Motorsports History, Technology & Culture
The World of Speed Archive in making its way to Collins Gallery on the third floor of the Multnomah Central Library in downtown Portland for the month of September and October, celebrating the history, technology and culture of racing during the 1950s, '60s and '70s. The free exhibit is available to anyone who visits the library and will include over one hundred items from our collection with a focus on local racing history, motorsports in pop culture, and the evolution of technology. Images include only a taste of the breadth of items that will be on display, as well as the content included in each of the twelve display cases.
Local Racing History
CELEBRATING LOCAL RACERS
Oregon’s local race scene was going strong in the ‘50s and into the ‘70s. During the ‘50s, Art Watts racked up wins from the Pacific Street Car Racing Association (PSCRA). In 1963, John Schmauder won the inaugural ¼-mile at Woodburn Dragstrip. Palmer Crowell successfully raced open-wheel cars throughout the Pacific Northwest into the ‘70s.
BIG LOCAL IMPACT
As part of Team Continental, Bruce Baggett was the driving force behind Oregon’s International Conference of Sports Car Clubs (ICSCC) racing. Renowned flagger Ed Rose was honored as a race starter by the Modified Racing Association of Oregon (MRAO). Meanwhile, Dick Hahn’s Ferraris won the first two Rose Cup Races in 1961 and 1962.
The Sidewinders motorcycle club began in 1953 with just eight members. By 1955, they’d built their own 3/8-mile loop track in Clackamas County. Race programs drew thousands of fans and as many as 175 riders. In 1977, Washington’s Steve Baker, a Sidewinders regular, became the first American to win a road-racing motorcycle championship.
Sanctioned by the American Motorcyclist Association, the Sidewinders TT (Tourist Trophy) loop dirt track was known for challenging turns, including the hidden Turn 2, which dropped swiftly downhill into Turn 3 in front of a roaring crowd. From the early ‘60s to when it closed in 1986, riders would travel from across the country to experience the track.
Ray Carroll, a Portland native and longtime member of the Sidewinders, was a beloved fixture on and off the track. His “3Q” motorcycle plate number became synonymous with his lifetime support of motorcycle racing and philanthropy. In 1975, he organized 500 laps around the Sidewinders track to raise funds for muscular dystrophy. Carroll passed away in 2015.
The “purse” is the funds collected and distributed to racers and car owners in a race. The distribution varies from race to race, but often includes a preset amount for the winner and podium (top three) positions. Local race flagger and starter Ed Rose was also in charge of the purse for many races in Oregon and Washington.
Before laptops and the internet, driver cards provided information about racers that race organizers and commentators used. The easy-to-see sleeves with the driver’s name and car number also had handwritten notes including things like the car’s owner or sponsors. These driver cards were used at Portland Speedway and have the names of many local racers.
Many of those who work in racing produce lots of business records while building and maintaining their race-related businesses. Local Indy car builder and designer Rolla Vollstedt, like most involved in racing, kept a wide variety of records. Calendars, log books, notebooks, memos, receipts, and other papers all document the business aspects of his racing life.
Evolution in Technology
Just as we do now, people took their cars to the local shop for maintenance and repair. Unlike today’s diagnostic machines — which are really computers and easily test multiple systems — early equipment only tested one component, such as RPM or voltage. Skilled mechanics had to interpret all the results and then make the proper repairs.
TOOLS YOU CAN USE
With the advent of new materials and new principles like ergonomic design, tools have consistently evolved. Early hand tools were only made from metal; today, they can be made of various materials, but still have the same functions. Drills, however, not only look different today, but also have many more features and functions.
MCLAREN ON THE TRACK
The bright orange McLaren was a common sight on tracks of the west coast throughout the ‘70s. The crew was all from Oregon — including Gary Dennis, Dick Barless, Dan Hannah, and Jeff Sinclair — and was committed to having a good time while racing. Over the years, their McLaren moved from a rounder body to a boxier look.
MCLAREN IN PIECES
The McLaren 50A/3B air box — an empty chamber fitted to the combustion engine — was used to collect air from outside and feed it to the intake hoses of each engine cylinder. The McLaren 8E door is the long, wide orange piece; although called a door, it doesn’t open — it’s really a body panel!
Even into the ‘50s, safety gear for drivers often consisted of just a helmet made of leather or a single layer of thin metal and belt-like straps, glass goggles, and leather gloves. These provided minimal protection against the heat or impact of a crash. Advancements in materials, moldings, and fabrication techniques continue to make racing much safer for drivers.
THE EVOLUTION OF SAFETY
Each year, the governing or sanctioning organizations of racing update their rule books, which have gone from just a few pages to over an inch thick. Regulations around fuel makeup, safety harnesses, materials, and fire-extinguishing systems are just some of the measures taken to minimize safety risks to the drivers, cars, crews, and spectators.
Motorsports in Pop Culture
MODEL & TOY CARS
For as long as there have been cars, there have been model and toy cars. Made from metal, plaster, clay, porcelain, or plastic, some were exact replicas of the full-sized cars they represented; others were bound only by limits of the imagination. Over the past century, the level of detail has increased, but toy cars are still just meant to be fun!
Track toys made their debut in the early 1900s, and were primarily focused on trains. Following the explosive growth of America’s car culture after World War II, cars and electric track toys took over the lead, driven by the excitement (and speed) generated by their power-unit transmitters.
SLOT CARS & TRACKS
Slot car racing took hold during this mid-century timeframe, and it continues to captivate Americans today. Built in different scales — 1:24, 1:34, or 1:64 (the smallest cars) — the track provides power through contact with the car’s brakes. You can test your racing skills at World of Speed’s new slot-car track.
RACING IN THE MOVIES
In the ‘50s, teen car culture was in full swing and celebrated in movies such as “Teen Age Thunder” and “Hot Rod Gang.” By the ‘70s, there were more family-oriented car movies like “Munster Go Home,” but the danger and intrigue of fast cars still resonated with audiences in films like “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “Van Nuys Boulevard.”
Coming-of-age stories set in the world of fast cars were a mainstay of fiction in the ‘50s with books like “Street Rod” (1953). By the ‘60s, racing on the national stage was building in popularity, as reflected in “Roar of Engines” (1967). The ‘70s brought a new generation ready to push the boundaries with “Crazy to Race” (1971).
An explosion of racing and car-inspired music hit the airwaves starting in the ‘50s. Albums like the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe” and The Hondells’ “Go Little Honda” captured America’s newfound love affair with car culture. “The Lively Set” LP not only holds the soundtrack of the movie, but also includes recordings from actual races.
RACING IN SOUND
Radio was the way most Americans first experienced the thrills of racing. It brought the roar of the engines, the cheering fans, even the famous call “ladies and gentlemen, start your engines” to living rooms across the country. With the emergence of LPs, fans were able to relive their favorite moments over and over again.
RACING ON THE SMALL SCREEN
Car racing first made it to television in the ‘70s as pre-recorded highlights for shows such as ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” or CBS’ “Sports Spectacular.” In 1979, CBS ran the first flag-to-flag coverage of the Daytona 500. Today, network and cable channels have made big-money deals to broadcast nearly all championship races live.
For information about World of Speed's exhibit at Multnomah Central Library in downtown Portland, Mid-Century Motorsports: Celebrating the history, technology and culture of racing in the 50s, 60s and 70s for Sept-Oct, 2018, visit https://multcolib.org/events/mid-century-motorsports-celebrating-history-technology-and-culture-racing-50s-60s-and-70s/92682.