Bonelli Stadium 1945-1946 Photo Annual, 32 pages plus cover. Includes history of midget automobile racing, biographical sketches of past and present drivers and
race officials, the program for the Bonelli Finale of November 25, 1945, and the roster for the 1945 Pacific Coast Championship Race at Bonelli Stadium on Sunday, December 16, 1945.
Midget automobile racing, from its inception 31 years ago, has experienced a year-to-year increase in public acceptance unparalleled in the sports history of America. From a beginning in 1914, which found pioneers racing in the streets of Los Angeles and surrounding communities for prizes collected in hat-passing operations, to the year 1941, when small-car racing outdrew big-league baseball, the history of midget racing has been one of constant improvement in equipment, driving skill, and quality of competition.
Today, midget automobile racing draws more paid admissions than any other sport in America.
An Abbreviated History of Midget Automobile Racing
By Bob Moore
Announcer and Publicity Representative for Ware and Crosley (Bonelli Stadium racing management)
The first bona-fide midget race meets of which records are now available were held at the original Ascot Race Grounds, 61st Street and Slauson Avenue, Los Angeles, in April of 1914.
Alexander Pabst, whom many fans remember as a big-car driver in later years at Southern Ascot Speedway, was one of the pioneers of the sport. His first car, frame and body of wood, was built up from an entry he had raced in a recent "soap box derby." His second car, of metal construction, powered by a two-cylindered, air-cooled Flying Merkel motorcycle engine, was patterned after Earl Cooper's world famous Stutz racer, and named the Stutz Jr., No. 8. Pabst, 16 years old in 1914, built the car from his own plans, then proceeded to win everything in sight with it. With a wheelbase of 60 inches, tread of 36, the little car, which might well be termed the fore-runner of racing equipment like Billy Vukovich's No. 57, weighed only 300 pounds. To win the Vanderbilt cup on April 26th, 1914, young Pabst raced his mighty little No. 8 around the one-mile dirt horse track fifteen times in 24 min: 47 Secs. On the next day, Alex won the Grand Prix Cup when he finished the 25-mile event ahead of the five other entries in 34 mins: flat. His average time for the race was a little better than 44 miles per hour, with one lap clocked at 51 m.p.h.
From that point, Alex joined forces with the owners of five other midgets and went on a tour which found them racing at the San Francisco World's Fair in 1915, at the San Diego World's Fair in 1916, and at various state and county fairs in the United States and Canada. The close of this era of midge racing was marked by a tour of Japan, just before the outbreak of World War I.
There is one more item of interest regarding young Alexander Pabst and his little No. 8: On Christmas day, 1916, Barney Oldfield established a track record on the one-mile dirt oval at Bakersfield Fair Grounds. He drove fifteen laps in 11 mins: 68 secs. [sic; 11 minutes. 0:68 seconds?], with one mile clocked at 58:68 secs. One week later, on New Year's Day, 1916 [sic], Alexander Pabst drove his midget No. 8 twenty-five miles on the same track in 20:23:00 minutes, for an average of approximately 70 miles per hour. His fastest single lap was 56:04 secs. With that lap, he cut 2:65 secs. from the mighty Oldfield's big-car, one-lap track record.
The eclipse of midget automobile racing, engendered by American entry into World War I, endured for 16 years. There were "exhibition" races for the little cars, but nowhere was there to be found any real competition among the few that were available. Finally, in 1933, an organization was formed by Dominic Distarce to race the few existing midgets, and Loyola Stadium, in Los Angeles, became the first site for midget racing as an individual sport. In caught on as nothing in the sports field ever had. The line-up of drivers for the first event, to which admission was free, included Curly Mills, Ken Brenneman, Hap Woodman, Charles Baker, Gordon Link, Speedy Lockwood, Whitey Thueson, Pat Warren, Bill betteridge, and Leo Faulkner. With no fanfare, a crowd of 700 curious people came to watch this affair, and stayed to become the nucleus of today's more than 8,000,000 dyed-in-the-wool fans. Perhaps a dozen races were run at Loyola after that auspicious beginning, then the meets were transferred to Motor Speedway, at Long Beach and Artesia Blvds. The first cars were powered by Saxon, Grant, Henderson, and similar small motors capable of being rebuilt to turn the high revolutions needed to power the little cars. One exception to the employment of small automobile or motorcycle engines to power the midgets, was the use of an outboard engine by Billy Betteridge. Billy's outboard-powered midget, the first one in history, won for him his first main event on Feb. 8, 1934, with Hap Woodman, in a four cylinder front-wheel drive Henderson, Hank Robers in a Grant, and Pat Warren in a motorcycle-powered car, trailing in that order. At Loyola, Betteridge won his first trophy helmet by taking seven trophy dashes in a row. On March 15, he took the lead in point standings, and did not lose it for the season. He was crowned National Midget Association Champion in the year 1934. Bill's 1935 season was almost as successful, although competition was made tougher by the advent of the Offenhausers. However, he was barely nosed out of the championship by Offie-driving Bob Swanson. In 1936, Betteridge stayed with the N.M.A., competing at Atlantic, McLaughlin, Santa Monica, and Fresno tracks, and won his second championship, still with his little outboard. Betteridge had a good start in the 1937 season when he lost his life at Atlantic Speedway on June 8th of that year.
