Register now to get rid of these ads!

History 1960 San Diego Drag/Street Riots

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

  1. denis4x4
    Joined: Apr 23, 2005
    Posts: 3,511

    from Colorado mentioned some very familar names in your post. I think that Merle's truck had chromed Model A bumpers front and rear and they looked like they belonged! Too, you mentioned the number of hot rods in the high school parking lots. Same at Hoover in the late fifties. As a side note, got my new HOT ROD today and the coverge of the "Genuine Hot Rods Of The '50s" must of been photoshopped as not of those guys had tats, Dickies with 6" cuffs or tee shirts with crude commentary.
  2. Hot Rods Ta Hell
    Joined: Apr 20, 2008
    Posts: 4,080

    Hot Rods Ta Hell

    Merle's truck was featured in a (late 50's-early 60's?) Hot Rod or Car Craft. I recall recognising the photo shoot location as The Broadway Dept. store at Grossmont Center was the back drop.

    Here's an early shot of Paradise Mesa. The old Sweetwater airport, used as an auxiliary/training strip in WWII.

    Attached Files:

  3. 3day
    Joined: Apr 15, 2009
    Posts: 354

    from UK

    I spent a good while researching EL Cajon/San Diego area when trying to find history on my car which i believe spent its life in this area, and also came across the articles about the Street Riots which i found fascinating. Spent a fair time looking for images taken at paradise mesa too but found very few. There is however a group on facebook which some of you may be interested in:
  4. daddio211
    Joined: Aug 26, 2008
    Posts: 5,998


    Yep, that's my Uncle Ed! He played a lot of football back then and from the size of him still today you can see why. I've been reading this thread to my mom over the past few days and the crusin' Oscar's thing brings back so many memories. My parents were always hanging out there, specifically the one by Hoover High... she says that was the best one, LOL.

    Ed stayed into cars for many, many years and moved up to Washington State. He opened a shop up there, specializing in VW's. He's a wizard with clutches!


    That is SUCH a cool shot!

    I think it's important to note for those of us who weren't there, that what the police and press called a riot wasn't what we would call a riot. No property was destroyed, no fights broke out, just a bunch of kids street racing in an industrial area having fun. The police came in to disperse and some wouldn't (or couldn't) leave. The stories I've heard from my dad over the years (remember I said he left before the cops showed up) said that a few cops immediately started throwing tear gas and arresting people.
  5. Mike
    Joined: Mar 5, 2001
    Posts: 3,488


    My good freind and fellow Bean Bandit Richard Lux used to be part of the crew for Willie's Pie wagon.

    I'm digging this thread. My Mom graduated from Grossmont High in 1959, married my Dad (a Marine) in 1960, my sister was born at Naval Hosital Camp Pedalton in 1961 and I was born there in 1962. I grew up in the San Jose area, but I have always had strong connections with San Diego (family, freinds, surfing and now racing team).

    Great stuff!
  6. I found a site listing maps of abandoned airstrips around San Diego and came across this one
    Scroll all-l-l the way to the bottom for the Paradise Mesa Strip.

    Here is alittle cut and paste:


    [FONT=Times New Roman, serif]A 1954 photo (courtesy of Tony Cantarini) of drag racers on the “Paradise Mesa” (Sweetwater Dam) airfield.[/FONT]

    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]Tony Cantarini recalled, “I was born in Paradise Hills in 1961.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]I did hear a lot about the [airfield] named Sweetwater Dam NOLF, even though none of the stories involved aircraft or the use of that name.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]The many stories about it came from my Dad, Mom, Uncle and their high school friends that used it from the late 1940s until 1959.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]They always called it Paradise Mesa Airstrip.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]There were many stories of how they would line up with 8 cars & race.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]The fastest 4 would turn around & race back followed by the other 4.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]Eventually this would continue until 4 were going one way & 4 were coming the other way.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]If everyone observed 'the imaginary center line' there wouldn't be a problem.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]Unfortunately, accidents happened & the West end of the strip saw tragedy also, due to a steep drop near the end of the runway.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]I can see why it was used for carrier landing practice.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]The west end must have looked like an aircraft carrier.”[/FONT]

