Lost Track: Torrey Pines
It’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.
The 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.
More Lost Tracks here.
F Scheff has collected some great memories and photos of Torrey Pines on his site.