first laid out on the huge parking lot at the north end of the property, but the first weekend sports car race meet was conducted in June 1956. It was sponsored by the California Sports Car Club, the large independent race club. Among the drivers were Ken Miles (Porsche Spyder), Richie Ginther (Porsche Spyder), Bill Murphy (Kurtis-Buick), Chuck Daigh (Troutman-Barnes), John von Neumann, Harrison Evans, Bob Drake (Ferraris), Bill Krause, and Jerry Austin (D-Jaguars).

The Cal Club went on to sponsor seven more weekends in the 50's, all club races. The biggest sports car event at Pomona was the Examiner Grand Prix, in March 1959. While the Cal Club was not the sponsor, it provided all the workers. Another unusual event was the Cal Club's six hour enduro in November 1958. It started at 2PM on Saturday and finished at 8PM after about three hours running on headlights. Ken Miles did not drive his customary Spyder in the event, but won with Carlyle Blackwell in a Jaguar D-type. The next day he reverted to form, however, winning the main event in the Porsche.

The only unusual visual feature of the track was the tunnel, actually an overpass to permit entry to the infield. Other than that it was a pretty flat course set off by hay bales for the protection of drivers and spectators. Production cars frequently got into difficulty in some corners, and even the big dogs got decorated with hay now and again. MG's seem to have a lot of trouble at many meets staying right side up, and Pomona was no exception.

It was not uncommon to see Corvettes and Jaguars spin, but somehow they always seemed to stay upright. The photo below was taken from the overpass as two Corvettes hang it out.

In the following photo, notice the large pylons that were used to mark the course.

As you can see in the next photo, Pomona drew large crowds.

After a slippery dance, even a big Ferrari might eat some hay. These photos were taken in the July '57 event.

Races then always employed a standing start and it could get quite exciting for the starter when someone in an up-front row killed his engine. You can ask me how I know! John von Neumann won the big bore race whose start is shown. Ken Miles had just won the small bore (under 1500cc) race.

Speaking of Ken Miles, in the next photo he is shown heading under the overpass in his 550 Spyder.

Even Ken would hang the back out as shown as he exits from under the overpass. These two photos were during the October '57 meet.

While cars slid this way and that on occasion, it was really a pretty safe track, with almost nothing solid to hit, except for the tunnel. Safety was much more casual in those days - roll bars were not required, most cars were open, the helmets were primitive, seat belts were mostly surplus Air Force lap belts, and your driving suit was whatever clothes you were comfortable in. But all life seemed to be simpler in the 50's.

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  1. I think #65 is an Ermini, not a Ferrari.
    Cliff Reuter

  2. I just came across your blog today. Lots of good information here, I plan on coming back regularly.

    Racing Forums

  3. Glad I found your site, I would greatly appreciate any race car or race story regarding my stepfather Paul Cunningham who started driving a Austin Healey Bug eye sprite, usually #37 0r close variant. He drove many different cars and was eventually killed at Willow Springs in November of 1963 while driving our "privateer" 289 Cobra. I will enjoy anything you can share. Mike Heineke michael@heinekegroup.com

  4. #65 looks like a Panhard H-Mod with a Devin fiberglass body. The Devin body was copied from an Ermini. The wheels on the Panhard are unique. Ferraris all had wire wheels back in these days.

    I disagree with the comment that Pomona was safe. You go off the track and you hit gravel on asphalt. The things to hit were the row of trees on the back straight and if you missed them you hit spectators. Several bad accidents with spectators caused insurance rates to skyrocket and Pomona to never be used for sports car racing again. Lap average speeds at Pomona were higher than Riverside.