(WOMR file photo)
In 1951 Harry Truman was President, Chevy didn’t have a V-8, telephones were on party lines, microwaves were something for radio communications, I was just born, and a big screen was located at the drive-in movie theater. Things have changed tremendously since Johnny Soares chased the first Gold Cup trophy, surmounted by a gold lacquered miniature stock car in 1951.
However, the “Gold Cup” theme has not changed during the past 40 years, as we continue to gather for a year end showdown, featuring the best open wheel drivers in the country. The names, the cars, the purses, and even the facilities have changed but we are still drawn by the people, the speed, the competition, and the happening called “Gold Cup.”
The “Gold Cup” facts took many years to compile accurately, but getting the actual race count correct was a much bigger task than was envisioned. History has shown that “Gold Cup” had a continuous run from 1959 to 1992. The odd part of this count was that in 1971 in order to avoid a superstitious 13th race, the event jumped from the 12th to the 14th race.
The countdown continued one race off until 1975, when the count leaped from the 17th to the 22nd. The unexplained change in 1975 is what kept historians puzzled and searching. Finally, one quiet day at the Chico State library, Art Spaulding found the missing link. In the September 1, 1951 Sacramento Bee, the word “100-lap Gold Cup Classic” were spotted. Continued research turned up four “Gold Cups” from 1951 to 1954 at Hughes Stadium.
The single race exception seemed more plausible at this point, however, questions still existed on what happened during 1954 through 1959. Additionally, why was there a single race discrepancy. Much the same as the 1951 race, the answer was found an August 18, 1956 ad in the Sacramento Union pointing towards the 100 mile hardtop championship held on August 25, 1956 at Capital Speedway. At last it all added up!
One of the obstacles slowing this process were several name changes during the 39 year history. Also a suspected feud may have developed over using the Gold Cup name, because several other events were held with a similar designation. None, however, offered the purse, number of entries, and the distance that early “Gold Cups” were recognized for.
From 1951 to 1954 this race was very clearly called “Gold Cup Classics.” All were held at Hughes Stadium. The 1956 event was simply called “100 Mile Hardtop Championships.” In 1959 State Championships was added to the name ,and this was the first use of “Race of Champions.” Between 1960 to ’63 races most commonly were called “Pacific Coast Modified Stock Car Championships”, and 1962 was the first use of “Super Modified” in some of the pre race adds.
“Race of Champions” was used exclusively from 1964 to 1966, and Modified Hardtops were the featured attraction.
Starting in 1967 was the first year “Gold Cup Classic” and “Race of Champions” were combined. This, however, was used interchangeably in 1968 and 1969. In 1970, the “Gold Cup Race of Champions” nameplate was adopted, and has been used continuously since then.
West Capital Raceway was the “Gold Cup” home for twenty two events. From 1956 to 1979 the “Action Track” hosted some of the most grueling events in auto racing history.
Nevertheless, the “Gold Cup” relocated to Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico in 1980.
Eleven races were held on the West Capital half mile. Four were logged in on the Hughes Stadium flat 1/4 mile. The remaining events have all been held on 1/4 mile high banked tracks. West Capital had a perfect split, between two tracks, with eleven races on the 1/4 mile. All of the Silver Dollar Speedway races have been on the 1/4 mile.
The Hughes Stadium races all were 100 laps. Probably one of the most demanding tests for man, and machine, were the 200 lap events on the 1/2 mile. Those events spanned from 1956 to 1966. The 100 milers required a much larger gasoline tank. The reduction to 100 laps on the 1/4 mile was a much welcomed change for the competitors.
In 1970 and ’72 were the last 1/2 mile races held, however, the races were still 100 laps. The demands of preparing the big track, in addition to the required renovations resulted in closing the 1/2 mile track after the 1972 race.
Fifty laps were adopted as a standard in 1974,and lasted until 1985, when the count dropped to 40.
In 1965 a record 63 cars started the 200 lap grind and 12 finished. The twenty car fields, which started from 1979 to 1984, were the smallest. The most unusual count was 33 in 1972.
The “Gold Cup” purse has increased one hundred percent since its humble beginning in 1951. The Hughes Stadium events all carried a $1,000 purse. The 1956 purse jumped to $2,000, in 1959 the winners prize became 1000 silver dollars. The total purse did not increase until 1961 when it hit an all time high of $3,405.
From 1962 through 1969 $1,000 was paid to all winners, with total purses ranging from $3,000 to $4,500. In 1969, Jimmy Gordon was awarded $1,500 for winning the “Gold Cup”. Even though the overall purses increased, the winners share declined to $1,000 for 1970 thru 1972.
Notwithstanding the seemingly small wining purses, perhaps the financial turnaround was the 1973 race. In that race Jimmy Boyd pocketed $2,200, which included lap money and a track record bonus.
Certainly, the turning point for the notoriety of “The Gold Cup” was the $30,000 purse with $5,000 to win in 1975. “This was unheard of in those days,” Ohio’s Rick Ferkel said at that time. Ferkel, along with numerous other travelers came to West Capital to see this race. When the checkered fell, Idaho’s Terry Crousure was $5,000 richer. The gamble for promoter John Padjen also paid off as 6,237 fans came to watch the big money showdown.
The dollar may not go as far today but the $100,000 plus 1993 purse with a $20,000 winners share could even lure Al Pombo out of retirement.
Keeping this tradition alive have been the faithful participants and patrons of this Northern California classic. The communities and facilities which have hosted Gold Cups have always been kind to motor sports. The staffs and sponsors have always been first rate.
This race is one of the treasured jewels of West Coast racing!
So now you know the rest of the story of the “Gold Cup Race of Champions.”
I looked it up so that you would not have to!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!