California’s Ash Kan Derby Was Home To Many Racing Stars
One of the first race tracks to open in Southern California after World War II was located near San Bernardino — a sandy, rough hewn track off East Third Street with the inglorious name of Ash Kan Derby (yes, the ‘K’ was the official spelling).
The track opened Oct. 28, 1945, with less than a dozen jalopies maneuvering around sand traps and water holes. It wasn’t long before it evolved into a more traditional flat quarter mile.
Ash Kan Derby was truly “run what ya brung.” When a 15 year old at Ontario’s Chaffey High was told by a friend of a track where anyone could race and they didn’t ask questions, the teenager made the trip one Sunday afternoon, used his cousin’s birth certificate and father’s car — and won $24.
So began the career of Troy Ruttman, who later became the youngest winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1952.
Don Freeland, who made eight starts in the Indianapolis 500, also began his racing career at the track, which had few amenities. Spectators sat on their parked cars and the “crash wall” consisted of snow fencing topped by a strand of barbed wire.
Despite what the track’s name implied, most of the cars were far from junkers, with some good quality track roadsters in competition. Located about an hour east of Los Angeles, it attracted many drivers from that area.
Shortly after local driver Marion “Art” Hoover died in an accident July 28, 1946, a contest was held to rename the lengthened oval. The winning entry was Paradise Valley Speedway.
If the caliber of the cars was better than the track’s original name indicated, the driving talent displayed was even more impressive. In addition to Ruttman and Freeland, Joe James, his brother Walt, Jimmy Davies, Jack McAfee, George Seeger and Harry Stockman raced there, though documentation is weak at best.
Joe James won the 1952 AAA Midwest sprint-car title, Davies won three national midget titles and both raced in the Indianapolis 500. McAfee became a top sports-car racer on the West Coast, and Seeger and Stockman earned California Roadster Ass’n championships before moving on, respectively, to stock cars and midgets.
Reopening in late June 1947 as Gate City Speedway, the track ran up against a juggernaut. On May 1, the inaugural midget race at Orange Show Stadium drew more than 8,000 fans.
As if that wasn’t enough, the CRA — with former Ash Kan Derby regulars — ran at Orange Show July 22. Faced with a choice between a night in concrete grandstands with bench seating, good spectator facilities and some of the region’s top drivers versus late afternoon heat at a place with spartan facilities — it quickly became obvious.
The track once known as Ash Kan Derby quickly faded into history and Orange Show Speedway remains in operation, 62 years later.