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San Diego Motorsports: 100 Racing Years - A Johnny McDonald Collection

San Diego Motorsports: 100 Racing Years - A Johnny McDonald Collection
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Book Review by Richard Parks, Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz


Johnny McDonald has been covering the national racing scene for more than four decades. He is a past President of AARWBA, or The American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, and sportswriter for the San Diego Union newspaper. Thorough and precise, McDonald ranks up there with Shav Glick and other sportswriters in the ability to bring a story to the public with feeling and accuracy. A special passion for McDonald is the unique history and heritage of motorsports racing in the San Diego area, where he resides. San Diego, California is about as far as one can go, and still remain in the United States. It takes a lot of effort to get to, and yet it has a rich history in motorsports racing. Balboa Stadium played host to oval track racing of the highest quality. Paradise Mesa was one of the first dragstrips in the nation. Torrey Pines was a storied road course racing site. The Unlimited Hydroplanes still race furiously at Mission Bay. Many of those racetracks are gone, paved over to make room for homes and shopping centers. A few are still in operation, or changed slightly from their original purposes. McDonald uses his archives and that of the San Diego Automotive Museum, plus his vivid memory to write about this fascinating era in his city’s past.

San Diego Motorsports; 100 Racing Years, is a soft-covered book, 8 ½ by 11 inches in size, with 144 pages, and sells for $24.95. There are two color paintings on the front and back of the book by racing artist Bob McCoy. The front cover drawing shows track roadster racers Rosie Roussel and Dick Vineyard trying to avoid a spin out in an oval track race. The rear cover drawing by McCoy shows midget racers in a tight formation, entering a curve and splattering the clay-like mud on those behind them. McCoy, a former auto racer, is a racing artist of the first order, and these two drawings alone are worth the price of the book. Action, passion and an eye for color and movement are imbued in McCoy’s work. He loves to put subtle and humorous topics into his paintings, daring the observer to find them. There is an adequate Table of Contents, a Preface, but no Forward to laud the book. McDonald does not use celebrities to hype the book, but launches immediately into the subject matter. Alas, like so many other racing and pictorial books, there is no index, and the reader must concentrate on each chapter in order to find those topics he is interested in.

There are no color photos, but there are 469 black and white photos, which are varied and informative. Some of them are old, others are grainy but they tell a unique story of the racing history of San Diego. There were 3 drawings other than McCoy’s, 6 maps, and 28 posters and programs. Much of the book is taken up by photos and the captions are adequate. There isn’t a great deal of text to go along with the photos, because this book is intended to capture the look of the times. There is just enough text to tell the story and to bring the reader along to the next stage. It is a mesmerizing book, as McDonald does not let the reader dwell on any one issue. McDonald wrote this book to allow the reader to get an overview of the rich racing history of the San Diego area. You won’t find long and lengthy discussions, but you will achieve a quick and useful knowledge of why San Diego was such an important racing site. San Diego Motorsports; 100 Racing Years, is the first book on the subject of local racing in San Diego that a racing fan should have in his or her library. The book is divided into 15 chapters and a review, averaging about 9 pages per section.

Chapters one through three cover the pre-WWII period, with a very interesting section on Barney Oldfield, the icon of those barnstorming racers who toured the country to give electrifying shows to a public just learning about the automobile. Chapter four discusses the hot rod and midget racing phenomena just after the war. Chapter five describes how the early 1950’s were the beginning of the road course and drag racing golden ages. Chapter six and seven portray the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s, a time of rapid growth in racing and the beginning of racing at Cajon and Ramona. Chapters eight through ten discusses the new Unlimited Hydroplane racing, off-road racing and the Carlsbad dragstrip. Chapter eleven discusses truck and superbike racing. Chapter twelve is about Grand Prix racing. Chapters thirteen through fifteen bring us from the 1990’s to the present, with the closing of old tracks and the opening of new ones.

McDonald showcases popular racers like Parnelli Jones, Carroll Shelby, Rodger Ward, Danny Oakes, Don Garlits, Ivan Stewart, Billy Vukovich, Bill Muncey, Jeremy McGrath, Barney Oldfield, and Joaquin Arnett and the Bean Bandits. But he does not stint on those whose exploits did not garner national attention. The author takes us on a ride, a quick one, to those old and storied racetracks at Balboa Stadium, Torrey Pines, Ramona and Carlsbad dragstrips, Del Mar’s sports car and Grand Prix courses, Lindo Lake, Point Loma, Cajon and Mission Bay. It’s possible to read through this book in a day or two, but it is difficult to not go back and reread it for what you have missed. The race car and boat drivers, who thrilled spectators throughout the country over the years, also came to San Diego, to thrill the crowds at these historic old racecourses. Johnny McDonald has brought us a tidy and fascinating book that opens the door to a corner of our nation’s racing history.

From The Book

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One of the “Baja” pages shows Mickey Thompson, Bill Stroppe, Parnelli Jones, and Ivan “Ironman” Stewart

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– Pictured are Wally Parks, Don Prudhomme, and Connie Kalitta at the Carlsbad Dragstrip

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“Paradise Mesa” drew names like The Bean Bandits, Ted Cyr, Art Chrisman, and Wally Parks

Get an overview of the rich racing history of the San Diego area by purchasing a copy of this book Today! The 144-page softcover book ($24.95 plus $5 shipping) can be ordered from:

McDonald Communications

P.O. Box 601463

San Diego, CA 92160-1463

or by calling 1-619-583-0432