Jim Baker's Then and Now

Drag Racing at Sacramento

Back in 1964, while I was managing Tri State Dragway at Kahoka, MO, a brand new drag racing venue opened just south of Mather Air Force base in California. The new Sacramento Raceway is still offering great racing some 54 years later but that may soon change. The Dave Smith family has owned and operated the metro area’s only drag facility almost from the beginning.


During my extensive racing career, Sacramento was one of my favorite tracks! My first visit there was in 1968 with a Chevrolet-sponsored Super Stock Camaro. We did not intend to go there, but after driving all night from Anaheim (L.A.) to Half Moon Bay for a Super Stock event, there was light rain and mist near the ocean so the race was called. Someone suggested that we could run at Sacramento, about 150 miles east of the Bay Area. Their program did not include Super Stock so we ran in the E.T. bracket.




When this news broke, I like many others was both shocked and surprised. Sacramento had withstood years of noise and zoning issues, so what happened?  Dave Smith’s press release explained it fully. Slowly the metro area around California’s capitol city has encroached to the point where developers want to build houses on the strip’s land. So, in addition to fighting the old issues, Smith and family now face urban growth. They decided to sell the property since change looks inevitable.

At press time, no news of a sale is on the table, and the 2018 drag racing season is going strong. Time will tell the ultimate future….


Following are some of my many memories of my racing days at Sacramento Raceway:


The lead photo depicts Brad Yuill’s new Pro Stock Vega at Sacto in 1973. On this night, he would win his first Pro Stock title. I raced Brad in the semi-finals, driving Larry Johnson’s ’71 black Camaro. After the launch, I could hear Brad’s exhaust loudly and noticed he was doing a giant wheelie. In fourth gear my car seemed to slow and Brad drove around. We stopped OK and were putting away our chutes when the announcer said that one of the cars had disintegrated at the starting line.


My crew chief, Ron Ogilvie, later told me that when I left, it looked like someone had thrown a shovel full of crushed ice out the window. The right side window (which was huge) had shattered and that was why I could hear Brad so well.

Tom Bronson in “Big John” Rothschild’s B/Econo Altered Opel GT at Sacramento in 1977. Bronson and Rothschild teamed up first with a D/Gas Vega panel and then moved into Comp with this Opel and later a C/Econo Dragster.

Before there was such a thing as Super Gas, Pro Gas was alive and well at Sacramento Raceway running on a 9.50 index. Dave Riolo (seen here at Sacramento in 1977) was one of the early players in Pro Gas and a 9.50 doorslammer was pretty fast for that era.

Nor-Cal Pro Stock racers Davis & Sain are shown racing at Sacramento Raceway in the ‘70s.




Bill Dunlap is known as a top contender in the Nostalgia Top Fuel ranks. He has won several titles, including the CHRR in Bakersfield. Bill’s racing career dates back to the sixties. Following are several early photos of Bill at Sacramento.

Bill's Woody car with Mike Fuller's engine at Sacramento Raceway; in the other lane preparing a fire burn out is Jim 'The Lizard' Herbert.  (Steve Reyes photo)

Dunlap versus Pierre Poncia at Sacramento in 1993.

Dennis Sarmento’s chassis shop in nearby Yuba City, CA, created a host of popular drag cars through the years as shown above.

Yours truly, circa ’75-76 at Sacramento. Helping with the burnout are Jim Glaze and Chuck Clemmer.


Readers might note that Pro Stock drew large crowds ‘back in the day’!

Pro Stock drew the West Coast’s finest cars to Sacramento during the ‘70s, including ‘DandyDick Landy.

The  Alston Chassis Works – ’63 Chevy II, built and driven by Chris Alston Jr. used Sacramento Raceway as their test track for years. The ‘Outlaw 10.5’ car was a Small Tire pioneer with record-breaking performance. In my report on the car several years ago, I explained that the car utilizes ‘bolt on’ chassis parts which are produced at Alston Chassis Works in Sacramento.


This is just a small glimpse of action at Sacramento through the years. At Precisioned Speed Shop in Anaheim, we used to joke about me driving Dave Smith’s Pro Stock Car at Dave Smith’s drag strip. To me, they are both great guys who have served our sport for many, many years.


Until next time, be on time. 



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