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History 1960 San Diego Drag/Street Riots

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by SAM123, Apr 10, 2012.

  1. I recall in the summer of 1960, I was ten years old, an uncle got arrested a few blocks from our house because "he got caught street draggin'" according to my dad.

    My uncle had a '37 Chevy humpback with a 235, twin carbs, split exhaust, wolf whistle and what I believe was called a "bermuda bell" or "carriage bell". I doubt if it was very fast by today's standards but it was definatley a "hot rodder's" car.

    And now, over fifty years later I think I have the connection to his arrest. I came across the following article that was first published in The San Diego Union/Tribune in 2008.

    I hope you enjoy the history lesson.


    "1960 Melee Sparked Creation of Local Raceways," By Richard Crawford July 24, 2008.

    "The drag street riot on El Cajon Boulevard is symptomatic of the disrespect for authority so pronounced in some areas of our society. Those who riot or endanger the public safety to enforce their demands on government and law-abiding citizens cannot be tolerated. San Diego must not be intimidated."....The San Diego Union, Aug. 23, 1960.

    It began as a mass demonstration on El Cajon Boulevard near Cherokee Avenue in City Heights. Young car-racing enthusiasts from throughout the county gathered to protest the lack of a legal drag strip in San Diego. When the protest turned into street racing, police moved in with tear gas and batons. More than 100 people were arrested in the bedlam that followed, known thereafter as the El Cajon Boulevard Riot, which led to the creation of raceways in Ramona and Carlsbad.

    Drag-strip racing had been growing in popularity for many years. By 1959, there were an estimated 200 drag strips in the United States. Racers in San Diego used what was called the country's oldest official drag-race course, a retired airstrip on Paradise Mesa east of National City. A new housing development closed the Paradise track in 1959. With no other drag strips available, hot rodders used an old Navy airfield near Miramar Naval Air Station called Hourglass Field. Races sponsored by the California Sports Car Club were held on a 1.8-mile track. Unsanctioned drag racing also took place while the Navy turned a blind eye. But when a racing accident hurt four people Aug. 6, 1960, the Navy closed the field. Car clubs lobbied city and county officials for a drag-racing site. San Diego Police Chief A.E. Jansen was unsympathetic, saying, “Drag strips actually stimulate highway recklessness among those viewing such contests.” One car-club member cautioned, “If we don't get the strip, cars will be dragging in the streets.” The warning would prove prophetic.

    In mid-August, fliers began appearing at drive-in theaters, coffee shops and car-club headquarters announcing a “mass protest meeting” on El Cajon Boulevard at 1 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 21. A disc jockey, Dick Boynton of KDEO, spread the news to listeners. That night, hundreds of teenagers and young adults began gathering along the boulevard. About 1 a.m., some in the crowd blocked off the street and began racing. Between 35th and 40th streets, “cars, of all models and shapes, raced two abreast,” the Union reported. “Thousands of spectators lined the sidewalk and center island, leaving almost no room for the cars to pass.” More than 65 police officers moved in about 2 a.m. and ordered the demonstrators to disperse. Throwing tear-gas grenades at the feet of the spectators, they waded into the crowd with riot sticks. “Almost everyone was running toward their cars,” a witness recalled. “Other people were on the ground, unable to run because of the tear gas.” About 100 demonstrators stood their ground at a service station lot and “threw a barrage of soft-drink bottles and rocks at the police.” Three young men broke into the Coca-Cola bottling plant on 38th Street, cracked open cases of Coke and began heaving glass bottles over a fence at the police. It took three hours to quell the “mob,” estimated at 3,000, the Los Angeles Times reported. Two police officers were hurt; others had their uniforms torn. A few officers lost their guns in the melee. Eighty adult demonstrators and 36 juveniles were arrested. For the ID technicians in the Police Records Bureau, it was quite a night. Two techs on duty the day after, a Monday, were swamped with fingerprint cards that had to be checked for warrants or prior arrests through huge index name files. The cards then were classified and searched individually in numerous drawers crammed with thousands of fingerprint cards from previous years. That Monday night brought more unrest and fingerprint cards for the harried ID techs. Cruising in caravans in San Diego and El Cajon, drag racers taunted police. About 100 people were arrested – some charged with disorderly conduct, others with weapons violations. More than 30 juveniles were picked up for curfew violations. Two days later, police arrested a printer named Herbert Sturdyvin, 20, on suspicion of conspiracy in the printing and distribution of the mimeographed fliers that police blamed for the original mass demonstration. Sturdyvin was released without having to post bail and was never charged.

