Forgotten racetracks, depiping the organ, and drought. Off-Ramp for Feb. 8, 2014

'Where They Raced' — New doc tells LA's forgotten auto racing history

LAPL/Security Pacific National Bank Collection

A racer identified only as "Al" poses behind the wheel of his racer at the Corona auto race in this undated photo.

"Where They raced" director Harry Pallenberg in El Sereno, pointing to the former location of the Legion Ascot racetrack.

John Rabe

"Where They Raced" director Harry Pallenberg in El Sereno, pointing to the former location of the Legion Ascot racetrack.

Where They Raced

Rick Rawlins and Harold Osmer at the site of the former Legion Ascot racetrack with the Ed Winfield Ford that terrorized the current neighrbohood.

LA Public Library

1924 "aerial view of the Culver City Speedway, which was in existence as an auto racing venue from December 14, 1924, until March 6, 1927. The large, gray, slanted structure on the left of the racetrack is the grandstand, and another one appears to be directly across on the other side. Hundreds of homes are visible past the racetrack, scattered throughout the city."

LAPL/Herald-Examiner Collection

Auto races at Beverly Hills track in 1921.

Where They Raced

"Where They Raced" author and documentary host Harold Osmer and Brian Blain in a 1911 National in Santa Monica.

LA Public Library

c1930 "view of a Corona auto race. Corona was known as the "Circle City" in the early part of the 20th century for its Grand Blvd., which forms a perfect circle and which was used for auto racing until the dangers of street racing resulted in its discontinuance."

Where They Raced

Gary Wales and Harry Pallenberg and a 1913 Fiat in Santa Monica.


Did you know 100,000 people showed up for a car race in Southern California … in 1913? And that Santa Monica – home today of the Prius and the pedestrian mall — might owe its existence to auto racing? Those are just two revelations in a new documentary called "Where They Raced," directed by Harry Pallenberg and based on the book of the same name by Harold Osmer, who hosts the film.

Auto racing and Los Angeles grew up together, shaped each other. Once, there were racetracks across the region, until humans pushed them out because of the noise and the crowds or, as in the case of Beverly Hills, the land became too valuable to use for racing.

Pallenberg is a minivan driver who says he didn't know any of this until he worked on an episode of "California's Gold" with the late, great Huell Howser that featured a segment on the Corona race, "and I was just blown away that 100,000 people would come out to a racetrack at 1913. That's, you know, like 20 percent of the population of the area showing up to an event."

Pallenberg says the city of Santa Monica used car racing to publicize itself nationally and to draw enough business and residents to bring in the tax revenue that would let it fight off incorporation attempts by the city of Los Angeles.

One of the beauties of "Where They Raced" is that it takes you to the sites of the various defunct racetracks — Exposition Park, Legion Ascot in El Sereno, a board track in Beverly Hills, to name a few — and shows you the traces of the old tracks. And in many cases, they do it with an antique car that actually raced there. You get to sit in the driver's seat and you can almost feel the wind in your hair and the motor oil blowing into your eyes.

Listen to our interview with Harry Pallenberg for much more on our shared history with auto racing.

"Where They Raced" has two LA screenings this month:

  • Sunday, Feb. 9, 1 p.m., at the  Automobile Driving Museum, where they'll give you a ride in a vintage car. Free screening and popcorn, with a $5 suggested donation. 610 Lairport Street, El Segundo, CA 90245, (310) 909-0950.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m., at  The Petersen Automotive Museum, where they'll be showing off several vintage race cars starting at 6pm. RSVP via 323-964-6370 or sscott@petersen.org. 6060 Wilshire Blvd. LA CA 90036, 323-930-CARS.

 

CORRECTION: In our audio interview, Harry Pallenberg gave the wrong dates for the Santa Monica races. They were held from 1909-1919, not 1913-1919.


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