"California Sprint Car
January 18th, 2013
American Legion Center,
Fairgrounds Parking Fee: $5.00
All persons must be at least 14 years of age to enter the Pits. Persons 14-17 years of age need both parents/guardians to sign and notarize a Parental Consent Form and submitted to the office prior to entering pit areas.
Pure Hindsight; Fans and racers have fond memories of Happy Hinds
By Bill Sullivan
PLACERVILLE, CA (9-18-12) - This Saturday Placerville Speedway and Thompsons Auto Center present the ninth Annual Tribute to Al Hinds. One of the early promoters of Placerville Speedway, Al Hinds touched the lives of many involved in the sport today from those in the driver's seat to those in the grandstands. The following article has been complied from a series of past recollections from various driver, fans and members of the community who shared some classic times in the company of the track's early patriarch.
As the weekend nears, race teams and fans are gearing up for Placerville Speedway's very special night of racing. It's the seventh annual "Tribute to Al Hinds" Civil War Sprint Car race presented by Thompsons Auto Center.
On this single night, the racing community remembers the man that made this sport his lifelong passion with a great fan outreach event that culminates with a $3000 to win Civil War race that concludes the season at Placerville Speedway.
While he wasn't the originator of Placerville Speedway, Al Hinds was the man who brought a small town together with the sport of auto racing, a feat that many believe is partially responsible for the success of the track today. To this day Placerville Speedway continues to be one of the most populated tracks in the region in both participation and an incredible, energetic fan base that is second to none in California.
The arena that is now known as Placerville Speedway was originally built in 1956 as a community football field for El Dorado High School. In 1965, a lot of things were going on in the nation, Lynden Johnson was our president, Sonny and Cher had a hit song called "I got you babe" and a gallon of gasoline was just 31-cents. But in Placerville, the sport of auto racing was coming to town as Anderson Field became home to hardtop racing due to the efforts of fair manager Warren Jewitt and Bruno Romani, who operated race tracks in both Roseville and Auburn.
In 1968, local businessman Al Hinds took over the management of Placerville's newly built speedway, known then as "Hangtown Speedway." Since he was old enough to drive, Hinds maintained a lifelong career in the automotive industry. He was the founder of the Hinds Machine Shop in Placerville and was known as one of the best racing engine builders in the nation, fielding power plants that went as far as the brickyard for the famed Indy 500.
When Hinds took the reigns of Placerville Speedway, profits were not a top concern at the time as liability insurance and operating expenses were a fraction of what they are today. For Hinds and his partner Richard Hirst, promoting Hangtown Speedway was about bringing the community and the sport together to provide great, affordable family entertainment.
"We really brought the people out here on Saturday nights," stated Hinds, in a Mountain Democrat article back in 1993. "We had powder puff races, tire man relays. One night we even had a special doctors night when area doctors got behind the wheel. We really made it fun. The problem was.we didn't make a dime doing it. Back then you could do it as a past time, but not today. With insurance issues, a payroll and the cost of goods you'd go broke pretty fast. We did, but back then being broke was nothing like it is today."
For Hinds, taking on the auto racing promotion was a not for profit venture. It was a classic tale of "If you build it they will come" and they came by the hundreds every Saturday night. In his later years, Hinds remained active with Placerville Speedway. He sponsored a number of drivers and continued to build competitive motors. In his final years, he was a regular spectator of Placerville Speedway and became the beloved friend of nearly every fan and a true mentor to many drivers and those who operate the speedway today.
In 2001 Placerville Speedway surprised Hinds on the fourth of July when they presented him with a gold plated, lifetime pass to Placerville Speedway. On that night Al Hinds stood on the front stretch of the speedway and proudly held that shiny pass up high to a capacity crowd that rose to their feet, cheering in appreciation for their friend and the patriarch of local auto racing as he stood in his very own field of dreams with tears rolling down his cheeks.
"I will never forget the night was presented with his golden pass," recalled Stormi Runkle, a former El Dorado County resident who spent many Saturday nights sitting next to Hinds." I walked Al down to the infield that night. He had no idea what was going on, he was shaking with excitement all the way down the stairs. When he finally made it down there, he lit up like a kid in a candy store. He held my hand until it was bright red and had tears in his eyes. When I saw the passion that came through that smile and those eyes that evening, I knew what a proud man he was when it came to this place."
