Book Review by Richard Parks, Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz
Harold L. Osmer was a student and chose to do research on a subject that had been neglected, the old auto racing tracks and sites in Southern California. His paper helped him achieve his Masters Degree and it gave racing fans a historical overview of the rich history of our past. The one complaint in this marvelous book is that it is so short. Everything about the book, Where They Raced; Auto racing venues in Los Angeles, 1900-1990, is of the highest quality in research and writing. Osmer has located the original sites of these auto racing tracks and has given us a taste of what racing was like from the earliest days of automotive racing. The photos, maps and diagrams are amazing and the text is interesting. The book measures 11 inches long by 8 ½ inches high and is in a paperback format. The paper is thick white matte bond and has an interesting front and rear cover. It is 64 pages long but has an amazing amount of information and should be read as a history and trivia book for the true racing fan. There are 4 color photos, one color drawing, two black and white drawings, 66 black and white photos, 16 maps, one Ad and 2 black and white programs of the era. There is a short preface by the author and a fine Table of Contents. In addition there is a List of Figures, which is an indices of the photos. There are five chapters and a selected bibliography in the back of the book, which is short but informative. Osmer includes an interesting series of appendices, which the reader may want to study as it gives all sorts of data that a true racing fan would enjoy. But surprisingly for such a well-written book, the author did not include an index of names and subjects. The subject index at the beginning of the book does not suffice for having an index at the rear that lists all the people and places mentioned in the book. Indexes of people/place names are often overlooked. For the short time it takes to do this clerical task the benefits and rewards to the serious reader are well worthwhile. Yet authors make this oversight far too often. The superior writer will never overlook a name/place index.
Nevertheless, this is a remarkable book and one worth adding to your library. Chapter One is titled Introduction and gives a short historical overview of early day racing in Southern California, especially in the Los Angeles area. Chapter Two is called Road Race Courses and shows us some of the fascinating early races. The first was the Pasadena/Altadena Hill Climb of 1906. Also mentioned are the Corona Road Race, the Santa Monica Road Race and the Venice Grand Prix. There were all held before and around World War I. Chapter Three is named Board Track Speedways and tells of these special types of race courses that were constructed of lumber, which was cheaper in those days to build than were graded and paved oval tracks. Sixteen board tracks were built in the East and 8 along the Pacific Rim states. Board tracks were as short as a half mile and as long as two miles and their smooth steep banked tracks gave lots of thrills and chills. The first board track was built in 1910 at Playa Del Rey in Venice, California and the last board track was built in 1928 at Woodbridge, New Jersey. They attracted huge audiences for the day but maintenance, age, development and changing tastes doomed them after two decades of marvelous excitement. The aerial photos and maps bring back an earlier day. Chapter Four is titled Small Ovals and describes the many oval race tracks built out of dirt, clay and paved surfaces in the Southern California area. Six tracks are detailed; Ascot Park, Legion Ascot, Gilmore Stadium, Carrell Speedway, Gardena Speedway and Ascot Park. Mines Field is briefly mentioned. The first track opened in 1904 and the last track closed in 1990. New racing venues have opened up since then but are not discussed in this book.
Ascot Park is the oldest, having been built in 1904 and was near USC, the boundaries being South Park, Century and Slauson Avenues. It began as a horseracing track and gradually the cars began to race there as well. The stands were covered and looked very much like the Kentucky Derby. Legion Ascot was built in 1924 and earned its name by the promoters, which was the American Legion Post 127. The Legion ran the track in an effort to bring organized and sanctioned racing to the area. The racecourse proved too fast for the cars of the day and after two dozens racing deaths on the track, the public outcry became too much and the track was closed. Some of the most famous race drivers of the 1920’s and ‘30’s raced on this grand course and the road course that was adjacent to the track. Legion Ascot was between Soto, Eastern and Valley Blvd. Mines Field was a B shaped road-racing course that was extremely popular with the public during the Great Depression. It was located just east of the Los Angeles Airport and was especially popular with track roadsters and stock car racing. Gilmore Stadium was built in 1934 at the corners of Beverly Blvd and Fairfax Avenue. The oval racecourse attracted the best Midget racers in the country. It was probably the finest racetrack ever designed and built but its last race was held in 1950 and then the valuable land became part of the CBS facility. Carrell Speedway also had a short but famous run. It was built in 1940 and closed in 1954. Carrell was located near Vermont Avenue and Artesia Blvd in the city of Gardena, California.
Gardena Speedway, which many call Western Speedway, opened the year that Carrell closed. It was located between Rosecrans and Western Avenues in the city of Gardena. Jalopies, Midgets and stock car racing used this track. Ascot Park opened in 1957 and was the last of the old tracks to close in 1990. Ascot Park is just a short walk from the older Carrell Speedway. Ascot Park was managed by J. C. Agajanian and his family. Other races courses mentioned were Saugus (Bonelli) Speedway, Los Angeles Coliseum, Culver City Speedway, Huntington Beach Legion Speedway, Ontario and Riverside. Chapter Five is named Conclusion and Osmer explains why the tracks finally were closed due to land development, the same factor that closes modern tracks. The Bibliography follows and gives ten books worth checking out at the library for some heavy reading on the subject. The Appendices gives some very valuable and interesting information on who won various races at the major tracks. Osmer also lists the tracks known to have existed in the area, the size of the facilities and the dates they opened and closed. He lists the number of oval, drag and road courses by state with California having the most oval and drag racing and road racing facilities in the nation. Where They Raced; Auto racing venues in Los Angeles, 1900-1990 is a fine little addition to your library. You can purchase this and other books by Harold Osmer at Autobooks/Aerobooks at 1-818-845-0707.
Gone Racin’ is at RNPARKS2@JUNO.COM