    The following weekend, police braced for more disorder rumored to be stirred from sympathizers coming from Los Angeles. The demonstrations failed to materialize. After the riot, new demands were heard in the community for an authorized drag strip. The San Diego City Council promised to appoint a committee to “study the possibilities.” The president of the National Hot Rod Association pledged help from his organization in getting an official strip, but insisted that enthusiasts would have to “reform” their conduct. Eventually, the campaign for a drag strip was rewarded. The San Diego Raceway opened in Ramona in 1963 and operated until it became a runway for Ramona Airport. The Carlsbad Raceway which would be called, at the time, the "Best Drag Strip in the Country," opened in 1964 and hosted drag racing until the track closed in 2004.

    Richard Crawford is a local historian.
  2. dodored
    Joined: Feb 5, 2007
    Posts: 608

    from Concord NC

    Very interesting story. What a nightmare looking through all of the official fingerprint cards trying to identify law breakers!
  3. Those damn Hot Rodders !!!!


    Went to Ramona once or twice, saw Ivo's "Showboat" there, was there the day Carlsbad opened, there the day they closed.
    Didn't know the history, thanks for the education !!!
  4. I think both Paradise Mesa and HourGlass were landing strips used as drag strips whereas Ramona was a drag strip later converted to a air strip, probably as a CDF staging area ..... I think forestry still uses the strip today as a fire fighting resource.

    Carlsbad and Ramona are also old haunts of mine.
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  5. slammed
    Joined: Jun 10, 2004
    Posts: 8,161


    El Special Ed story, dang big city thugs on wheels. Ruin the scene for the rest of the country.
  6. AutoArt66
    Joined: Apr 3, 2010
    Posts: 274


    My buddy raced at Paradise Mesa starting in 1950 or 51. It was a auxillary military airstrip out in the middle of no where he said. Pre SCTA he said the timing was done by a company named Rosetta - his first real time slip! Cool History - Thanks.
  7. junk yard kid
    Joined: Nov 11, 2007
    Posts: 2,713

    junk yard kid

    I think my dad might have been there. He told me a story once about drag racing on el cajon boulevard and how someone brought out an fed and went down the boulevard in it. He had a nailhead powered t at the time. Ill ask him more when i get to work. Hes in his 70's and still comes to work everyday.
  8. Interesting! I have never heard this bit of local history before. Thanks for sharing.
  9. junk yard kid
    Joined: Nov 11, 2007
    Posts: 2,713

    junk yard kid

    I just talked to my dad. He told me paradice mesa was an abandoned air strip that people raced on illegally. He also recounted the story of that night. He told me that people were racing which is not what the above story says, he said he left after the fed went down the boulevard and he could see police lights in the distance. I guess his dad was pissed that he was there but he didnt get arrested.
  10. Kid, ask your dad if maybe that drag car was the Bean Burritos car that was ruling at Paradise when it closed. I heard something about a fuelie run on EC Blvd, closer to La Mesa, but that was late 60's-early 70's.
  11. Yes Art, I guess it was the middle of nowhere, but like so many other tracks/strips, growth chased them out. It was pretty accessible from alot of areas by "back roads" ..... I've heard stories of guys coming from the East County through one of these roads and meeting up at a solitary BBQ joint and drinking and fighting after the racing.
  12. [​IMG]
    Damn HotRodders!!
  13. junk yard kid
    Joined: Nov 11, 2007
    Posts: 2,713

    junk yard kid

    I think it would have been bean bandits. not burritos. My dad new those guys well ill ask him but he didnt say it was them so im guessing not. Could this bbq place have been the barret junction cafe? I know it was a real popular place in the 60-70's.
  14. Yeah Bean Bandits... confused with Burrito Brothers ... racer Jeb Allen's brother, friend.

