1947 to 1952
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Inking the contract - a staple of early motor racing publicity. Northern California roadster drivers make ready to go with the stroke of promoter Billy Hunefeld's pen. Hunefeld ran the Stockton "99", Modesto and Hughes Stadiums. The drivers are (from left) Lemoine Frey, Sam Hawks, roadster-racing association business manager Nils Lilejedahl, and Jumpin' Joe Valente. (Eddie Silva Collection and Street Rodder Magazine)

World War Two was over, the sport of auto racing on the west coast began to become increasingly popular once again and the idea of a track in the city of Stockton was formed in the mind of William G. 'Billy' Hunefeld, a man who was born in the infamous Hells Kitchen area of Brooklin, New York. Coming from a poor family in this era ment that the ability to protect oneself took precedence over schooling, and hence Billy learned life's lessons from the school of hard knocks developing along the way in to a light heavyweight boxing contender in his early years. As time passed he moved to Phoenix Arizona and promoted boxing and wrestling, many times being one of the main event contestants himself. He eventually settled into the Stockton area and continued his promoting business. Enlisting the support of Stockton area businessman Stanley S Moore, and local Lawyer Len H Honey, construction was started on the fifth mile dirt racing surface in March of 1947, and completed by mid May. The new 99 Stadium as it was called, featured grandstands on both sides of the track providing a total seating capacity of close to 10,000. Those stands were removed a few years later to make room for Moore's truck and recreational vehicle buildings that still stand across the track. Entry onto the track came from the turn one and two side, and cars were timed by hand held stopwatches. The inaugural race was held on Tuesday night, May 27th., featuring a 12 car field of Midgets under the sanction of the United States Racing Association (USAC). A crowd of more than 8,000 people were on hand that opening night with cars parked up to one mile north and south on highway 99 (Wilson Way). Stockton Mayor Woodrow Coale and most of his city council members were on hand also, as the Greyhound bus service shuttled the huge crowds from downtown Stockton to the track. After the preliminary events were over, starter Leslie Pine dropped the green on the 25 lap feature. Billy 'The Kid' Vukovich of Fresno took control on the fifth lap and never looked back in his two cycle 'Drake', taking the win ahead of Cal Niday, Edgar Elder of Los Angeles, Frank Arrni of Hanford, and Johnny Boyd of Fresno. (For a further history of the USAC and BCRA midgets of the early years I highly recommend the book by Tom Motter entitled 'BCRA The first 50 years'). One week later, on May 31st, the first Roadster event was run at Stockton. The Roadsters, also known as "Hot Rods" were precision built open wheel cars with no tops or roll bars to protect the drivers of the time. Aside from a few hopped up 4-cylinders, the cars ran Ford flathead motors with 274 maximum cubic inches topped with multiple carburetors. They were push started with 'in-out' gearboxes and quick-change rear ends. Mel Fernandes, the first manager of the new track reported over 5,500 fans in attendance for the first event won by Ernie Reyes of Berkeley in a 4-clyinder Crager Special. 'Sad' Sam Hawks of Modesto placed second. The events were sanctioned by the Northern California Roadster Racing Association (NCRRA) and a total of 36 drivers were found in the newspaper listings for the season. Included among them were names like 'Lighting' Lemoine Frey of Lodi, who drove the Dickman Special, built and owned by Al Dickman of Manteca. Dickman enjoyed a reputation in those days as an advanced thinker and race car designer. others included 'Jumping' Joe Valente of Berkeley, and George 'Blonde' Pacheco of Oakland.
(Special thanks to Larry Hawks for sharing his Father, Sam's, pictures with us!)

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