Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Racing on Christmas Day

A couple of years ago, a friend asked if I knew of any races on Christmas Day. To the best of my knowledge NASCAR has never run a Strictly Stock, Grand National or Cup race on December 25th. Nor have I found anything to suggest other divisions such as NASCAR's sportsman/beer/insurance/cable TV series, trucks, or modifieds; ARCA; or USAC/CART/Indy Car opted to race on Christmas Day. But I finally found some information about a track bold enough to host racing on that day. 

A handful of racing facilities are held in reverence by fans. Indianapolis, Daytona, Darlington, Syracuse, Ascot Park. The first three still hold races. The latter two do not. The famed dirt Ascot Park Speedway opened in the 1950s, and the track lasted 30+ years until closing in 1990.

But J.C. Agajanian's legendary dirt track wasn't the first LA area race track known as Ascot Park. From what I can tell, the original Ascot Park raceway opened as a horse racing facility. Its debut races were held on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1903.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 24, 1903
The track was sold in 1908 with plans to convert it immediately to an auto racing facility. Though the track isn't the same Ascot Park in Gardena, the original track did host racing in the early 1900s - including more than one event on Christmas Day. The new owners initally planned to create the first Dover or Bristol by replacing the dirt surface with concrete. From what I can tell, however, this did not happen.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 2, 1908
Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 2, 1908
The new promoters wasted no time getting ready for the new direction of the track. A two-day race program was scheduled for the two days after Christmas, December 26-27, 1908. That then set the stage for a few Christmas Day races over the next few years.

A two-day race program was set for Saturday-Sunday, December 25-26, 1909. Famed speedster, Barney Oldfield, arrived in LA via train with his car having been shipped to port for him to race. Oldfield was a genuine racer who barnstormed around the country racing wherever and whoever. He was fast - and he was extremely confident. Think Kyle Busch confident.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 25, 1909
As expected, Oldfield won the Christmas Day event.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 26, 1909
Three years later, Oldfield returned to Ascot Park to race on December 26, 2014. Before doing so, however, he participated in a match race on Christmas Day at Santa Ana Race Track - against an airplane!

The race between Oldfield's Fiat Cyclone and Mickey McGuire in an airplane was one of several match races in which Oldfield participated that year from coast to coast. From what I can gather, Ol' Barn got a lot of show money to put butts in the seats.

Source: Santa Ana Register - December 17, 1914 
Source: Santa Ana Register - December 24, 1914 
Source: Santa Ana Register - December 26, 1914 
Though this photo from Wikipedia and short video clip aren't from the Santa Ana "race", they provide a good idea of the excitement that the match race surely delivered to the fans.

Wikipedia / Library of Congress
Between the Christmas Day races in 1909 and 1914, Oldfield also returned to the sands of Daytona Beach where he made a record speed run in his Lightning Benz in March 2010.

For years, the section coming out of turn 4 at Daytona International Speedway was known as Oldfield. With the new stands installed as part of the Daytona Rising project, I'm not sure sure if the section names will remain. But for ages, folks in Oldfield got the first look at the field as they rumbled out of turn 4 and down the front straightaway.

Ascot Park again hosted racing on Christmas Day 1916 - albeit without Oldfield. Though the superstar wasn't in the field - and no airplanes raced - the fans still got their thrills.

Earl Cooper, Wilbur D'Alene, and Eddie Pullen were slated to race in a 50-lap match race. Cooper won the race, and D'Alene went for a crazy ride on lap 2. Fortunately, he wasn't seriously injured. D'Alene was even able to pen an article for the LA Herald about his accident - and could even laugh about how lucky he was. However, he did decline to run #13 in the future. Hmm, a precedent to be set for almost all future racers?

From what little I've learned, D'Alene was a wild and crazy guy. Perhaps he could have held himself well against the likes of drivers such as Curtis Turner, Tiny Lund, Eddie Sachs or Jabe Thomas.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 23, 1916
Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 26, 1916
Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 26, 1916
Know about additional Christmas Day races? If so, leave a comment below, and I'll do what I can about learning more about them.


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