    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]Tony continued, “The guys that were serious about racing grew tired of being chased off by the police,[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]so they organized and suddenly the beginnings of the NHRA evolved & events were held on weekends from 1951-59.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]My Dad & many others still used it during the week.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]The police would try to run the street racers off the strip or catch them, but their under-powered police cars couldn't catch anyone.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]At the time, there was open land, canyons & trails in all directions from the Mesa and getaways were easy.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]When me & my brother were old enough to ride bikes, our Dad took us on all the trails,[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]where we soon started to ride motocross in these areas which remained mostly undeveloped during the 1960s & 1970s.”[/FONT]

    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]Tony continued, “I can't think of any practical commercial use it could have been used for... it was so isolated.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]Maybe if someone would have started a flight school it may have lasted much longer. I have my doubts.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]My guess is that the family that owned the huge chunk of land east of National City[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]are the ones that live in the Spanish mansion at the west end of Paradise Valley Road.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]Every 5 to 10 years, they would sell off sections of land to developers.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]I never knew the limits of their land but my Dad told me they would lease large areas to cattle owners.”[/FONT]

    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]Tony described a DVD which described drag racing at the (Sweetwater) Paradise Mesa airfield:[/FONT]
    “[FONT=Arial, helvetica]One of the interviews talks about how they had to get permission[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]from 'the woman that owned the land' (a phrase my Dad used) in order to have sanctioned racing.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]They also had to pay her an annual fee of a dollar. I wonder how much she charged the Navy?”[/FONT]

    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]Sweetwater was still listed among active airfields in the Aerodromes table[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]on the 1955 San Diego Sectional Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of John Voss).[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]It described the field as having a single 3,000' bituminous runway,[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]and included the remark, "Auto racing on field. Closed weekends."[/FONT]

    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]The Sweetwater Airport was evidently closed at some point between 1955-58,[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]as it was no longer depicted at all on the September 1956 San Diego Sectional Chart (according to Chris Kennedy).[/FONT]

    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]According to auto racing historian Bret Kepner,[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, helvetica]the Sweetwater runway was used as a commercial drag strip until 1959.[/FONT]
  7. The mention of ther motocross riding in this area puts it into perspective ... although it was off Paradise road we called this area "Bonita" ... knowing full well the actual town of bonita was miles away. The home developer cut in terraced house pads then went bankrupt .... for many years I "caught air" on these terraces. I remember the ground was that hard blue shale .... slippery when wet!

    Not too far away was one of the areas best swap meets .... I am talking late sixties, early seventies here.
  8. Thanks for posting all of this history, it really means a lot to me. My family has been in Ramona for a very long time, and while the drag strip is before my time some of my earliest memories are of my grandpa Hanson telling me about all of the crazy race cars that ran there; some with two engines, some with jet engines. As a young kid it seemed surreal that machinery of this type would be matching up in our small agricultural community. While I missed the action at the drag strip I did grow up under the approach path to the airfield, and have many fond memories of CDF/cal fire planes flying over our house as well as our house rumbling every time Chuck Hall would fly by in his F4U and later his P-51. Thanks again I really have enjoyed everyone's stories.
  9. Finn Jensen
    Joined: Dec 20, 2008
    Posts: 633

    Finn Jensen

    You probably remember the noise from the aerobatics practice we flew just North of the runway in the 80s. It would get pretty intense on weekends. Lots of issues with surrounding homeowners complaining. Chuck Hall is a friend who I haven't see in years.
  10. Catdaddyo
    Joined: Mar 9, 2005
    Posts: 136


    Enjoying this thread, I grew up in San Diego, rode motocross at Carlsbad up until it it closed . Was there on the last day for the party. Rode in Bonita for years it was great riding, had my 55 chevy pick up and an CZ. Now I am restoring my second 55 ...
  11. Actually I think I do vaguely remember that. Being an Airforce brat I never could understand all the fuss between the community and various aviation activity. The uproars that really stand out are the runway extension/expansion and the navy choppers flight path right over Ramona.
  12. Hot Rods Ta Hell
    Joined: Apr 20, 2008
    Posts: 4,080

    Hot Rods Ta Hell

    I read that Gene Mooneyham wrecked his 34 5/w at Paradise Mesa, which prompted a rebuild of the car (including a chop) and Gene handing over the driving chores to Larry Faust;

    Mooneyham wrecked the car at the now defunct Paradise Mesa strip outside of San Diego. With a taco’d frame and body that had seen better days the fate of the coupe was hanging in the balance. Cooler heads prevailed with the idea to repair the car, but take it to the next plateau of performance.
    The frame was straightened using jacks, chains, and trees. The top was chopped a shade more than 3 inches and all the rest of the sheetmetal was straightened and smoothed. Car sponsor Al Sharp was impressed with the repaired piece and had it painted silver.

