Off To The Races!

A new entertainment was offered in Cañon City in 1952: stock car races. Rodeo Committee President John Beaton announced the rodeo grounds would be used for weekly stock car racing beginning August 2 and continue through the summer and fall. The Cañon City Daily Record reported on the announcement on July 28, 1952 and stated 40 cars were entered in the first race, expected to last approximately three hours. The track was repaired and the ½ mile long course graded and banked for the racing. Lights were added for night events and seating capacity was increased. The committee stressed that the Rodeo Grounds were available to any community function, not just racing.

An ad posted in the Cañon City Daily Record on August 16, 1952 reported that reserved seats cost $1.50 in the grandstand at the new Royal Gorge Speedway. Two races were scheduled for that coming weekend on Friday, August 22 at 7 PM and Sunday, August 24 at 2 PM. Unfortunately, the race on Friday ended in tragedy when a twenty-one-year-old was killed. Lawrence Dean “Larry” Crist of Garden City, Kansas died of a broken neck when he went through the fence after skidding on a turn during the time trials, a preliminary to the race. Crist offered to time a car of a driver who didn’t show up after timing his own. Despite the tragedy, the program continued although Bob Wren, a friend of Crist, decided to withdraw from the race.

General stock car races were not the only things run at the track. Women only races were run frequently at the track during events. In the Cañon City Daily Record on August 3, 1953, other events noted for that evening included a relay in which the men drove five laps before passing the cars to the women to drive five laps and an Australian Pursuit race where the fastest cars were in the back and when a car was passed they were out. The night ended with a novelty foot race by the drivers to the enjoyment of all.

Ads for stock car racing at the rodeo grounds continue through 1958 but it appears the events may have ended there after that point.

Lou Willchau with Bill Meigs Sr.’s stock car, ca. 1952. Object ID: 2017.045.002; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

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