Here at Motoring Weekly, we see all sorts of old photos from a time long forgotten – and of places that have long gone. One such was the San Carlos Board Speedway. It is of interest because Motoring Weekly knows the north California landscape well around San Francisco.
San Carlos is just south of the main city and near the extra long San Mateo bridge. For James Bond fans, San Carlos is smack in the middle of where Zorin Enterprises was going to flood Silicon Valley!
In 1921, the city opened its first board track speedway, known as the San Francisco Speedway and in those days they were made out of wood. It was the 12th one to be built in the US however it didn’t last long – only a couple of years. Being made out of wood, they were relatively cheap to construct however it took a while for engineers to realise that they needed to borrow ideas from railway construction to make them stronger, although not necessarily safer!
The materials used didn’t help – the engineers were working on a banked oval that allowed the cars to go around with minimal steering input, however, that just meant higher speeds and subsequently higher speeds meant bigger accidents – great for the spectators, not so great for the drivers, many of whom were seriously injured or were killed. Using wood meant that it was common for splinters to pierce the tyres and cause accidents, or worse to fly into the faces of the drivers and riding mechanics. Often they would fall out of their vehicles and get run over.
The San Francisco Speedway in San Carlos was not the first track in the area – there was one in Oakland ten years earlier, however the designer of the Oakland track was a British fellow called Jack Prince who liked bicycle racing and he also co-designed the San Carlos track with Art Pillsbury, making it 1.25 miles in length and fifty feet wide – an all wood construction.
It was on a site covering 140 acres on land that is now light industrial buildings near the local airport: north of Brittan Avenue between Old County and Industrial Roads, for those that want to see where it was:
It opened in December 1921 and the first race attracted a crowd of 40,000 people all watching competitors vie for a $25,000 prize – a small fortune in those days. The track hosted another two race meetings before disaster struck on June 19th the following year: a local grass fire spread to the oil and rubber covered track and the firefighters couldn’t save it. Jack Prince wanted to rebuild it, however work was never started. It is possible that people were realising that wood was not a great material to use and concrete was too expensive.