In presenting for your enjoyment, this midget race, the first in Southern California since 1942, the promoters, Bob Ware and Dave Crosley, wish to acknowledge with sincere appreciation, the kind help and faithful efforts of all those who have given their time and trouble to help make these races a success. May we especially express our gratitude to Bill Bonelli, owner of the stadium, who has so conscientiously tried to make everything comfortable for all and who has done more than his share in making this venture possible; to Art Turner, chief steward of the United Racing Association, whose tireless efforts in behalf of the members of the racing fraternity are finally bearing fruit in the organization of an association that really functions for the benefit of racing at large; to all the members of the association who strive to give you, the public, the best of entertainment; and may we thank you, the public at large, for your attendance here today. Without you our success is not possible. If at any time you have suggestions which you believe would help us to improve our shows, they will be gratefully received. In closing it is our sincere wish that this first program be dedicated to a man who spent four years overseas fighting the Japs. A man who participated in at least four invasions of enemy held territory, and who has returned to help us make racing possible again. And so, ladies and gentlemen, we dedicate this program to
Signed Bob Ware, Dave Crosley.
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Serviceman Enters Sheriff's Rodeo.
Los Angeles Times | August 31, 1945.
A serviceman with four and a half years of overseas duty, covering action at Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Leyte, doughty Stan Searle, yesterday entered the all-star field of daredevils who will compete in the midget car racing program at Bonelli Stadium, near Saugus, Sunday, Sept. 9.
Searle got in plenty of action — but he's coming right back for more excitement when he battles a field of more than 40 of the greatest hopped-up "jeep" drivers in the business.
Webmaster's note: "Searle" appears with and without the "e" in the literature.
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Vukovich [Misspelled Bukovich] Cops Midget Auto Race Before 18,000.
Los Angeles Times | September 10, 1945.
Bill Bukovich [sic] of Fresno roared to victory in the 40-lap feature at Bonelli Stadium yesterday as 18,000 spectators watched midget auto racing return to Southern California after a blackout of four years.
Bukovich moved to the front on the 21st lap and was never headed thereafter.
Supporting the feature was a 10-lap jaunt that saw Johnny Mautz take winning laurels.
In a special match race of 2 laps Eddie Haddad crossed the finish line 30 lengths ahead of Johnny Carsons.
The Trophy Dash of 3 times around was taken by Russ Fields, defeating Bukovich.
Winners in the qualifying races were: Billy Cantrell, Jerry Piper, Al Sherman, and Mel Hansen.
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. (Promoter Bob Anderson organized a local rodeo in 1924, but its exact location is unclear, and it wouldn't
have had grandtands.) Anderson did hold the annual rodeo on Baker's property in April 1926. That December,
Baker and 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.