Lost Track: Torrey Pines

torrey-mapIt’s been some time since we’ve peered into America’s forgotten palaces of sportscar racing. This time, let’s head to the West Coast and it’s thriving sportscar scene of the 1950’s—arguably the epicenter of American sportscar racing at the time.

Southern California certainly has it’s advantages for the racing driver: the warm weather allows for year-round racing, the sportscar manufacturers adore the SoCal market. I remember years ago reading that 50% of all Porsches are sold in Southern California. Of course, it also helped that the area was famous for it’s young and wealthy film stars that were naturally drawn to racing as a thrilling way to spend time between gigs.

We’re going to head a bit south of Hollywood though to the San Diego shoreline. Torrey Pines is, of course, now famous to golfers for their two PGA courses. But lets look to the past, before the sorry chapter of golf’s destructive influence, back to the 1950s. Back to the frequent haunt of Phil Hill, Carol Shelby, Dan Gurney, and Masten Gregory. Back to the Torrey Pines Road Races.

The track was formed almost by accident. A 1951 race was scheduled to be held at Del Mar, but a last minute disagreement among organizers left racers without a venue. The suggestion was made to run on the blacktop service roads of the disused Army base Torrey Pines. The 2.7 mile track proved to be a huge success, drawing 35,000 spectators to some races, and hosting several California Sports Car Club races as well as three West Coast 6-Hour Endurance Races.

torrey-pines-imagesThe 6-Hour races proved very popular, and the story of the last 6-hour race held at the track in 1956 is worth a share. In the opening laps, and in front of 10,000 spectators, it was a Jaguar D-Type 1,2,3 leading the field with Phil Hill in a 2-liter Ferrari Mondial in 4th. The field was moving fast, racing straight out of the gate and pushing the big-bore cars—with Pete Woods’ D-Type opening up several laps on his next closest competitor. Pushing hard in the early stages of an endurance race, though, is not without it’s price and by the second hour of the race most of the big boys were in the pits and out of the race. They were by no means alone; only 15 of the 59 entrants in the race finished the complete 6 hours. Naturally, the Porsche 550s were there to take up the places of the fallen monsters. By the end of the six hours, Jerry Austin was able to maintain a 3-lap lead in his D-Type to hang onto victory—holding off the Jack McAfee and Jean Pierre Kunstle Spyders that ended up 2nd and 3rd.

Unlike some of the other tracks featured on our Lost Tracks series, it wasn’t dwindling fan enthusiasm or a horrific crash that brought Torrey Pines to and end. The city of San Diego simply thought that a pair of golf courses would be a greater attractor of tourism dollars to the area. This is why more racers need to find themselves seats on city boards.

Read more about the 1956 race in the Official Program and see the complete results at Racing Sports Cars.

More Lost Tracks here.

Update:

F Scheff has collected some great memories and photos of Torrey Pines on his site.

12 responses to “Lost Track: Torrey Pines”

  1. Eric Rohr says:

    This is really cool. In my novel, Gingham Blindfold, one of the characters drives the 356 that her dad raced at Torrey Pines. The 356 plays an important part in the book, and I wanted to give it some historical grounding.

    Thanks for the great post.

  2. Dwain Jones says:

    I attended the first sanctioned race held at Torrey Pines. My most vivid memories are the Ferrari driven by Jack McAfee,the special bodied MGTC owned and driven by Phil Hill, and a Siata. Ernie McAfee,(I believe it was him)had a pickup truck and had a hard time keeping the spectators off of it.

  3. John McClure says:

    As a member of the San Diego Jr.Chmbr of Comm., I helped build Torrey Pines. I owned the first Austin Healy in the U.S., and I have 4 CD’s of film from the first Torry Pines race until the last one., along with other tracks as Riverside, Palm Springs and Santa Barbara. Yes, as a JC member with a Race Course Pass, I could go anlywhere, from the pits to the entire course, but the first corner down the straight-away was my favorite spot. Ah, those sportscar days were fantastic!

  4. […] it’s been quite some time since our profile of Torrey Pines for our Lost Tracks series, that post has had some interesting action in the past […]

  5. […] the track he was most intimately involved in, the Torrey Pines Road Racing Course. It was our Torrey Pines post in the Lost Tracks series that prompted Mr. McClure to contact me and offer up this brilliant […]

  6. John McClure says:

    FANTASTIC old films! I sure was a great photographer! 🙂

  7. Barton Workman says:

    Is there any chance of this Torrey Pines course
    surviving today?

    BHW

  8. gary austin says:

    My father, Jerry Austin, won the last 6 hour enduro at Torrey Pines. An interesting note is that he took delivery of the car just a month prior and had never driven a right hand drive before. I also recall he practiced the “Le Mans” start (wind sprints and quick entry to the Jaguar D he drove) many times before the race.

  9. John McClure says:

    Barton….no, the track is long gone…golf course there now 🙁

  10. Fred Puhn says:

    I saw my first race at Torrey Pines in 1955 at age 16. I heard a V-12 Ferrari for the first time and was hooked for life! In those days we thought a Chevy 6 with split manifolds and glasspack mufflers was a hot sound. Next to the Ferrari I was fascinated by a pair of new Abarth 207A Boano spyders racing in GM class. They were not fast but the bodywork was out of this world beautiful. As luck turns out I was able to buy one of these cars many years later and it turned out to be the very car I saw that day in 1955. I restored it and ran in the hillclimb later held at Torrey Pines in conjunction with the wonderful concours. I was in tears when they shut down that race course and turned it into another golf course. Blah!

  11. John McClure says:

    in tears…..me too!! I have played golf there..many years ago, and the ocean view is still spetacular!!

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