Phidgety About History

Flagman waves the checkered flag at Allemand Speedway

Inspiration for delving into Gilroy’s history comes from many quarters: the books of Claudia Salewske, Teddy Goodrich and Elizabeth Barratt; bits of conversation with friends, glimpses of old photographs—and reading messages on “Remembering Gilroy” (go to and type “Remembering Gilroy” in the search box at top right).  Started by Kathleen Chavez, people chime in with a wide range of memories about Gilroy. 
Among recent posts was a question about Allemand Speedway. As a certified car nut, I was excited several years ago when I learned about this post-WWII race track in an improbable location near Coyote Lake. I was told about two books, Roaring Roadsters #1 and #2, with chapters about the speedway, and I was off to….well, to the races!  Corresponding with the book’s author, Don Radbruch, I even got assignments for follow-up research. Sadly, Don Radbruch passed away in 2008. Here’s what I’ve gathered, primarily from his books:
“Allemand Speedway”, as it came to be known, was the first post-war roadster track in northern California. John Allemand had raced at “Devils Bowl”, a track started in 1946 at Salinas, this may have led him to build an oval track in a narrow valley on his Roop Road cattle ranch. A natural bowl had been dammed to create a watering pond for Allemand’s cattle.  The earthen dam of the pond formed a large banked turn, from there the track went uphill to a tighter turn, then back downhill to the “high bank.” It was roughly a half mile, and because shifting was required to get up the hill, it was not suited to normal race cars. There was no racing organization sanctioning the races, so it operated what was known as “outlaw racing”; there was no insurance, no helmet requirement and probably no seat belt rule. 
The end of World War II released a lot of energy, people must have wanted to live a little more lively after years of hardship. With the Depression far behind and postwar prosperity in sight, “hot rods” began to flourish. Here’s what the Gilroy Dispatch reported on March 13, 1947: 
Stock Cars, ‘Hot Rods’ Open New Local Track
Four months of construction work and promotion on the part of three local men, Henry Allemand, his son John, and James Clark, have culminated in the establishment of a Gilroy speedway, a half-mile track which will be initiated Sunday afternoon with a racing card featuring “hot rods” and stock cars, it was revealed today.
Located on the Hot Springs road six miles from 101 Highway, the new venture is admittedly an experiment designed to test the theory that auto racing can be successful in Gilroy, but carries the promise of its promoters that if successful expansion will be in order.
Plan is to operate the track every Saturday afternoon, using local and nearby talent as much as possible, according to the owners.
Competition and style of construction at the track promises plenty of thrills and spills. Fittingly described as “up hill and down dale”, the track launches the speeders onto the first turn from a downhill grade. Steep banking at the turns is a built-in safety precaution which should hold the ‘hot rods’ to the track.
Thrill seekers who attend Sunday’s races are advised to be on hand at 1 p.m. if they desire to witness the trail runs. The racing gets underway at 2 p.m. with a 15-lap “hot rod” race following 10 laps of elimination racing. Second feature event will be a 10-lap stock car race following a five-lap elimination race.
Extra attractions will include a five-lap Model T race and the clowning of Arnold Crocker and Jerry Hawes.
Situated in a draw, the track is plainly viewed from surrounding slopes. Ample parking facilities have been made available.
Paul Kamm told Radbruch, “I heard there were going to be races so I jumped in my Chevy Four roadster and went out to watch. Once there, he was recruited to race three other roadsters that showed up, won the main event, and took home $100. Reportedly, purses at Allemand eventually reached as high as $1100.
Crowds sat on the hillsides or in cars parked around the track. The speedway was fast, on the downhill straightaway the faster cars approached 90 mph, drivers found they could slow down by sliding sideways through the banked first turn.
Only a few places were paid and most racers went home without prize money. Three participants didn’t go home at all—in an early Model T race, a driver was ejected and killed and there were a number of serious injuries. The last fatality led to the Speedway’s closing. Again, we turn to the Gilroy Dispatch for its March 17, 1947 edition
Hollister Man Dies In Speedway Accident
Lloyd C. Sutton, 24-year-old Hollister butcher, died almost instantly yesterday afternoon when the ‘hot rod’ racing vehicle in which he was riding as a passenger of his brother-in-law, Hoyte Welch, 19, of Salinas, went into a spin as it hit the first turn at a high rate of speed on the new Allemand speedway and rolled over, throwing the victim from the car and pinning him beneath it.
A fractured leg and possible other injuries resulted for Welch, driver of the car, who was taken to Salinas hospital after receiving emergency treatment here. Hoyte’s sister, Gladys, is the widow of the victim.
The accident occurred at 12:55 p.m., just five minutes before the scheduled 1 o’clock trial runs and reportedly as Welch was making an unauthorized dash around the track after he allegedly was told that he was ineligible to compete in the races because of being under 21 years of age.
A crowd of over 3,000 patrons witnessed the accident, the only one to mar the opening day of the local speedway situated just six miles east of Highway 101 and completed last week after four months of work by the owners, Henry Allemand, his son, John, and James Clark….
Clark said he had just announced over the microphone that all cars except those entered in the races must leave the pit.  Instead of going directly out, however, Welch wheeled his car out the track and roared down the inclined speedway, according to Clark.
Welch’s car spun out of control as it hit the steeply banked turn on the half-mile course….
Sutton, his chest crushed, was rushed to Wheeler hospital by Habing ambulance along with Welch, but was dead upon arrival….
Young Sutton was born in San Juan. Besides his widow, he is survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Sutton of Nevada, and a twin brother, Floyd….
………………… next time, the Hollister man who dominated Allemand Speedway………….