    The BBQ place was where Sweetwater and Jamacha meet ... I think it was called the Hayloft or something like that .... that was the back-route to paradise from El Cajon, Lemon Grove and Spring Valley .... and all those guys were territorial! LOL
  15. Normbc9
    Joined: Apr 20, 2011
    Posts: 1,123


    CDF (now Cal Fire) is still very much a part of the Ramona Airport. Here are few nostalgic photo's. When we raced there the Starter/Timer would close the runway for the Air Tanker to take off and then when they returned to refill of tie down we'd stop again. Good memories. The B-17 is now in the Confederate Air Force. The TBF's and TBM's were the backbone of some really successful wild fire control operations then.

    Attached Files:

  16. Ramona ... Im guessing about 65..... I forgot where Jacks Mufflers was located .... anyone? I remember he kept his car stabled at his shop.
  17. Rocky Famoso
    Joined: Mar 30, 2008
    Posts: 3,016

    Rocky Famoso


    August 21, 1960 -- Police stop a Corvair on El Cajon Blvd. The women were part of a group protesting the closure of Hourglass Field, near Miramar after an August 8th accident that injured four people.


    Police filled a van near Menlo Bakery with people arrested during the El Cajon Boulevard Riot in 1960. More than 100 were hauled away after a protest turned into illegal street racing between 35th and 40th streets, drawing police with tear gas and batons.
  18. Special Ed
    Joined: Nov 1, 2007
    Posts: 6,903

    Special Ed

    Hahahaha... Actually it was just the opposite. New dragstrips were built BECAUSE of that "riot"... :)
    Okay, now go back down and hide in your mom's basement with your tin foil hat and your conspiracy theories.... :cool:
  19. Seeing those pics of the SD cops loading the paddy wagon ... alot of them (the cops) were also car guys. They were in an ackward position

    In '65 I traded a 213 Ford six I just rebuilt for a built (Hays Scheifer, Crower, Mallory, etc) 292 Y-block with a local patrol cop that wanted to go back to original.

    Straight trade but I had to throw in $125 extra for the tri-power with 94s ... I was happy!
  20. malcolm1943
    Joined: Sep 28, 2011
    Posts: 239


    I take it from your posts that you grew up in the san diego area, I was born and raised there myself. I was at the dragstrip riot that night and in fact helped unload Red Leggitt's dragster so he could make a pass down the boulevard. The racing was actually very well organised and ran smoothly untill the cops showed up, then all hell broke loose with everyone going every which way to try and avoid getting arrested. I was fortunate in that I managed to stay clear of the cops and not be one of the juveniles caught that night. Red made his pass and we met him at the other end, loaded the dragster and he left. My buddy and I hung around for some of the fun with the cops and split when they got nasty with the tear gas. Paradise Mesa was an old Navy training airstrip used to quick train pilots during the war and later used as a drag strip. I'mnot real sure who started the drag racing there but most of the local car clubs had some form of race car participating. I first went there with my older brother ans his car club the Globe Pacers, they had built a 39 chevy coupe with a Olds engine, hilborn mechanical injection, olds rearend with custom made hellwig suspension, that car last raced under the club name at the first winternationals in B/G. I personally raced a couple of tomes at hourglass which was just north of miramar naval air station, never in my own car but driving for a friend whose family had big bucks and he always had some fast sports car, the last one I raced for him was a 61 Fiat Spyder, and he didn't check the fluids so we ended up frying the engine. We lived in La Mesa and that was about18 miles from hourglass and he just gets to a phone calls his folks tells them what happened and they sent a tow truck for the car and a cab for us, my first ever cab ride! Romona was a fun track but I never got to see any racing there as I worked full time my last year of high school. An aquaintance I met thru a friend raced there regularly in a morris minor with a wayne 12 port gmc six. It was a full on race car, tube chassis,quick change rear,plexi windows, single seat. The guys name was Tony Caprio and the car was called Mello Yellow. Your post brought back a lot of fond, fun memories, thanks!
  21. Rocky Famoso
    Joined: Mar 30, 2008
    Posts: 3,016

