A lot of what I enjoy most about The GarageBlog is that anyone who enjoys automobiles whether it be late model, old school, muscle, antique cars or even the latest on luggage racks with lipstick holders, can find something for every need here. One minute we can ask ourselves what was the biggest news coming out of the Nascar circuit this year and the next we can be reading why we shouldn’t be buying a sports car from Germany. (Do they really make sports car in Germany?)
Recently I have noticed several share my appreciation for some of the history of racing right here in my own back yard so I thought I would attempt to share some of this.
There is far more automotive racing history with regards to the San Francisco Bay Area and it’s surrounding area than many realize and for the most part takes some digging to uncover. At lot of the aforementioned history had a lot to do with events that eventually gave Geneses to none other than the worlds most recognized car show (in you can call it that), the Pebble Beach ConCourse DeElegance.
Before there was the Pebble Beach ConCourse DeElegance there was the almost forgotten Pebble Beach Road Races which were held from 1950 to 1956 on the very windy roads lined with Cypress trees and started at the Pebble Beach Lodge and ran for 2 miles much of which was gravel. Things ran well until 1956 when Ernie McAfee crashed his Ferrari into a tree and that ended the Pebble Beach Road Races but then the now famous Laguna Seca was built. To better honor the tradition of the Pebble Beach Road Races the Pebble Beach concourse DeElegance was began and has been a tradition ever since.
It was during this amazing time that the San Francisco Bay Area began it’s love for all things automotive especially auto races. If you look closely at photographs form those days gone by you will notice it was customary to dress the part and suits and ties an even top hats were the dress code of the day. Thank God some time old traditions carry on. If you don’t think so just try wearing a pair of blue jeans to today’s Pebble Beach ConCourse DeElegance and see what kind of looks you get. It truly is a gala event of the highest standards and all done out of respect for the cars and their owners from eras gone by.
It was in 1952 until 1954 that San Francisco felt they could easily do what Monterey had done and so they began auto racing in San Francisco’s own Golden Gate Park. They gave it several names ranging from The Mayor’s Trophy Race, The Guardsmen’s Annual Sports Car Race and The Guardsmen Campership Road Races.
American and foreign race cars would race to raise money that made it possible for 5000 kids to summer camp with more than 115,000 spectators were in attendance. Even by today’s standards, that is a LOT of spectators considering the side of Golden Gate Park. When I asked Jerry Knuzman, the owner of the National Auto Sports Association (NASA) about this happening today he said due to safety and insurance requirements it would cost over ten million dollars just to begin thinking about it.
I’m sad to report but I do not know what ever happened to end the races in Golden Gate Park but I strongly suspect it was the same reasons that stopped The LeMans and La Carrera Panamericana during the 50’s which was too many spectators being killed due to the lack of barricades, safety barriers and poor crowd control not to mention the increased speeds of the race cars and lack of safety equipment. Speaking of safety and early race cars, here is some trivia for you… It was a Mercedes that killed more spectators in a single crash than any other auto race and that crash was one of the main reasons the Le Mans and La Carrera Panamericana we canceled for many years. Eddie Rickenbacker and Peter Henderson were the first two to wear steel helmets in a race. Most drivers never wore gloves while racing but Tommy Milton who drove for Mercedes and the first driver to win Indy twice, hurt his hands because of improper glove material and so he decided to drive barehanded but the glue oozed out of the adhesive tape on the steering wheel and stripped the skin from his palms. It is the result of stories such as many of these that resulted in much of todays safety standards and equipment that we now have in place. As a matter of fact the Snell Foundation originated because of the death of another San Francisco Bay Area racer.
Photos courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library. In the online archive, there are some incredible automotive memories ranging from motorsports to car dealerships in the Twenties. Some very cool stuff indeed!