The rise and fall and rise again of auto racing and its impact on the urban landscape of Southern California
While working on a graduate thesis on the non-stimulating topic of “Geography, Land Use Planning,” author Harold Osmer dug into a far more exciting topic: land used for auto racing in Southern California.
In the third revision of his book “Where They Raced Turn 3,” Osmer lays down the groundwork for his claim that “more automobile racing has taken place in Southern California than any other area of the world.”
In his thesis research, the academic question was, he said in the book, “Where and when were race tracks located and what effect did they have on future land use?”
The results of his initial thesis became “Where They Raced,” published in 1996. The updated version, “Where They Raced LAP2,” came out in 2000.
Finding new details
While history has not changed, Osmer has learned much and tapped the Internet for details not easily unearthed since “LAP2.” And those additions are chronicled in “Turn 3.”
His three books have always been about the geography of SoCal auto racing instead of the personalities and technological aspects of motorsports.
By his definition, Southern California reaches north to include Bakersfield and Ventura, south to San Diego, and east to the state line.
Racing venues were established in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. San Diego County had several tracks, including on the grounds of what is now Sea World. And there was racing on the grounds of Television City in Los Angeles. And L.A. had four very different tracks by the name of Ascot.
“Chances are good that there was an auto-racing venue within a few miles of wherever you are in Southern California,” Osmer wrote. And that is true of my experience in San Diego.
Point Loma Road Race
I live just off what was the route for the Point Loma Road Race of 1915. It was one of the opening events for the 1915 Panama California Exposition. The 5.9-mile-long race circuit had dramatic elevation changes, a few tight curves, and a 2-mile flat straightaway on dirt roads, Osmer wrote.
“Racers went along Rosecrans Street to Chatsworth Boulevard then down along Canon Street back to Rosecrans on what reporters dubbed a ‘legless horse’ pattern. Drivers circled the course 51 times for a total distance of 305 miles on January 9, 1915.”
Today as I drive along Chatsworth or Canon, I try to relive the scene. The big Stutzes, Mercers, Peugeots, or Duesenbergs being arm-wrestled into a powerslide through the rutted dirt turns and the occasional decreasing radius. The engines poured out exhaust smoke and the dirt track churned up billows of dust.
That was the final actual road race held in San Diego, Osmer wrote. And it would be another 15 years before professional automobile racing would return.
Race venues in Southern California
“Where They Raced Turn 3” chronicles road-race courses, dirt-track speedways, small and oval racing venues, and drag racing.
Osmer tells a good story with much input from knowledgeable sources. The black-and-white images, 340 of them, are compelling to see and truly define the blood sport that is motor racing.
The book is a vibrant recount and revitalization of historical motor racing locations.
Southern California impact
“This book is less about who and what raced in favor of the when and where they raced,” Osmer wrote. “Chances are good that there was an auto-racing venue within a few miles of wherever you are in Southern California.
“Look around, and listen for the echoes of the motors and the cheers from the fans.”Read more