In 1934, Fred Offenhauser had built the first motor specifically designed for midget racing, and it won its initial race at the Pomona County Fair Grounds, to the gratification of its designer, driver Curly Mills, and owner Earl Gilmore. Much taken by the sport, Gilmore built a plant in Los Angeles for racing midgets and motorcycles, and from the day of its opening the success of small-car racing was assured. Early in 1935, Carl Bigsby, at the urging of his famous motorcycle-racing brother, P.A. Bigsby, built another race plant at Atlantic and Bandidi, in Los Angeles, which operated with great success until World War II, when it was razed by the Navy to make way for war-needed buildings.
One of the ten men who drove the original race at Loyola Stadium, three have given their lives to the sport. Speedy Lockwood died from injuries he received at Gillmore Stadium, the night of Feb. 28, 1935. Billy Betteridge died in a three-car tangle at Atlantic Stadium, Jun 8, 1937, and Curly Mills succumbed to injuries he received at Madison Square Gardens Long Island Bowl, on the night of Aug. 19, 1937.
Reports available on some of the other men are somewhat vague. According to latest information, Ken Brenneman is living in San Francisco, Hap Woodman in Los Angeles, Charles Baker is running the Short Track Auto Racing Assn. in northern California, Leo Faulkner is in Los Angeles and occasionally drives a race. Whitey Thueson is a machinist in Los Angeles, Pat Warren owns a machine shop in Downey, and Gordon Link is Chief Scorer for the United Racing Association.
Much has been said about the relative merits of various types of racing equipment, and a great many more words will be wasted before the last midget meet fades from the memory of a race-minded America. However, there is one thing that is certain, and it is being subscribed to by more fans every day. Speed, alone, does not necessarily spell entertainment to midget auto race patrons. The factor of competition must be present as the chief element of any good race meet. Without it, races are too often no more interesting than qualifying laps. The question of whether one kind of equipment can turn a quarter-mile track a few hundredths of a second faster than another is today or no real importance to fans, because, in the past few years, they have become aware that only at Indianapolis will they see super-fast race cars. The limitations of a short track preclude the possibility of speed much in excess of 80 m.p.h., even in the specially designed, highest-priced cars. The racing public's recognition of this fact has done more to further midget racing than any other single factor. Today, a man with less than $2,000.00 to invest, can own a race car that will compete favorably with 90% of the cars in existence, and that fact is responsible for the quantities of good racing equipment now available for regular weekly shows.
It took a group of pioneers, referred to at the time as "outlaws," to demonstrate that fans will willingly pay their money to see real racing, more willingly, in fact, than they would support exhibitions of speed alone. Out of that so-called "outlaw" group has grown an organization which includes the owners and drivers of all midget race cars in Southern California, which sanctions all the races at all the tracks in this part of the country. As a coalition of the California branch of Three-A and the U.M.A., the newly organized United Racing Association brings under one banner all the owners and drivers who, for four years before the war, were at cross-purposes with one another. The result is a brand of racing never before witnessed, and an end to the interminable arguments of what this driver in one group would do to that driver of the other if they ever ran on the same track. Today midget racing, with purses of thousands of dollars at every meet, is approaching a degree of perfection in competition and in actual down-to-earth entertainment that Alexander Pabst and his running mates would have held impossible on that day in April 1914 when they passes the hat for their purse at old Ascot Race Grounds in Los Angeles.
