Start Your Engines
From Saturday, June 14th, 2008 until Saturday, November 8th, 2008
For auto racing fans, the phrase "Gentlemen….Start Your Engines!" is the signal that you are about to hear a group of highly tuned engines roar to life and watch some skillful drivers compete against each other. Whether you were watching a race 80 years ago or getting ready for one tomorrow, the excitement of wondering who is going to win the race remains the same. That thrill of anticipation for both racecar drivers and spectators has not diminished since the first auto race held in this country in 1895. In the Hayward area, auto racing was, and still is, a part of our history. The area was once home to two different types of race tracks: the Oakland Speedway and the Hayward Quarter Midget Racing Association. Many racecar drivers grew up in the area, competing on those tracks. Several current drivers in a variety of different racing divisions make their homes here. Manufacturers who build race cars or parts for race cars operate in this area too. This summer's exhibition, Start Your Engines, explores this history of auto racing in the Hayward area.
In 1931, a one-mile dirt oval racetrack was built at Hesperian Boulevard and East 14th Street between San Leandro and Hayward. From 1931 to 1941, some of the biggest names in auto racing as well as many local drivers came to the "World's Fastest Dirt Mile" to test their skills against one another in all types of race cars. During World War II, a fire in the track's grandstands, coupled with rationing of fuel and rubber, which effectively prohibited auto racing in the country, caused the Speedway to close. But in 1946, construction began on a new racetrack, this one called the Oakland Stadium (although many people still called it the Oakland Speedway). This new track was a paved, 5/8 mile oval with a 1/4 mile oval built within the larger loop. Between 1946 and 1955, a wide variety of races were run on the track. Stock cars, roadsters, hardtops, midgets-you name it, they raced there. And, like the original Speedway, racecar drivers came from far and wide to compete. Local boys such as Indy 500 winner Bob Sweikert, Earl Motter, and Freddie Agabashian won many races at the Stadium. The track even hosted several officially sanctioned NASCAR races in the early 1950s. Unfortunately for race fans, the Stadium sat on prime real estate. The property owners sold the land to a developer who tore the Stadium down in 1955 to make way for Bayfair Mall. The cars and drivers who had raced at the speedway, and the thousands of fans who had watched the numerous races, were forced to move to other tracks in surrounding communities.
Auto racing in the Hayward area did not go away after the Speedway was torn down though. By the late 1950s, Hayward had a quarter midget race track. Quarter midgets are one-quarter the size of a midget race car and are raced by children between the ages of 5 to 16. Quarter midget cars are real race cars with standard suspension and small, high-powered motors that can reach speeds, in today's competitions, of up to 45 mph depending on the class of the car. The Hayward Quarter Midget Association's track was located near Kennedy Park from the late 1950s to 1975, when it was moved to a spot behind Russell School on Winton Ave. until the early 1980s. Kids and their parents came from all over the Bay Area to compete at the track. Attendance at just one race at the Hayward track exceeded a thousand.
These are just two of the stories highlighted in Start Your Engines. The exhibit is full of images, artifacts, and interactive games to help visitors learn that there is a lot more to the sport than just turning left an a lot of auto racing history in the Hayward area.