Jim Baker's Then and Now


In my sojourn through many drag racing venues since 2009, I have covered more places than I thought possible when I started writing for Jeff Burk. Still, there are several tracks where I raced and even worked that have been neglected. Carlsbad Raceway located just off Interstate 5 and Carlsbad Parkway started life in 1965 and made a long run until 2004 before being shoved into the sea for the benefit of California’s expansion.


Originated by Sandy Belond and Larry Grismer, the new star on the California drag racing scene was immediately popular. It soon replaced San Diego Dragway which was hard to get to at their Ramona location. And it was half way between San Diego proper and Orange County. When OCIR opened in August of 1967, it hurt Carlsbad’s drag races, but forward-thinking Larry Grismer had already constructed a new MotoCross course for cycles in the rolling hills on part of the dragstrip property. The Motocross operation became one of the best in the nation!

The track weathered many storms and survived far longer than anyone (such as NHRA) thought possible. When the county won a court battle and pushed Business Park Drive across the end of the track, Grismer limited the plant to street cars. They kept running until the final race.


Following are excerpts from my experiences at Carlsbad, my connection with Sandy Belond at Bill Thomas Race Cars, and my observation of the effort put forth by Belond and Grismer  to keep the track in place.


Sandy Belond gained national recognition in the motorsports world during the 1957 Indy 500 car race. Sam Hanks drove the Belond Muffler Special to victory; Sandy was the car owner.


Fast forward more than ten years, and Sandy wanted to buy in to (Bill Thomas Race Cars) when General Motors decided to ‘stop’ racing. He came to BT and worked beside me in the front office as a co-General Manager. This occurred immediately after I had stopped working for OCIR in favor of being manager.


During our normal conversations, Sandy said, “Weren’t you the announcer during the Sunday races at OCIR?” I nodded yes, and he started recruiting me to do the feature announcing at Carlsbad. I agreed and worked there for about a year. The ‘tower’ was a house trailer perched on a hill directly behind the starting line.


Later, when I was immersed in Pro Stock racing, I helped John Durbin promote and run Pro Stock features at Carlsbad. Durbin was the PR man for Doug Thorley and Doug’s Headers.

My first visit to Carlsbad was on a Friday night race in late July 1967. My wife and I were in California to interview with Mike Jones regarding OCIR. Being from Phoenix, it was just plain cold in California and the Friday night just off the Pacific Ocean caused us to use the heater and defroster at Carlsbad.


Part of the encroachment at the track was caused by the rapidly expanding Vista Business Park. New buildings were going up right and left during the time we lived in Vista. Just off Business Park Drive, in a stunning building, is the racing home and museum of Don Prudhomme.

The NOW portion of this story is the beautiful Don Prudhomme headquarters & museum which lie about ¾ mile from  Carlsbad Raceway and just off Business Park Drive. This is in the Vista Business Park which overwhelmed Carlsbad Raceway with its constant expansion.

A huge support of Carlsbad Raceway plus OCIR on Sundays was from the Kings Men Car Club of nearby Solana Beach!.Time has erased memory of their names, but perhaps several of these gentlemen were part of our fun.

In 1965, the new raceway was a ‘hot’ property! Shown above in Top Fuel action are Crosley – Williams & Swan vs. Adams & Yates. Readers who do not know the far reach of Gene Adams, in 1961 the Adams – McEwen Oldsmobile dragster was runner up for Top Eliminator at the first US Nationals at Indy Raceway Park!

Butch Leal’s first Pro Stock car, built at Bill Thomas Race Cars in Anaheim, CA. Butch’s first Pro Stock win was at Carlsbad Raceway soon after the Chevrolet was completed.

Carlsbad and San Diego County were home to a strong Pro Stock contingent during the early ‘70s. Shown above is Dale Falk of Carlsbad taking on Hedgewood & Manchester with their El Camino. When NHRA would not approve the El Camino for Pro Stock, Jack brought out a nifty ’69 Camaro.  Both he and Falk drove and raced PS cars well into the ‘80s!

I raced Carlsbad with my '40 Chevy Pontiac-powered coupe from the late 80's through the very last race. Bittersweet day, indeed. I still have a chunk of the asphalt pit in my trophy case at home. The coupe pic is from 1991, I think. -- Dale Van Zant


In 40 full years, Carlsbad Raceway went from this:

to this:

And finally, after 40 years of constant struggle, Larry Grismer had to say ‘uncle’. Shortly after their last race in August of 2004, this was the scene as developers could not wait to tear up the track. On the far end of the track behind the white barricade is a large fill which opened Buisness Drive to Carlsbad Parkway.


Progress is something we all have to live with. It is too bad drag racing does not have the same political clout as do golf and many other sports which take up large amounts of land in prime areas, but are considered ‘untouchable’!


Until Next Time, Be On Time 



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