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Calgary's Chequered Past: Auto Racing in the Stampede City

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1270

Demonstration by the 100,000 Club

Postcards from the Past, PC 1270

I had the immense joy of being at Phoenix International Raceway for the infamous Sprint car race that saw a huge brawl in the pits after one driver deliberately forced another into the wall. It was a melee worthy of the sport. The race was only a part of the experience, however. NASCAR in the south is a cultural event and there were food vendors, beer gardens, souvenir shops, you name it and you could probably buy it at the track, for a wildly inflated price. You can visit the paddock and see the cars in their stalls and talk with the folks who make the cars go. What it really reminded me of was the Calgary Stampede without the barn smell.

That got me to thinking – the Calgary Stampede should think about having car racing as part of their events. What a novel idea, except, it has already been done. Back when cars were a novelty, the events at the Calgary Exhibition included a race on the half mile oval at Victoria Park, where horse racing normally took place. The first race was at the Exhibition of 1917 and included at least one driver who had competed in the Indianapolis 500. Also scheduled was a race between an “aviatrix” in her airplane and George Clark, the Indy 500 racer. This was cancelled due to high winds but would be on the minds of organizers into the next decade, when they scheduled Freddy McCall to race his plane against an automobile. This event was also cancelled, as Capt. McCall had been forced to land his airplane on top of the merry-go-round on the midway during a demonstration flight the day before.

Auto racing brought in hundreds of excited spectators and would be a large part of the Exhibition for several years. When the Exhibition merged with the Stampede in 1923, the track and infield area were given over to rodeo events and the car races put off to the end of the fair. But by then the novelty of car racing had worn off. Victoria Park would be used for car racing again, in the 1940s and 50s but as cars became more powerful, dirt tracks, especially those used for horse racing as well, could not accommodate them. A number of purpose-built tracks and tracks adapted for motor racing (such as the Chinook Jockey Club track which became Springbank Speedway) would be opened and closed in Calgary over the years. For more information about racing in Calgary, have a look at The Speediest Land Traveller by Richard McDonell

CDH July 1919

Panoramic view of the auto races at the 1919 Calgary Exhibition

Calgary Daily Herald, July 7, 1919 p12-13

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