In that case, the Midgets were Midget racing cars scheduled to race around the track at Tracy High’s Peter B. Kyne Field.
After seeing the headline over a photo of two midget racing cars, I said to myself, “Yes, Bill Kaska was right.”
Bill, the retired Fremont firefighter, auto aficionado and active volunteer in Tracy for three decades, had told me on more than one occasion that he had read that there had been a Midget-auto race at the Tracy High football field in the 1930s.
I told Bill I couldn’t remember hearing of that and or seeing anything about it in the Press files. And, besides, Midget auto racing around the track at the high school? I knew there had been a roller-derby there one night in the 1960s, but auto racing, even with Midgets, just seemed farfetched
So earlier this week, Bill brought in a copy of a new book, “A History of the Oakland Stadium, 1946-1955,” that told of the racing facility, actually in San Leandro, that was the center of auto racing in Northern California during that decade, hosting Indy-style big-car, sprint-car, stock-car and Midget races before closing in 1955.
There on Page 80 were several paragraphs relating the efforts of Charlie Curryer, director and guiding figure of the American Racing Association, to promote auto racing in Northern California in the 1930s and 1940s.
Curryer, one of the founders of reconstructed Oakland Stadium in 1946, was active in 1933 promoting races in the Central Valley, including Sacramento and Stockton (College of the Pacific’s Baxter Stadium) in June 1933.
“This (the Stockton race) was followed immediately by Midget races held on the football field at Tracy High School,” the book stated.
With that, I started checking the Press files for June 1933, but I found nothing. I kept looking, though, and there in the July 25, 1933, edition was the headline, with a photo of two Midget racers. Bingo.
The race was that Sunday afternoon, July 30. Curryer had worked a deal with the high school board to provide a slice of gross revenue to the high school student body. Although a dozen Midget racers were scheduled to take part, only six showed up. They raced, bumped and spun around the track, which in those days was only a fifth of a mile long (instead of the quarter-mile length it later became), so they had very tight turns.
A Press report the following week said five of the six Midget cars suffered at least superficial damage, adding, “The attendance was not what had been anticipated.”
Curryer and his Midget racing machines never returned to Tracy, and he concentrated his efforts elsewhere, mostly in Oakland.
Question: When was the next time auto races were held in Tracy? Answer: In 1958, when sports-car races were held at the Tracy Municipal Airport under the sponsorship of the Tracy Optimist and Tracy Flying clubs.
Headliners such as Dan Gurney and Lance Reventlow (son of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton) took part. Jack McAfee of Los Angeles won the main event in a Porsche RS.
The following year, sports cars raced again at the airport, and this time Emil Pardee of Palo Alto in a Porsche RSK was the winner.
Question: When was the next time Midget races were held here? Answer: On the opening night of Altamont Speedway on July 23, 1966.
Bill Vukovich Jr. of Fresno — son of racing legend Bill Vukovich Sr. — won the Midget main event.
But back to Bill Kaska. He told me he had been an auto-racing fan since he was a boy. While growing up in San Leandro and later in Fremont in the 1950s, he attended the races at the Oakland Stadium, located where the Bayfair shopping center is now. A San Leandro neighbor who operated an auto-parts store was one of the racecar sponsors and took him to his first races.
After moving to Fremont, Bill worked several years as a starter at the Fremont Drag Strip before becoming a Fremont firefighter and later a part-timer at the drag strip.
While a firefighter, and after retiring in 1995, he has remained active in motor sports to this day. In 1963, he was a member of the pit crew for Glenn Leasher’s Infinity jet-powered car that was going for a speed record at the Bonneville Speedway when a rear tire went out. The streamlined machine, traveling more than 500 miles per hour, rolled over repeatedly, killing Leasher.
Over the years, Bill, who moved from Fremont to Tracy in 1980, has bought and sometimes restored a number of classic cars. At present, he owns four Corvettes, including the 1978 Indianapolis 500 pace car, two 1957 Chevy four-door sedans and a 1977 Chevy van.
He’s taken part in all 25 Hot August Nights classic-car gatherings in Reno, attended two Indianapolis 500 races and belongs to three classic-car clubs. And his wife, Mary, is also a motorsports fan, with several drag-racing victories.
At the age of 70, Bill’s still active in auto racing. Next week, he’s heading for Phoenix to work in the pit crew of Ryan Philpott’s NASCAR K and N Series racer.
“Ever since I was 8 years old, I’ve loved cars,” he said. “I can still recall watching the races at the Oakland track in the 1950s. It’s in my blood.”
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.