    Rocky Famoso

    This from another account:

    Eventually 116 'demonstrators', including 36 juveniles, were hauled away in paddywagons. The adults were booked on suspicion of rioting, refusal to disperse and conspiracy, and then interrogated by homicide detectives. Police Chief Jansen reassured the city council that as soon as the 'ringleaders of the conspiracy' were identified, they would be charged with felonies. The names and addresses of the young adult arrestees, punctually published in Monday's San Diego Union, revealed that the hard core of the crowd, at least, came from the city's most typical blue collar neighbourhoods and suburbs. The largest contingent, not surprisingly, was from the tough, car-crazy town of El Cajon in the east county--also a major centre of biker subculture. Another group may have been affiliated with the popular East San Diego car club, the Unholys. Others were from equally working class Linda Vista, Lakeside, Spring Valley, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach. A dozen young Marines and sailors gave only fleet addresses. Only one defendant had a Spanish surname, and there was a striking absence of outlaw street racers from upscale areas like Point Loma or La Jolla where daddy controlled the keys to the T-Bird.

    Yet the El Cajon Boulevard Riot, as it became officially known, electrified teenagers of all classes, if not of all races. (I can personally testify that amongst my crowd of El Cajon 14 to 15 year olds this was unanimously the 'bitchinest' event of our lifetimes and the older rioters--with their ducktails and James Dean insoucience--were our Homeric heroes.) San Diego braced for the unknown. On Monday night, after one councilman had warned that the kids were 'trying to run the town', police reserves were called up and issued with riot sticks and teargas. Instead of a single mob they found themselves playing 'motorised tag' with long convoys of protesters who alternately slowed down and speeded up, but never exceeded the speed limit. Their unofficial anthem was the Ventures' thrilling punched to the floorboard instrumental 'Walk, Don't Run'. Many of the cars displayed hand lettered signs: 'Wipe out teargas' and 'We want a drag strip.' In addition to El Cajon Boulevard, where several hundred hotrodders taunted authorities in a tense confrontation at a popular drive-in, police and highway patrol struggled to keep up with the large contingents cruising Clairemont, Linda Vista and Pacific Beach. In El Cajon, where chief Joseph O'Connor had vowed that 'we will resist mob rule down to the last man', the police blocked Main Street and ticketed protesters for real or spurious 'equipment violations'. Meanwhile, San Diego Police, aided by the shore patrol, impounded cars and arrested more than 100 juveniles and adults--many of them, it seems, for the sole purpose of interrogation about supposed ringleaders.

    "Wild Streets: American Graffiti versus the Cold War" by Mike Davis Published 2001
  22. Rocky Famoso
    Joined: Mar 30, 2008
    Posts: 3,016

    Rocky Famoso

    "San Diego Raceway" at Ramona, California. It began life in about 1963 after what was termed the
    "San Diego Rodders Riot." The location was just north-west outside the small town.
    There was not much there except for a pit area, a few grandstands, a timing tower and a strip to race on. One good thing, it was a safe place for kids to race....but it not only drew the kids, it also drew the pros.

    Here, the flagmen lets them go. This photo was taken before the use of the "Christmas Tree" lights.

    Two front engined dragsters lite them up. Dragsters were still trying to hit the 200mph mark back then.

