Several Racing Legends Started At Banning Legion Speedway
In the last half of the roaring 20s, a small Southern California town on the edge of the desert was the site of a race track that groomed future stars.
Located 84 miles east of Los Angeles — between San Bernardino and Palm Springs — the town of Banning had a population of little more than 2,000 when the local American Legion post built a half-mile dirt oval in 1925.
In the July 4 opener, John Brinton drove a Franklin to victory in front of an estimated crowd of 1,000. The Banning Legion Speedway soon gained in popularity and interest.
Over the next four years, 21 race meetings for what were early sprint cars are known to have been held at the track in San Gorgonio Pass, usually on holidays like Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day and Armistice (Veterans) Day.
In a move quite unique for the era, Banning kept points and crowned a track champion. Races drew as many as 5,000 spectators and more than two dozen race cars. At times, special trains brought spectators from Los Angeles.
The track’s big winner was “Speed” Hinkley, a Nebraska native who lived in Pasadena. Hinkley won three features outright and also figured in an unusual event that left him credited with both a win and a “tie.”
During the Armistice Day program of 1927, Hinkley and Bill Spence were dueling for the lead when they collided in the south turn on the 12th lap of the 30-lap feature.
Hinkley continued on and took the checkered flag. Immediately after the race, the two drivers got into quite an argument, which ended when Hinkley agreed to split his first-place money with Spence.
The promising young Spence died two years later in a crash in his first start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hinkley also was the 1927-28 track champion, the champion being crowned after the Memorial Day race.
Other multiple winners were Lou Moore, Barney Kleopfer, Francis Quinn and Jimmy Sharp. Moore went on to make nine starts in the Indy 500 before becoming a multiple Indy 500-winning car owner.
For almost its entire operation, Banning was an “outlaw” track, the term applying to its origin — meaning it was not sanctioned by the AAA. Many drivers did their early racing at tracks like Banning before moving on to the AAA. For 1929, Banning was AAA sanctioned and races counted toward the 1929 AAA Pacific Coast championship. Then, the track faded away.
In all, 11 drivers who raced on the track went on to race in the Indianapolis 500, accounting for 42 starts, three poles and one win. Among them were sprint-car Hall of Fame members Ernie Triplett, Al Gordon, Ted Horn, Moore and 1938 500 winner Floyd Roberts.
Quite a legacy for the track in the Pass.