The Story of El Cajon Speedway

It’s funny how things turn out sometimes.

During the 1950s, someone destined a plot of land next to Gillespie Field to become a baseball park and a spring training facility for a major league baseball team. And the last thing on the mind of Earle Brucker Jr., a former professional baseball player, was the possibility of becoming a promoter of an auto racing facility.

It was about 1955, that a major hotel chain hoped to get a lease from the County of San Diego to build such a baseball facility on the land now occupied by Cajon Speedway. The corporation also hoped to build a major hotel on the hills west of El Cajon.

But a change in the laws of the State of California forced the hotel chain to abandon its idea. California invented a new tax, the possessory interest tax, which allowed local governments to collect taxes on lands which they previously had leased tax free.

With the hotel chain out of the picture, Earle Brucker Sr. did it on his own. He got the lease and put in a stadium.

“At the time the idea was still to build a ballpark,” Brucker Jr. recalls. “Then after we got it built, the baseball team (the Detroit Tigers) went elsewhere because they could get more. Since the high schools around here didn’t have anywhere to play night football and since we put in some lights, we converted the baseball field into a football stadium.”

“After the first year of football, we put a motorcycle track in around the field. The money we got from the motorcycles was the only income we had other than the minimal amount we got from the high schools.”

And so by 1960 it seemed as if County Stadium, originally planned as a baseball facility, would remain a high school football stadium and a motorcycle race track.

But then over the winter of 1960-1961, a weird series of events combined to lead County Stadium into becoming Cajon Speedway. Since about 1937 auto racing in San Diego County had taken place on several tracks around the county, but the most successful occurred in Balboa Stadium. In late 1960, the Los Angeles Chargers were moving to San Diego and would use Balboa Stadium as their facility. Tom Haynes and Frank Guthrie, the auto racing promoters in the stadium, announced plans to build a new 1/2 mile dirt oval on Kearny Mesa. However, the plans never developed. In early 1961, it looked as if auto racing in San Diego County was going to be without a home.

But Tom Jackman, the man most responsible for the El Cajon Industrial Park and also owner of one of the top racing machines in the San Diego Racing Association, approached Earle Brucker Sr. to construct a 1/4 mile dirt oval at County Stadium.

“Jackman talked to my father, and they were ready to build a racetrack,” Brucker Jr. recounts. “But they didn’t have anyone to run it. One night I got a phone call from my father. I was told I was going to run it.”

The rest is history.

Opening night for Cajon Speedway was July 15, 1961 just eleven days after Balboa Stadium closed its doors on racing. The modifieds of SDRA were the featured attraction that first year. Less than a year later a group of guys met in El Cajon and formed the Speedway Racing Association to sanction stock car racing. They planned to keep the cost of building and maintaining a car down by allowing anyone to claim a car after the races for $150. But by 1963 the claiming stocks were on their way out and were replaced by faster and more expensive super stocks. Motorcycle racing still continued for a time at the facility.

The oval track was enlarged from 1/4 mile to 3/8 mile for the 1964 season and was paved two years later.

After several seasons, the modifieds of SDRA gradually lost their following as the super stocks gained in popularity. In 1971, the super stocks became the sole tenants except for an occasional sprint car or midget show. Cajon Speedway ran but one race in 1972 as the county unsuccessfully sought to alter the terms of the lease.

So on April 28, 1973 the super stocks returned to action on the Gillespie Field track after competing the previous year on the 1/2 mile dirt South Bay Park Speedway on Otay Mesa. The middle of the 1970s were the glory days for Cajon Speedway and the El Cajon Stock Car Racing Association as nearly 100 super stocks jammed the pits each Saturday night and competition was exceptionally tight. But that passed. By the mid-1980’s the super stock fields were thinning because of escalating costs and they too became history at the end of the 1988 season. They were replaced by the sportsman stocks, which was a more economical form of racing. That division is still the premier class on the track today, but shares the oval with the Grand American modifieds, street stocks, pony stocks, and bomber stocks.

Cajon Speedway joined the NASCAR alliance prior to 1986 and today is one of about 100 short tracks across the nation taking part in the weekly NASCAR Weekly Racing Series presented by Dodge.

Since 1961, over 3,899,000 fans have attended the racing events at Cajon Speedway, making the track one of the most successful and longest running race tracks on the west coast. There have been 1273 nights of oval track racing during those 42 years with 577 different drivers visiting victory lane following the 3085 major events. The Brucker clan continues to run the facility. Earle Brucker Jr. has turned over most of the daily management chores to sons Steve and Kevin. In 2002 nearly 79,000 fans attended the races during the season, an average of about 2500 per night.

We can say it the proposed baseball facility has come a long way.