PAST CHAMPIONS (Pictured)
Sam Hanks, 1937 Pacific Coast Three-A Champion
Fred Friday, 1938 Pacific Coast Three-A Champion
Gib Lilley, 1938 Pacific Coast U.M.A. Champion
Don Farmer, 1939 Pacific Coast U.M.A. Champion
Bob Swanson, 1939 Pacific Coast Three-A Champion
Roy Russing, 1940-41 Pacific Coast Three-A Champion
Bill Brereton, 1940 Pacific Coast U.M.A. Champion
Walt Faulkner, 1941 Pacific Coast U.M.A. Champion
Johnny Parsons, 1942 Pacific Coast U.M.A. Champion
Danny Oakes & Johnny MacDowell (leaders when the war halted racing at Gilmore in July 1942)
Billy Vukovich, 1945 Pacific Coast Champion
UNITED RACING ASSOCIATION DRIVERS (Pictured)
OFFICIALS OF THE UNITED RACING ASSOCIATION (Pictured)
E.A. Turner, President
Ray Lavely, Business Manager and Referee
Harry Secrest, Official Starter
Herb Koenig, Pit Manager and Steward
The Men Behind the Races at Bonelli Stadium (Pictured)
Bob Ware, co-manager of Bonelli Stadium, has an impressive record in the auto-race field. He drove his first race car at the age of 16, went on to compete in big cars and midgets, of which he was a pioneer, till 1940, when he retired after a serious crack-up on July 4th, at Colton. Bob, a native of Arkansas, 45 years old, is now in the insurance business in Long Beach with Dave Crosley. The two also own and operate La Pimienta Café in Belmont Shore.
Wm. G. Bonelli. The owner of the Stadium, Bill Bonelli has proved himself a real sportsman. Basically a horseman, and an admirer of rodeo entertainment, he pitched in to make midget racing not only possible, but safe and competitive at his place. He spent literally thousands of dollars to build up the fast running-surface of the track, and to install a crash-wall its entire length. No owner of a race-plant anywhere in the country givers more consideration to the factor of safety for the men who risk their lives every time they compete. His efforts deserve the commendation they receive from the fans and drivers alike.
Dave Crosley. Co-manager of the weekly races, Dave Crosley is a midget race fan who could not resist the efforts of his insurance business partner, Bob Ware, to interest him in race management. A banker by profession, he is probably the most genial gentleman in the country. None of his friends can recall the occasion that Dave could not summon a grin, and win an argument thereby. Dave, a native of Kansas, is 52.
Bob Moore, Announcer and Publicity Representative for Ware and Crosley, spent more than two years of the war aboard tankers carrying gasoline to the South and Central Pacific. He was associated with midget race promotion as announcer and publicity man, for several years before the war. Prior to that time, he operated an advertising agency bearing his name, and was a free-lance announcer and producer of various radio shows on Columbia and Mutual. Bob is 37 years old, and enjoys his job so well that he refers to it as his hobby.
Just a few words of thanks to you fans who have supported us so loyally throughout the season. We are sorry it is impossible for us to speak the words to each one of you personally.
In addition, we wish to voice our appreciation to Bill Bonelli, owner of the Stadium, who has done everything possible to co-operate with us in our effort to bring you the best of entertainment; to Ted Bonelli, who has worked so hard and successfully to keep the plant and track in condition for your comfort; to all our employees, especially the Parkin family, Sam, Ann, Myrna, and Genevieve, and to Jack Atkinson; to Bob Moore, our announcer and publicity man, who, in a great measure, has helped make our success possible; to Art Turner, President; Harry Secrest, Starter; Herb Koenig, Pit Manager; Ray Lavely, Referee; Clark Hayhurst, Timer; and Gordon Link, Official Scorekeeper of the U.R.A.; to Captain Stwart and his men of the Sheriff's Office, and to Captain Kennedy and his group from the Highway Patrol, and to all the members of the racing fraternity, we again say "thank you."
BOB WARE | DAVE CROSLEY
P.S. We'll be back next year.