    Here's a pic of Jerry Baltes coupe at Paradise Mesa;

    Attached Files:

  13. Hot Rods Ta Hell
    Joined: Apr 20, 2008
    Posts: 4,080

    Hot Rods Ta Hell

    While doing research, I found one documented racing fatality at Paradise Mesa. Norris Abbott (Brother of Leonard Abbott of Lenco trans. fame) tragically perished at a young age while racing at Paradise Mesa.

    I also found an account of two girls killed one night (not during a race)driving off the strip area and into a canyon.

    Norris Abbott
    <!-- ParagraphTitleEnd -->
    <!-- ParagraphBodyStart -->Born: September 30, 1933
    Died: July 19, 1958
    Buried: Greenwood Memorial Park, San Diego, California

    Age: 24
    Full Name: Norris Wayne Abbott

    Drag Strip: Paradise Mesa Drag Strip, San Diego, California
    Accident Date: July 19, 1958
    Car: Corvette-engined dragster

    Biographical: He was going 130 MPH nearing the finish line when his transmission exploded. The gas tank and fuel lines caught fire causing him to lose control. The car flipped over and over in the flaming wreckage. He lived in San Diego and was the brother of Lenco Transmissions founder, Leonard Abbott. The two were partners in a service station business in Imperial Beach. He was survived by his wife, Crystal, and daughter Linda, and a soon-to-be-born son, Michael.

    Attached Files:

  14. Hot Rods Ta Hell
    Joined: Apr 20, 2008
    Posts: 4,080

    Hot Rods Ta Hell

    One documented racing fatality at Ramona as well;

    John Wenderski

    Born: August 31, 1938
    Died: February 23, 1964

    Buried: Howell, Michigan

    Age: 25

    Full Name: John Joseph Wenderski
    Nickname: "Big John"

    Drag Strip: San Diego Raceway, Ramona, California

    Accident Date: February 23, 1964
    Car: "Black Beauty" Chrysler-powered AA/FD
    Biographical: He was 6th in the Drag News national rankings, preparing for a race that was to be held the following week challenging Don Garlits in a best two of three race for the No. 1 ranking at Lions Drag Strip. He was killed during time trials when his car was buffeted by a gust of wind as it approached the finish timing lights at a speed between 160-70 MPH. It began to drift to the left side of the track. It got off onto the side of the race track, hit an embankment, soared twenty feet through the air, and flipped before landing on rocky ground and disintegrating. His body was still strapped in the driver's cage, but lying twenty feet from the bulk of the wreckage. He was dead on arrival at El Cajon Valley Hospital. He was a resident of Northridge, California.

    Take one last pass with John in this wonderful vintage film clip at Lions!!!;

  15. ill go talk to an older gentleman in el cajon that has lots of old pics of paradise mesa from when he use to race there he is the owner of chariles hub caps cool old guy once you can get him to open up.
  16. I remember him, still kicking?? ... Chucks Used Hubcaps.

    Thats a shame ... with a unborne son. My Dad and Uncles kept the jalopies in Palm City (alot of folks never heard of it!) and a gas station in Imperial Beach sponsored them ... just wondering outloud.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2012
  17. danwal215
    Joined: Sep 29, 2008
    Posts: 21

    from san diego

    Richard Lux was also arrested at the Riots !!
  18. I remember the favorite cruise for those of us from the La Mesa area was from our local hang out Dobbs drive in east to the Oscars drive in in El Cajon then west down to the Oscars by Hoover high then farther west to the Oscars in Pacific Beach and then reverse the ride back home ending up at Dobbs. We were able to cruise a lot of miles back then when 110 octane gas was $1.25 a gallon. It was a great time to be a teen and into cars, cruizen and girls!

