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Flagstaff’s Fast Car Race

10-29-times-past

The Eighth Annual Fast Car Race, sponsored by the Mark A. Moore American Legion Post, attracted West Coast driving sensations such as Bud Rose, Rajo Jack, Wally Schock, Earl Evans and Shorty Ellysen. They brought cars usually seen only in the bigger city races, hoping they could set new speed records on the fast Flagstaff track.

Rajo showed up with a Miller special, No. 33, Shorty drove a Paramount special and Bud Rose drove a Riverside special, No. 2. Bud Rose had set the track record the previous year at 26.5 seconds for the half mile, but in 1939 he was preparing to face a “mystery car, No. 57, Fitoil special,” driven by a driver not yet announced in the listings.

The American Legion ran a local jalopy race a couple of weeks before the big event, to pump up community interest. It was a $50 claim race in which local drivers and their vintage cars gave the crowd plenty of chills and spills. Race rules required that cars had to have been built between 1921 and 1931 and had to have been modified by removing all glass (for safety) tops, bumpers, spare tires and even seat cushions. No modifying of the engine or tinkering with the fuel was allowed, however.

The jalopy race that year was won by Jack Kring, a mechanic for the E.D. Babbitt Ford, in a 1928 Buick. He won by virtue of finishing the 100-lap race, after a crash and pile-up on lap 65 reduced the field from 24 starters to 13. It was reported that “one car skidded in the rodeo shuts (sic) on the east side of the track, then swerved across the track and through the fence on the west side. Dust was so thick, the drivers could not see what they were running into, and the spectators could only hear the loud impacts as car after car ran into the tangled mess”

So it was staying power and luck, not speed that won the day.

Following the accident, race officials had to clean up and rebuild the track for the upcoming fast car race on August 20. The Indy-style cars raced that day at a record-setting pace. The main event was won by local favorite Wally Schock of San Gabriel, California, who blew by Bud Rose in the last straight-of-way of a three-lap race. Schock also took the flag in the 10-lap race. Rose, however, won the 25-lap event.

Local boys worked in Schock’s pit area, having made friends with the driver in years past.

The crowd was pleased with the action of the day. A Mrs. Wong June Jr. even won a 20-inch model race car with an engine purported to go 80 miles an hour.

The race committee chairman, Frank Christensen, was praised for an excellent effort, even as he conducted business from a hospital bed while recovering from a fractured skull sustained when a radiator dropped on him during unloading.

Today, the area of the once grand speedway now is part of the city of Flagstaff’s Thorpe Park, west of downtown. The grandstand is gone, replaced by several ball fields used by adult softball leagues in the summer.

— Photo courtesy Cline Library, Northern Arizona University, Fronske Collection; research by Joan Brundige-Baker. ©Arizona Capitol Times.

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