    A Willys in the near lane sponsored by "Jacks Muffler Service...San Diego" gets the jump going against the Mercury Comet of "Dyno" Don Nicholson. Don was a very well known national drag racer back in the day, first driving Chevys then mostly Ford powered cars.

    Images via:
  23. Rocky cool on the pics and that John Struab site is pretty damn intense. I am beating my brain trying to place the Jack's Muffler car, where his shop was/is. Remember that car sitting in his shop bay during the week.
  24. Malcom, dang you got some history behind you. Any contributions you make to this thread or this site are gonna be well recieved .... bring 'em on.

    I was only ten years old in 1960 but I certainly remember the smell of the lifestyle of those days..... wasnt too much later I was cruising those very same streets.

    Thanks for the input.
  25. daddio211
    Joined: Aug 26, 2008
    Posts: 5,987


    This was great reading your posts. My dad was there too and fondly recounted that night many times. He passed away in December, but I have so many great stories!

    Malcolm, my dad was there when you guys unloaded the dragster. He waited around anxiously until you guys fired it and ran it. As soon as the run was over he and my uncle split, knowing the shit was going to hit the fan!

    They ran right past a cop putting up wooden road blocks a few miles away, then got pulled over a short while later for open exhaust in his '49 shoebox with a Merc flattie with milled heads. Two straight pipes dumping right under the rear seat, he shut it off at the first sighting of the cherry in the mirror and coasted to a stop. Cop told him to start the car, then rev it. Knowing full well what would happen he barely bumped the throttle. Cop didn't buy it, told him to rev it again. He bumpd the throttle the second time a little more. Cop still not buying it tells him, "Listen boy, I told you I wanted to hear this thing!" My dad revved the shit out of it, scared the shit out of the cop, and got an $11 ticket, LOL.

    He lived on Twain Ave in Allied Gardens at the time. My Uncle lived on Wayfarer in La Mesa. Both were big time car guys, hopping up and racing anything they could get their hands on.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2012
  26. fiftee6effie
    Joined: Oct 23, 2011
    Posts: 124


    This is like the History Channel!! I love this stuff!!!
  27. FlynBrian
    Joined: Oct 5, 2007
    Posts: 760


    Great stories fellows! Enjoyed reading them. Cool history!

  28. Daddio, it is dang amazing how connections work out..... remember we are talking over fifty years ago.

    My first post I mentioned my uncle got arrested a few blocks away from my house ... welp, that was on Twain, on the bottom of the hill in front of that old gas station that was next to the elementary school (grantville).
    I lived at the top of twain, next block over, I probably knew your pops or maybe his siblings. We were a tight community.

    .... more of his stories, please.
  29. denis4x4
    Joined: Apr 23, 2005
    Posts: 3,138

    from Colorado

    As you can see from this reproduction sign, Paradise Mesa was an NHRA sanctioned strip as early as 1953. My first trip there was in 1955. Probably the most exciting series of races there were the Bean Bandits and Speed Sport Special match races.

    I was there for the "cruise in" but missed the riots. Even before the riots, SDPD was cracking down on cruising El Cajon Blvd. For awhile, La Mesa PD went out of their way to ticket cruisers on El Cajon and University. We usual started around Park Blvd. and headed east on El Cajon Blvd and turned around at 70th to avoid the LMPD.

    Serious street racers used a marked quarter mile on Florida in the canyon between the Navy hospital and the muni golf course. You could block Zoo Drive and Morley Field drive to prevent civilians from getting in the way.

    As a side note, Dick Boynton was know as Happy Hare on KCBQ and ran a factory sponsored Dodge truck in the gas classes. There was an extensive thread on the HAMB on this truck several years ago

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Apr 12, 2012
  30. MikeRose
    Joined: Oct 7, 2004
    Posts: 1,488


    Very cool. I grew up in SD too, although it was long after 1960. Neat to read about the same areas I grew up in.

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