    I do remember that route. Think my gas was cheaper though. The 48 Merc engine didn't need no race fuel. Had a buddy, Tommy Rundell, who had a nice metallic blue 41 Ford coupe also flathead powered that made the tour once in a while. <!-- / message --><!-- sig -->
  19. Mike
    Joined: Mar 5, 2001
    Posts: 3,488


    Of course he was!:)
  20. When you did the run to PB I wonder if you remember the wooden bridge that went over mission bay ... I think it was called Ventura St bridge. That one was always a "e-ticket" to drive over. I ended up with some of the pilings when it was tore down.

    The other way into PB was Garnet. PB Moving and Storage had a 46 Chev 1 1/2 ton truck always parked outside, like Truley Nolan did at the gas stations ... my dad bought that truck new.
  21. MichaelAbbott
    Joined: Jun 28, 2012
    Posts: 2

    from Florida


    Regarding the death of my father, Norris Abbott.

    It has bothered me all my life, mostly due to my mother being so troubled by the event, that she tried to isolate me and keep me from (anything dangerous), and from the "Family Tradition".

    Did not work.

    Like my father and uncle, I taught myself quite a bit, built a few cars, and motorcycles, drove hard, drove fast, entered the USAF and was involved in weapons development and testing of aircraft weapons system. Flew in a few jets and generally live for the moment. (but I am safety minded and conscious of danger!)

    I have spent quite a bit over the years, pondering where I would be and what I would have done, had I been allowed the opportunity to have grown up around my uncle.

    We talked and I visited with him a few times, and he was the best.

    Thanks for your taking time to have written about my father, it means more than words can convey. :)
    lumpy 63 likes this.
  22. portage
    Joined: Nov 1, 2009
    Posts: 14

    from Montana

    Great stuff---I can identify!!!!!
  23. shakeyjames
    Joined: Dec 31, 2005
    Posts: 8

    from pittsburgh

    My Dad had told me about this years ago. he and my mom ( who went to Hoover high ) were both there. I was only a couple of months old at the time so I was down the street at my grandmas house. He told me that, When the tear gas started he and my mom left their car there and ran to my grandparents house which if I remember right was on 49th. But I remember going to Oscers drive in alot. We also went to the Campus drive in seems like almost every weekend. Anyway have had a real good time reading all these posts. Lots of good memorys of East san diego. Oh yea, I left out that we ended up moveing to Ramona when I was 10. The strip had already shut down. Good thing there was Carlsbad !
  24. shakeyjames
    Joined: Dec 31, 2005
    Posts: 8

    from pittsburgh

    Just talked to my mom and she said that when the cops started with the tear gas she was walking in the cross walks stopping traffic. I'm a proud son !
  25. Old thread revisited for those that missed it ..... lots of San Diego history here.
  26. Iggys31
    Joined: Jan 8, 2012
    Posts: 60


    Awesome, first hand account of what Paradise Mesa was like back in the day from a guy that lived it, Dick Lechien. Videos are complete with photo shots. Cool San Diego Drag history for those interested.
  27. woodbutcher
    Joined: Apr 25, 2012
    Posts: 3,210


    :D Great thread .Keep it going.
    Good luck.Have fun.Be safe.
  28. I was out for a Cruise along a local beach today in the Tudor, and stopped at a local restaurant for a breakfast with my wife, of smoked salmon Eggs Benedict. When I parked, an older gent came up, and started asking me about the car, did I build it, what size engine, etc... In talking with the guy, he said he won a Championship in, I think, 1957 at Paradise Mesa, with his Deuce Roadster, that had a 324 Olds, with 3 97 carbs on it. Didn't get a chance to visit with him nearly as much as I wanted to (wifey was hungry) but I got a phone number, he also said he still has the trophy from 1957, and his old Car Club license plate, I think he said it was the "21's" or "Twenty-One's" from San Diego...anybody heard of the club?
  29. cduece32
    Joined: Jan 28, 2010
    Posts: 219


    That fuelie car I believe was Spellman and Jones car, Nhra record holder. The club was called the Bean Bandits, they had race cars, lots of cars at Paradise Valley, Carlsbad was the best strip, Ramona was a terrible strip to run a fast car on.
  30. cduece32
    Joined: Jan 28, 2010
    Posts: 219



Share This Page

Register now to get rid of these ads!


Copyright © 1995-2020 The Jalopy Journal: Steal our stuff, we'll kick your teeth in. Terms of Service. Privacy Policy.

Atomic Industry
Forum software by XenForo™ ©2010-2014 XenForo Ltd.