If you mention the word “Pomona” to most car enthusiasts, images of smokey burnouts and record-setting quarter mile runs will come to mind. The drag strip at Pomona is legendary, and considered hallowed ground in the world of drag racing. What some people might not know, is that at one time Pomona was also home to a thriving road course.
In addition to the 50th anniversary of the Shelby Cobra, the Pomona Road Course will also be celebreated during this weekend’s Ford Cobra Shelby Reunion at the NHRA Museum. The plan is to bring back racing to the original Pomona Road Course and this is something I’m very excited to see.
As we gear up for the Shelby Reunion, I thought it would be appropriate to do a bit of nethunting to see what sort of material I could dig up on the old Pomona Road Races.
Road races were held at the LA County Fairgrounds from 1956 to 1963 and many now-legendary names could been seen competing there. Names like Carroll Shelby, Bob Bondurant, and Mickey Thompson.
The track at Pomona wasn’t a dedicated road course, but a makeshift track built over the parking lots, access roads, and the dragstrip itself.
In this aerial shot you can see the course layout, with drag strip at left making for one hell of a long straight.
In this shot you can see cars coming out beneath the overpass at the southern end of the course. This was one of the track’s key features and the overpass still exists today.
Elsewhere, the course had relatively broad corners and a wide racing surface that snaked around the fairground complex.
Here we see the program for the race ran in the winter of 1959. Based on the number of cars running in these old photos, it seems road racing was big in SoCal during the late 1950s.
During this period you didn’t need an actual race track to hold road races. It was common to see road courses built at airports, parks, and just about anywhere else they would fit. This was the scene that James Dean was involved in, and if not for his death in 1955 you can bet he would have been a regular at Pomona.
The Corvette was very popular among these weekend racers. Like most of the cars running, these two ‘Vettes are full street cars that were driven to the track no doubt.
While the majority of the photos I found show sports cars, it appears open wheelers were also featured at the Pomona meets.
This view looks like it was shot in the pits looking toward the drag strip straightaway. I could spend days looking at vintage photos like this, soaking in the details and all the cool old cars. Besides the ‘Vettes in the foreground you can see a brand new Ford Falcon, a stock Corvette, a couple VW transporters and more. Awesome.
In another photo shot by Dave Friedman at the 1960 Pomona Road Races we see a shiny Thunderbird cruising through a pit area full of sports cars.
Most of the Pomona course was lined with hay bales, and given the narrow tires of the day It wasn’t uncommon for cars to come home from the track covered in hay.
Sometimes the results of contact with the hay were a little more severe…
Anytime I see old photos like this I’m reminded that racing was anything but safe in the 1950s. Roll bars? Nope. Firesuits? Nope. Of course none of that stopped men and the occasional woman from their pursuit of speed.
A pair of ‘Vettes round the corner after emerging from the overpass. Look at that body roll!
Once you take your eyes off the spinning Corvette in this photo, you can see the huge crowds that attended these events.
Running tight at the 1959 Examiner Grand Prix, one of the larger events held at Pomona during its short history.
Southern California is filled with “ghost tracks” – once famous racing venues that have been demolished and replaced with housing developments and strip malls.
The cool thing about the Pomona Road Course is that it still exists for the most part, and this weekend it will be brought back to life.
See you there.