Built In 1958, Vaca Valley Raceway Still Sits Idle

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SITTING IDLE: The outline of Vaca Valley Raceway can still be seen in the countryside between Sacramento and San Francisco. (Dann Shively Photo)
SITTING IDLE: The outline of Vaca Valley Raceway can still be seen in the countryside between Sacramento and San Francisco. (Dann Shively Photo)

Sitting just off of Interstate 80 midway between Sacramento and San Francisco are the remains of a multi-purpose raceway waiting for someone to step in and rescue it.

Vaca Valley Raceway was built in 1958 at an estimated cost of $500,000. A seven-turn, 2.1-mile road course and 1.25-mile oval were added around the existing Vacaville Drag Strip, with both courses using the strip as their start/finish line. The road course was inaugurated with a San Francisco Region race over the Fourth of July weekend with Jack McAfee and John von Neumann winning the featured races.

Two months later, 12,000 were on hand for an SCCA National event that featured a great duel between von Neumann’s Ferrari and Lance Reventlow’s Scarab, with von Neumann prevailing. Augie Pabst drove a Scarab to victory in a USAC Road Racing Championship race in 1959.

The dream of major oval races never came to pass, and only two races are documented to have taken place on the mile-and-a-quarter oval — California Racing Ass’n sprint-car races on Memorial Day 1959 and 1960.

The races were run “Monza” style, with multiple mains and a point system determining an overall winner. In 1959, the three 50-lap mains were won by future Indy-car star Roger McCluskey, Chuck Hulse and Del Fanning with Hulse’s finishes of first, second and third earning the overall victory.

The 1960 race was run in two 50-lap features and marred by the death of Seattle’s Kenny McLaughlin. Ernie Koch, who qualified at 136 miles per hour, and “Termite” Jones won the mains with Koch’s second in race two, giving him the overall honors.

A high point was the 1964 regional opening weekend, attracting an estimated 15,000 spectators as the track continued to be home track of the San Francisco Region, but deteriorating pavement on the road course portion began causing problems. And the primitive facilities for spectators and drivers alike were bad even by standards for the era.

When Sears Point (now Infineon) Raceway opened, Vaca Valley Raceway appeared doomed. However, when Sears Point closed for an extended period, the SF Region went back to VVR. With no other options, the region leased the track from its owner.

The last known race on the road course took place in late 1971 and drag racing carried on through 1972. Finally, in 1972, track conditions proved too much as regional races were canceled or indefinitely postponed.

Vaca Valley Raceway, which in its day saw some of the top road racers of the era — Ginther, Follmer, Shelby, Titus, Miles, Bucknum, MacDonald, Grant, Leslie, Parsons, Krause — was closed.