Vaca Valley Raceway -- 4

(1-4-2005)   Website contributor David Braun did some research on the Raceway: 

"The original owner's name was Durham Jones, presumably deceased. The plant was leased to Bill Taggart and Jim McCombe from 1968 to November, 1972. McCombe posted something on a racing forum last month, so perhaps he can be tracked down. There is also mention of a "Pat Patterson," but I can't tell if he was involved directly with the track or was a NHRA supervising official.

One site lists the oval as 1.0 miles (but see below) and the road course as 2.1 miles. 

In addition to racing, the track was available for testing purposes and none other than Kellison (!) used the track to test his cars.  That was a bit of a surprise to me..... the Kellison plant was in Lincoln, and I had assumed he used the local airport.  So, among other things, time to track down a Kellison expert. 

Now, more recent postings on the SCCA-San Francisco website show that up to a year back, they had been looking at the property, mentioning it still had a "valid use permit," but that the property owner wanted $3,094,000 for "5 parcels" of land, I'm guessing which included the entire race plant. SCCA voted to drop the project citing lack of funds. 

One thing I've thought about off and on was whether this place was built on an airstrip (when you look at the front straightaway, it almost looks like a landing field). I found a website dealing with abandoned airfields in California (Dann, I note your name is very prominently mentioned), but I found no indication this particular piece of land ever had a landing strip.

I found some websites having old racing programs, one showed a cover only (shown below, it's rather nicely-done), but another showed the entire program, and the 'big time" SCCA names which jumped out at me were mind boggling, starting with Dave McDonald and his "00" Corvette. 

So, is Vaca Valley Raceway just some local venue? Nope, from what I now see, this was a Big Deal and Big Time Racing.

Finally, when did it get started? Read the newspaper article below, July 5, 1958 was opening day----I wish I could have been there.  Note the claim this was the first plant in the nation to incorporate an oval, a road race course and a drag strip, all in an obvious attempt to attract as many different types of racing, including motorcycles, as possible, rather than being just a single or dual-use facility.

So, now we got some names, start and end dates, but there would still be a lot of slogging in the future to fill in dozens and dozens of blanks.

Hum, "only" $3,094,000 and I can have my very own historic race course." 

The Reporter, June 13, 1958:   Vaca Valley Raceways opens for first event

"July 5 will mark the opening of the new one-half million dollar Vaca Valley Raceways when the San Francisco Region of the Sports Car Club of America will sanction two days of sports car road races on Saturday and Sunday during the coming Fourth of July weekend. 

This new racing facility, located on a 200-acre site three miles east of the Nut Tree restaurant off Highway 40 near Vacaville, is the second track in the state to be built for sports car racing, Laguna Seca being the first. 

Now under construction by Syar and Harms of Sacramento, the raceway is the first in the nation to incorporate a mile and a quarter oval, a 4,500 foot drag strip and a sports car road track. Indianapolis type cars, sprint cars, midgets, dragsters, and sports cars, will compete at this new western race center. 

Unique in design the sports car section features a three-quarter mile straightaway followed by a 1,000 foot diameter banked turn, then into a 185 degree horseshoe curve. A series of six additional turns with varied straightaways will complete the 2.1 mile course. 

The sports car track was designed in cooperation with the Sports Car Club of America for maximum driver and spectator safety. According to Harry Burdg, of Vacaville, general manager, this will not only be the safest but the fastest track in the nation and he expects 30,000 fans to bear him witness come July 5 and 6. 

Parking for over 15,000 cars, sanitary facilities, concession areas, and grandstand seating, a rarity of sports car race enthusiasts will assure spectator comfort during the two day event." 

(3-16-09)    From Royce Ratterman  (Grua, Norway):      Owner - Sept. 7, 1956

"Thought you may be interested in the second Vacaville Reporter Newspaper article (you already have the first posted).

Durham Jones was my Great-Uncle, married to my maternal grandmother's sister. My dad is actually the original owner with Harry Burdg. He gave his portion back to 'Uncle Durham' after some time had passed (and track deaths) since uncle Durham was the one who gave him and my mom $50,000 for a belated wedding gift to do the investments. Uncle Durham inherited $9 million in 1950 I was always told as a kid.

Some man named Cavanaugh from Concord was one of the last newpaper articles in my dad's scrapbook. Cavanaugh (spelling?) was killed in his home-made racecar at Vaca Valley."

The Reporter, Sept. 7, 1956:      300 race at track's opening!

"To the delight of several thousands of spectators who bronzed under the sun most of the day, more than 300 of the hottest hotrodders in California and Nevada turned out last Monday to inaugurate the Northern California Drag Strip, six miles northeast of Vacaville.

The success of the venture, the product of owners Royce Ratterman and Harry Burdg, points to the certainty that drag racing is here to stay.

No accurate count was taken of the number of spectators who witnessed the events during the day, but state drag racing officials pronounced it one of the largest turnouts for drag racing in Northern California.

Shortly after 1 p.m. Vacaville Mayor Albert Porter cut the ribbon of the strip to signal the start of elimination runs."

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