Book Review: Portland Speedway

Portland Speedway (Images Of Sports), by Jeff Zurschmeide

In reading this book I was filled with a sense that I wish I would have known this building better.  Now torn down with the remnants of a small clay track that is still visible, this is a building that I would have appreciated for a variety of reasons.  For one, the building was a glorious short track that was once part of the racing circuit, being a regular part of the Winston West tour, the Nascar-affiliated truck series, and even the World of Outlaws series, whose pulling out made the track no longer financially viable to keep up.  But even so, the track was used for local street racing, drag car racing, and even go kart racing, and with all of those uses I would have found reason to appreciate this racetrack had I been around when it was still running.  There is racing in my blood, after all, and if I had known that such tracks needed support from casual fans of racing like me and that it would be more fun to see such races in person than on television, then I would have definitely made the opportunity available to see it, but alas, there is no such chance now.

This book is divided into five chapters that take up a bit more than 100 pages, right along the usual length of this series (and its related Images of America series).  The book begins with the usual acknowledgments and introduction before discussing the origins of Portland Speedway in the period from 1936 to 1945 (1).  After that the book shows the postwar boom that led to the track starting the careers of numerous racers and others who went on to greater fame in Nascar and Indy Racing League (2).  The book then covers the period from 1960 to 1980 where the track was still a well-regarded regional track that featured popular racing on the short track (3), and the period where the building was still an institution that supported a vibrant racing community (4).  During these decades a variety of owners were able to make some money (if not a lot) in running the track.  Finally, the book discusses the end of an era, when attempts at making the track part of the World of Outlaws series failed and the track was destroyed as no longer being financially viable to its final owner, who did not find enough profit in weekend local races and go karts to make a go of it.

At its peak, Portland Speedway had racers like Dale Earnhardt and Billy Allison, among others, racing for wins and a chance at the biggest races, had a slick track that promised (and delivered) a lot of action, and had race girls who looked very happy to kiss and hug successful racers.  It featured a variety of stock car and drag racing classes, including a fair amount of racing with classes where street cars could be used, and where even a moonlighting Oregonian reporter was able to do well.  Yet none of that history allowed the racetrack to survive when people stopped coming and when racing leagues looked for longer tracks with those boring ovals instead of the excitement of the short track.  And once the speedway no longer was paying off for its owner, the immediate thought was to tear it all down, where it remains today a barren spot in North Portland where nothing has replaced the Speedway as a locus of high-quality racecar driving in the Portland area.  Even attempts to rebuild elsewhere have been, so far at least, unsuccessful given the uncertainty of being a spot on a racing circuit or of having enough racing fans to support a track.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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