Where They Raced - Turn 3
The newly-expanded guide book of Southern California motorsports venues - and a walk down memory lane.
The stories SoCal track’s beginnings, their glory days, and in many cases their untimely demise - told in clear terms with equal measures of respect and excitement.
By Doug Stokes
Fri, Jun 11, 2021 08:07 PM PST
Where They Raced Turn 3
By: Harold Osmer
...I’ve told this story many times before in conjunction with the earlier editions of this newly-expanded guide book of Southern California motorsports venues, and, if you don’t mind, I’ll (quickly) tell it again here:
As it happens, old friend and highly-respected motorsports writer/photographer Pete Lyons would, every once in a great while, take a curve in a road at a speed just a tad faster than a passenger riding with him felt comfortable with...sensing their distress, Lyons’ would always wryly explain: “Oh, sorry, it’s just that turn was part of the old circuit.” To which I’ve always said that if he had a copy of “Where We Raced” handy, he could prove his claim … hands down.
In the first iteration of this book, published twenty-five years ago*, author Harold Osmer really didn’t set to out to prove Lyons’ claim reasonable, but in chronicling the 179 auto racing venues that peppered the map of Southern California from 1903 on, he certainly has helped to make Pete’s case. This is the brightly-written and well-illustrated story of where more motor racing has taken place than anywhere else in the world, and this is the third and nicely-updated book of the same title: “Where They Raced” this is “Turn 3”.
Starting with the first motorsports event in Los Angeles in 1903 at Agricultural Park (now the site of the LA Coliseum and County Museum complex) to the very latest additions, this author tells the story of each venue in its own unique terms. How it came to be, who raced there, who won there, who lost there, and (sadly) in many cases what became of the place.
Even some of the most knowledgeable fans might well be surprised to find that there were (in total) four different race tracks in the LA area that were called “Ascot” … with none existing today.
From board tracks to Super Speedways and from tiny 1/3-mile dirt “bullrings” to through-the-city events like the Long Beach Grand Prix that draws thousands to it’s annual event that uses the city’s scenic Shoreline Drive as a curving high speed run for cars more suited to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway they’re all here, with action photos, maps, diagrams, and aerial shots to show them (and in a number cases to show where they were and what’s there now). All-in-all, here’s one hundred and forty-four pages and some three hundred and forty images that make up the crazy quilt of motorsports in car-crazy Southern California.
There are places in Southern California where streets in housing developments curve for no good reason other than the fact that they exactly pantograph the shape of the race track that had been there a decade or three before. And the street names - like “Speedway Street” in Venice, and “Speedway Drive” in the very heart of Beverly Hills (now “El Camino” as if it was named by Spanish-speaking forebears and not originally the road leading to the grand Los Angeles Speedway in 1920) - all recall their venues. Even the great circle of Corona’s Grand Boulevard still seems to quiver remembering barnstorming racers the likes of Barney Oldfield and Bob Burman and their riding mechanics blasting by at 100 miles an hour using the wide street as a “Grand Prize” race track in 1913-1916.
The stories of these track’s beginnings, their glory days, and in many cases their untimely demise, are all told in clear terms with equal measures of respect and excitement. I still think that the title really is: “Where We Raced” but that’s just me.
*It really doesn't seem like twenty-five years, but the calendar says that it is, so:
Twenty-five years ago, when I was working the PR desk at Perris Auto Speedway, I got a package that was not addressed to me. No one knew the name of the guy it had been sent to … so I got it.
It was a thesis for a Master’s degree in Geography written by a fellow out in the San Fernando Valley named Harold Osmer. The subject actually was geography but the thesis was about land use in Southern California from the turn of the century to present times in terms of the rise, reign (and fall, in many cases) of motorsports venues.
I contacted the author and told him that I thought a few hardcore racing history nutballs (like me) would probably buy a copy or two if it had more illustrations... A quarter-century later and a few thousand books sold, we're now looking at the third, expanded, amplified, and essential edition of that thesis.
About The Author
Doug has a long and wide-ranging history in the motoring business. He served five years as the Executive Director of the International Kart Federation, and was the PR guy for the Mickey Thompson's Off-Road Championship Gran Prix. He worked racing PR for both Honda and Suzuki and was a senior PR person on the first Los Angeles (Vintage) Grand Prix. He was also the first PR Manager for Perris Auto Speedway, and spent over 20 years as the VP of Communications at Irwindale Speedway. Stokes is the recipient of the American Autowriters and Broadcaster’s 2005 Chapman Award for Excellence in Public Relations and was honored in 2015 by the Motor Press Guild with their Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award. “… I’ve also been reviewing automobiles and books for over 20 years, and really enjoy my LA Car assignments.” he added.