Lost Track: Paramount Ranch
Let’s take a deeper look at this short-lived but much loved SoCal race track, shall we? There were only a handful of races held at the Santa Monica mountainside race track, most of which were marred by dangerous track design that led to 3 fatalities in the 18 short months the track was operating a full capacity. Of course, the feature we so admired, the crossover, was a contributing factor to the inherent dangers of the facility. The fact that the track was bound by cliffs and rocky terrain didn’t help either.
Here’s a (sparse) race report from the first event at Paramount, the California Sports Car Club sponsored race in August 1956 as reported in the West Coast Sports Car Journal:
Thousands of Southern California spectators witnessed Harrison Evans, in his Ferrari Monza, battle it out with Eric Hauser, Morgansen Special, Sunday August 19, at the first sports car road race to be held at the Paramount Ranch in Agoura, California. Evans zoomed across the finish line just two seconds ahead of the home-build Special to chalk-up another victory for Ferrari banners. Richie Ginther, driving a Von Neumann Porsche, upset favorite Jack McAfee in Saturday’s go by a close half-second proving that the young driver belongs with the top ranking drivers on the West Coast. Ginther sailed to an easy victory in the Sunday under 1500cc race also when the closely anticipated race between him and McAfee failed to materialize after McAfee’s Porsche was forced out early in the race.
Some top drivers in the country participated making for some of the most exciting races of the season. Veteran driver Rudy Cleye won the production over 1500cc race by taking the checkered flat 27 seconds ahead of his nearest rival and averaged 66.9 mpg during the 20 mile race. Bruce Kessler, driving a Cooper Norton captured the first place both Saturday and Sunday in the exciting Formula III races.
Paramount track is a great step toward the development of sports car road racing in this country.
Sounds like an auspicious beginning, I’m surprised there’s not much discussion of the track itself. It’s almost as if the author was just reporting from the race results sheet. No matter though, the track was quickly a favorite of SoCal drivers and specators.
Check out the Morgansen Special that was mentioned in the article, long before it became the first Old Yeller: a sheer brute of a thing. Amazing that this was duking it out with an elegant Ferrari Monza in a heated battle for the lead. This is one of the things that I think most conjures the glory of early American road racing; that an (ok, I’ll say it) ugly home built beast could hold its own against some of the best sports cars from Europe is still an impressive feat. It’s also an example of an era when hot rods and sports cars were much more aligned in spirit and events. Sadly, in the years since, the typical sports car driver has moved very far away indeed from the hot rodding, home building, shade-tree engineering spirit of her early days.
Today, the Paramount Ranch race track is slowly crumbling into the surrounding landscape. It’s part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and is currently in the care of the National Parks Service. The park is most famous as a tourist destination for movie fans; the old Paramount Western sets are preserved on the same property. This Google Map shows, however, that some of the original track remains. The sweeping carousel comprised of turns 1 and 2 is clearly visible in the satellite image.
At least we can still (sort of) experience this track today, thanks to video games. Race simulator fans have created custom tracks to bring long-dead facilities back to life, and Paramount Ranch is among the tracks updated for a new generation. Check out a gallery here.
You can also build your own Paramount Ranch in a decidedly less high-tech manner. The unique crossover feature is a must for slot car track builders to equalize the track lengths of the different lanes. As a result, Paramount Ranch has been a popular basis for home-built slot car tracks. Here is a series of articles from ’66-’67 in Car Modeler Magazine that describe how to build your own scale version of Paramount Ranch in your basement.
More pics of the Morgansen Special on the H.A.M.B.