The Rose Bowl is famous for it’s annual New Year’s Day football game, but like Chicago’s Soldier Field and New York’s Polo Grounds, the Pasadena stadium also has a rich racing history — including two “hot rod” races.
The races, sanctioned by the California Roadster Ass’n, included future Indy stars and four future 500 winners — Troy Ruttman, Bob Sweikert, Pat Flaherty and Jim Rathmann — among the competitors.
For 1947, new promoter Bob Ware paved the fifth-mile oval and announced a special event in addition to the weekly midget programs. Billed as the First National Roadster Championship, a lot of hype was involved for the Aug. 7 race. A reported 76 entries “from around the country” necessitated a separate day of qualifying. Three thousand fans were on hand to watch 37 drivers qualify.
The “national” part was adding out-of-state hometowns to the CRA regulars, all of whom could be found racing at other area tracks in the weeks before. After Troy Ruttman was reported as fastest qualifier, a re-check found Manuel Ayulo fastest ahead of Jim Rathmann and Ruttman.
Defending CRA champ Jack McGrath won the three-lap trophy dash over Rathmann and Ayulo as Ruttman failed to start and was out for the night with a broken driveshaft.
The race format was two 50-lap features with the top three finishers battling in a 10-lap “run-off” to determine the “national” champion.
The mains featured 10-car fields fully inverted based on qualifying times. This put veteran Ed Barnett on the pole for the first 50 lapper. Japanese-American driver Yam Oka took the lead as Ayulo made his way up from last. Oka slipped on lap 42 and Ayulo got by, taking the win, with Lou Figaro edging Oka for second.
The second 50 lapper was won by Andy Linden over Roy Prosser and Don Freeland as only six cars finished. McGrath and Rathmann collided on lap 14, losing a lot of ground. McGrath retired after 37 laps with engine trouble from the collision. Bob Sweikert was also in the field.
The 10-lap “run-off” was all Ayulo after Linden spun in the first turn and retired. Ayulo won easily over Freeland, Oka and Prosser.
A five-lap race pitted a local against the fastest out-of-state qualifier with Wayne Tipton beating Denver’s Ray Russell, who might have been the only driver from outside California. But the crowd was reported to be more than 35,000 and the purse more than $4,000.
The roadsters returned Sept. 11 for the 50-lap Gold Cup.
Unheralded Steve Dusich led from the start until his engine blew on lap 46. McGrath took the lead only to have Ruttman storm past on lap 47. Ruttman went on to victory ahead of McGrath and Barnett.
The crowd was reported to be 9,123 fans for what turned out to be the final roadster race at the historic venue.