Kami Arnold grew up in El Dorado County and spent many of her Saturday nights in the stands of Placerville Speedway, not only as a child but now as a car owner with her better half Scott Russell. Much like Hinds, the Arnold clan is rich in the history books of the racetrack here. Phil Arnold, Kami's uncle was a top stock car driver back in the day at Placerville and her grandfather turned many laps doing track prep in the early days when Hinds was so active in the operations of the track.
"He was always willing to entertain a conversation. He had a passion, not only for motor sports and Hangtown Speedway, but it seemed for life in general," she recalls. " He shared stories of my Grandfather that I had never heard before. It was nice to hear stories outside of my own family members, it was a different perspective. I feel it was a privilege that I was able to get to know Mr. Hinds for the short period of time that I sat behind him each weekend."
While many spectators have their memories of Hinds, the thoughts from drivers are endless. Former three time Placerville champion Doug Gandy raced in the days when Hinds operated the track. Gandy races today with the King of the West Series and recalls Hinds great generosity to his fellow racer through the years.
"Al Hinds was a real racer at heart, he was an inspiration to me," said Gandy. "If someone needed a part from his shop and didn't have the money, Al made sure they got the part so they could race even if they couldn't pay for it. He was just that kind of guy."
Back in the day, Gandy was known as one of the sports toughest competitors, a quality that Hinds loved to see in a driver. Gandy recalls one particular night when he witnessed Hinds' ability to find some humor after a very costly mistake.
"I remember a night when I drove Dick Wessels' car. Dick was much taller than I, he actually had holes in the floor of the car to extend the pedals. We wired 2x4 blocks on the pedals of his car so I could reach the pedals. Most cars had a foot brake and a hand brake, his had the opposite. We took the green, I mashed what I thought was the brake on the car, but hit the clutch, flew off turn two and slammed into a big stack of lime, a line marker and the water truck. I ripped the pony motor and the pump right off the side of that poor truck. I didn't think Al would ever forgive me for that, but he did. He use to joke about giving me a bill, but of course, he never did that. He was a very kind man."
Long into his retirement years, Hinds had an eye for talent behind the wheel and he especially enjoyed watching the younger generations make a name for themselves in the sport. Former Tribute to Al Hinds winner Andy Forsberg of Auburn was one of those up and coming drivers in Hinds' glory days as a spectator.
"I didn't get to spend a lot of time with Al Hinds, but I learned who he was and what he did here from my dad." said Forsberg after his first tribute win. "When I first started racing I remember I had saved some seats in the stands and a lady went up there and tore my blankets down and threw them over the fence. Al Hinds looked at me, smiled and said "Andy that is about the rudest thing I have ever seen," and he left it at that. That's how he was, he knew how to let things go and move on. That's something we all must learn in life. This race is important and it's important for everyone to come out here Saturday night and show their support for this man and the place he loved."
Saturday, the legacy of Al Hinds will live on at Placerville Speedway with the 9th annual running of the Tribute to Al Hinds." Nearly 40 drivers will pack the pit area to compete in the final segment of the competitive Civil War Sprint Car Series and there is little doubt that the grandstands will be packed to their capacity as they have for all eight of these events thus far.
Prior to the big race, a large amount of sprint cars will be on display at Thompsons Auto Center at 140 Forni Road in Placerville. Hot dogs and refreshments will be available. The event features numerous top drivers from the Civil War Series and their cars.
This event will provide an opportunity for fans and families to meet many of the drivers and more importantly, the event remembers Al Hinds in just the fashion he would want, with the local racing heroes and fans enjoying one another's company in a social, high energy "party" atmosphere.On behalf of all of the racers involved in this sport, Placerville Speedway wishes to thank Ron Thompson and his associates for his continued support of the annual Tribute to Al Hinds and the sport of auto racing in El Dorado County. His generosity and commitment is second to none and will never be forgotten. For further information on this event visit www.placervillespeedway.com.