According to Osmer & Pherigo (2001), Bonelli Stadium went dark for World War II from June 30, 1942, until September
9, 1945, when the stadium hosted the first postwar race on the West Coast and "Billy Vukovich was first to the checkers. Nine race meetings were held during the
year, with Vukovich winning the championship. Race buffs may recall that Vukovich went on to win the 1953 and 1954 Indianapolis 500, then lost his life in a
qualifying attempt on the bricks in 1955."
Other early favorites during the heyday of midget racing at Bonelli Stadium were Johnny Parsons and Troy Ruttman.
"The stadium's dirt track was first paved in 1946 but was later torn out and the track reverted to dirt. Midget auto racing, the latest sensation
across the country, continued to draw large crowds through the late '40s. In 1947, the big roadsters roared onto the scene and were the big attraction
until 1950 when midgets staged a brief comeback."
According to Osmer & Pherigo, 1950 also saw the replacement of the original backstretch stands by "imported" seating from Gilmore Stadium
in Los Angeles, which had closed down earlier in the year. (Gilmore Stadium was demolished in 1952 to make way for CBS Television City.)
"During the early fifties, midgets and roadsters shared the track about equally, with the occasional rodeo or circus thrown in. In 1956, the track was paved
for the second time." Stock car racing started in 1959, and a few years later the oval was renamed the Saugus Speedway.
The future Saugus Speedway was built originally as a rodeo arena in 1927 by Roy Baker, brother of shoe magnate C.H. Baker.
Roy Baker purchased the 40-acre property east of Bouquet Junction in 1923 for the purpose of breeding and selling show and pleasure horses.
To that end he imported saddle brood mares from Kentucky and studded them with a pedigreed, chestnut-colored saddlebred stallion named Peavine McDonald (b. 1910),
which sired five pedigreed mares and four pedigreed colts between 1920 and 1936.
Baker advertised that he had 2,500 acres of grazing land and also offered training and boarding services for outside horses.
Probably to attract horse buyers to his ranch in faraway Saugus, Baker staged rodeos. Some references suggest he
built a 12,000-seat arena in 1924, but this is dubious. We do know he held a rodeo on the property on April 11, 1926. That December,
Baker and partner Bob Anderson started construction on a new stadium, complete with partially covered grandstand seating and a quarter-mile oval track.
When it opened May 1, 1927, it seated 18,000 fans, and thousands more had to be turned away for lack of room.
Over the next decade, ownership of the arena
would change hands three more times.
As with a majority of the American populace, Baker was hit hard financially by the Great Depression of 1929 and was forced
to sell the stadium to cowboy actor Hoot Gibson in 1930. Gibson continued to hold rodeos at the stadium and drew a Hollywood crowd
including famous actors such as William S. Hart, Harry Carey, Tom Mix, and John Wayne. He also used the stadium as a movie set
or leased it to other companies for film making.
But Gibson felt the effects of the Depression, as well. In September 1933 he appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom and pleaded poverty,
saying he had no assets with which to repay a $2,500 loan. He testified that he owned a one-third interest in Hoot Gibson Inc., which owned
the Saugus rodeo, and that it was in arrears.
In 1934, Gibson sold the stadium to Paul Hill, owner of the Western Livestock Stockyards, who continued to call it the Hoot Gibson Rodeo.
As with his predecessors, however, the stadium brought
Hill financial hardship when it was hit by the Great Flood of March 2, 1938. Heavy rains that year caused a river of water to flow down
Soledad Canyon and filled the ranch home and arena with mud and debris. As reported in the Los Angeles
Times, the "old buildings ... collapsed during the March floods" and the arena was built anew.
Nonetheless, Hill lost the ranch sometime after the April 1938 rodeo. According to Reynolds,
the property was repossessed by
the bank. In 1939, ownership passed to William Bonelli, and it was renamed Bonelli Stadium.
Bonelli, a professor of economics at Occidental College,
continued the annual rodeo tradition
for a number of years but introduced auto racing in 1939 on a more frequent schedule; ultimately auto racing became the primary draw and Bonelli
renamed the arena Saugus Speedway.
Occasional rodeos and circuses continued until at least the late 1960s, auto racing until 1995. The facility was sometimes used for
concerts before the grandstands were removed in 2012 (the originals had been replaced in 1955). The venue continues to host an outdoor swap meet.