In June of 1920, Fresno County, the City Chamber of Commerce and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors signed a $250,000 contract to build a Wooden Speedway that would host the 200-mile San Joaquin Valley Classic on the last day of that year’s Fair. Prince Speedways Co. was awarded the contract and construction of the Speedway began using 2” x 4” pine lumber.
The first driver on the new Speedway was Bennett Hill, a Valley motor car great, who gave the inaugural lap around the track on September 30, 1920 - just days before the 200-mile San Joaquin Valley Classic scheduled for October 3. Three years after the Speedway opened, Tommy Milton broke the track record of 32 seconds during a trial run on September 28, 1923. Milton was recorded going a speed of 113.21 miles per hour which allowed him to complete a single lap in 31.8 seconds. The time would beat the previous record set by Harry Hartz just one day prior.
On September 24, 1924, a fire destroyed 340 feet of the Speedway and parts of the Grandstand just days before the Fair’s opening. The dry timbers of the racetrack and the oil drippings left from past races, as well as poor water pressure and light winds, worked against the firemen’s efforts to contain the flames. Damages were estimated at $30,000. Fortunately, 200 carpenters worked in three shifts under the direction of County Building Superintendent N.E. James and were able to rebuild the Speedway track and Grandstand in time to host the fifth running of the San Joaquin Valley Classic that same year. One year later, the Speedway would go on to host the San Joaquin Valley 150-mile Auto Classic on October 3, 1925. The public’s favorite drivers were set to race and it drew crowds of approximately 30,000 people. Peter DePaolo, the #1 favorite among raceway fans that year, won his first race on the Speedway that day and received first place at the Classic.
The Speedway hosted more than just car races. The Livestock Parade at the Fair was also held there on October 1, 1926 with thousands of Fairgoers attending. That year’s Livestock Parade also included dozens of Boy Scouts, Miss Martha Frieda riding a Shetland pony, as well as cows, bulls, horses, hogs and goats – all led by their owners around the track.
In 1927, something happened to the Wooden Speedway that still remains a mystery today. Some people say it was burned and others say it was torn down to build houses near the Fairgrounds, but one thing is certain: It’s rich history is an integral part of The Big Fresno Fair’s past.