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« My chat with racing legend Mel Kenyon | Main | Updates to Marchbanks history »
Sunday
Mar202011

Readers share recollections of racing at Marchbanks, Hanford

Got two emails this weekend from readers with interesting observations of the track as drivers and spectators. 

First was from Bob Dayton, who shared a great story of being a Fresno State student who took a road trip in 1959 that led he and his Porsche 356B coupe to what must have been the brand new 2.5-mile Marchbanks road course. In a series of email exchanges, Dayton wrote:

"It all started at a PCA (Porsche Club of America) meeting one night to go find this 2 1/2-mile high speed racetrack, Marchbanks Stadium. Oren Crumbly wanted to test his tube frame VW & I wanted to try racing the Porsche. Ken, a possible buyer for my Porsche, and I set out for Marchbanks with Oren. ...

"... Once there, one of the workmen (maybe Marchbanks Sr. himself) let us race on the track. The banked turns were so steep you couldn't climb up to the top. ... Three of us in my car spun on turn 3 (I think) and the buyer decided to sit in the stands. So Ken and I went out and again I spun on turn 3, telling me that if I was going to race, I needed another kind of sportscar. At that point, Oren said I could ride with him (no seat) hanging on the tube frame and he got it up to @90 MPH -- I was hooked! That was pretty much the completion of our day at Marchbanks Stadium. I can still see that day as if it was yesterday.

"I went back to Fresno and traded the Porsche for a brand new Morgan +4, set it up for racing, transferred to San Jose. My roommate and I joined SCCA and signed up for drivers school (RDC). School was one weekend a month for 3 months at Vacaville Raceway. My instructors were Ernie Mendenhall, Don Wester, Frank Crane, and guest instructor Carroll Shelby ( I now have his autograph on my old Morgan windscreen). Won my first race and a weekend of racing at Cotati, Frank and I decided to race in the 4 hour enduro at Cotati. That was the day we raced against Dave McDonald's #00 Corvette (McDonald was later killed at Indy). We took first in class and 10th overall.

"As you can see, Marchbanks helped start me in a short-lived racing career, but long on memories."

Thanks for sharing a great story, Bob. 

Second is a note from Dan Ruth, who wrote:

"I attended the November 68 race and remember the following:"

"It had rained the day before and we arrived very early before sun-up and were afraid the race would not go on. It dried up and the race started with very different cars as book ends. Joe Leonard in the STP Lotus turbine on the pole and Greg Weld in a Dirt Champ car taking up the rear. The two turbines were much faster than everyone else but even with two rotors per wheel the brakes would glow all race long. Leonard's brakes would eventually fail, giving the win to Foyt, I believe.

The track was really neat for the fans as you could see the whole track. Many years later I flew over the abandoned track, '82, I think, in my friend's Cessna.

The Weld car was another great story!"

For the record, Weld started 24th in a 26-car field and finished 14th, driving a Lesovsky-Offy dirt car. Doesn't sound bad until you look deeper, and see he only finished 133 of 167 laps. And turns out he qualified at 131.386 mph, waaaaaaaaaay behind Leonard's 163.200 mph. My question: How'd Weld survive 133 laps? 

In a follow-up email, Ruth added this "sidebar":

I was sixteen in 68 and a gearhead growing up in LA and attending races at many racetracks in the Southwest with my Dad and his buddies. Dad Loved open wheel racing and we went to Ontario, Riverside, Paramount Ranch, Whiteman Stadium, Saugus, Gardena Stadium, Ascot, Corona, Speedway 605, El Cajon, El Toro, and dragstrips that are also gone like San Fernando, Irwindale, Orange County and Lions. I raced at many paved and dirt tracks in California with my favorite "3 wide racing" track being the old San Jose Speedway -- the paved 3/8th's, not the Fairgrounds track."

And finally, a request from Ruth for help in tracking down a long-lost Indy car:

"Maybe you could help me find a long lost Indy Car?

"My dad is Fred Ruth, who owned and crew chiefed a 73 McClaren with an Offy back in '78 and '79 with both Jerry Sneva and Dana Carter at the wheel. The car was rather unique as it had a body by Don Brown on it with lots of downforce. We would love to find and acquire that car.

What do you think about how to achieve that?"

I'm not a professional sleuth, Dan, so I'll pass your question along to others who might have some ideas. But I do know I get lots of racing fans and historians reading my Marchbanks stories. Perhaps one of them reading this now has an idea on how to chase down that 1973 McClaren? 


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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