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« Details of 1957 death at Marchbanks | Main | My interview with Gary Marchbanks »
Wednesday
Jan262011

My interview with Tommy Trader

This 1953 photo shows a third-ile oval within a half-mile oval, and a windy infield section between turns 2 and 3 that created a five-eighths-mile road course. The empty area in the infield below the trandstands was a rodeo arena that also hosted demolition derbies. (Photo courtesy of Tommy Trader).I had the pleasure of talking Monday with Tommy Trader, a Hanford car salesman also known as one of the more successful drivers to race at Marchbanks Speedway. 

Trader was a big name in Central California tracks in the mid-1950s and helped me fill in some blanks I've had about the track during that period between NASCAR dates in 1951 and 1960-61 and leading up to the transformation from dirt-clay tracks into a paved tri-oval superspeedway. 

Trader let me borrow a bunch of wonderful old newspaper clippings and personal photos, two of which I've posted here. 

The 1953 aerial photo of the track shows the third-mile oval inside the half-mile oval, as well as a rodeo arena and what the back of the photo describes as a road course (note the oddly white surface). Destruction derby races also were held in the rodeo ground area in front of the grandstands. 

I'll post more later when I update the main track history story but here are some highlights of my conversation with a gregarious gentleman nearing 80 years old who is filled with great stories:

  • "All the guys liked the race track. It was a helluva race track. We raced out there weekly. It didn't cost much to race in those days. We had a lot of fun and picked up a couple dollars." 
  • Crowds were sizable for those weekly shows. "It was a small town back then but we'd get a thousand, 1,200 people out there."
  • "It was a tricky track. It made for a good show. We ran midgets on the third-mile. It was good, two different corners." 
  • Tommy Trader and friends in front of his No. 13 racer at Marchbanks Speedway in 1953: From left: Eddie Landis, Trader, Ray Mello and Frank OkadaTrader recalls winning a season opener at the track, but isn't sure whether it was 1952 or 1953. He drove jalopies at Marchbanks, and at tracks in towns like Selma, Visalia, Chowchilla, Clovis and Bakersfield. Trader said jalopies were the popular race cars at Marchbanks during that period, but "there would be a split show with hardtops once in awhile."
  • Trader said he began driving midgets in 1954. "The hardtops kept going but the jalopies just about quit altogether." 
  • Trader flouted racing superstitions of the day, running No. 13, and with a skull and snake eyes painted on the door panels. 
  • Trader recalls track owner B.L. Marchbanks hosting a rodeo and car race the same day, and asking Trader to ride a bull. Trader, who had no experience riding bulls, spins a funny tale of talking his way out of Marchbanks' request (long story short: A scared Trader told Marchbanks "my wife won't let me do it"). 
  • Marchbanks was religious, Trader said, so it was a few years before the track sold beer. Trader said Marchbanks positioned the beer stand on the other side of the Turn 1 wall. "You never knew if a car was going to come over the wall. It was more dangerous getting beer than driving." 
  • Track officials were known to drink a bit on the job. Trader recalls officials sneaking their own vodka into flavored sno cones sold at the concession stand. "By the main event, they were drunk," Trader said, laughing. 
  • Of B.L.'s later track renovations, Trader said, "When Old Man Marchbanks went big time, he never made any money." 
  • Of the last incarnation of the track, a renovated tri-oval that hosted USAC Champ Cars from 1967-69: "The IndyCar guys loved that track," said Trader, friends with a number of Indy drivers of the day. 
  • Of B.L.'s son Bonnie, Trader said, "Bonnie could do anything. I don't think he had much formal training but he could sure figure stuff out." 

RELATED STORIES: Read more about Marchbanks Speedway and Hanford Motor Speedway in my Marchbanks section, including the regularly updated "History of Marchbanks Speedway, aka Hanford Motor Speedway."

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