Forgotten Racetracks: Alvin Callender Airfield


American sportscar racing reached an interesting crossroads in the mid-1950s when safety concerns crept into the consciousness of race organizers. While racers understood the mortal danger in careening down closed public roads in rollbar-less European roadsters, the focus instead fell on spectator safety after a handful of wayward racecars killed spectators at road courses. The answer to these concerns would eventually come from purpose-built racetracks, but the intervening time required racing somewhere.

While a few courses remained on public roads, organizers turned instead to airfields as a temporary solution. Wide swaths of concrete to provide adequate racing room? Check. Ability to keep spectators far enough out of harm’s way? Check. Exciting configurations? Well, not always. Louisiana’s Alvin Callender Airfield was a fairly typical airfield circuit: flat with limited variety in the turns. Get some more details and the circuit map after the jump.


The circuit would use parts of all three runways with the start/finish line (A) on the nearly 5000-foot length of the north/south runway. The long straight gave racers the chance to push their cars’ top end speeds on the 150-foot-wide concrete before braking hard for a right hairpin (B) leading to a (relatively) narrow taxiway. An acute left turn onto the westbound runway (C) meant lots of speed could be carried through the corner. At the runway’s end, a right turn led to the taxiway (D) and the long back section (E) of the circuit. A sweeping left-hander (F) and a right on the taxiway brought you across the end of the third runway (G). Finally, two more right turns dumped you onto the main runway again (H), giving nearly a consecutive mile of the 2.8-mile course at wide-open throttle.

The idea of using airfields for auto racing was hardly a new one; the idea had proliferated in post-war Great Britain. When the Royal Air Force decomissioned some of its aerodromes, British sportscar enthusiasts saw an opportunity. The result was a number of legendary circuits that even we Yanks have heard of: Silverstone, Snetterton, and Thruxton to name a few. American organizers caught on, most famously with the 12-hour race at the sizable former World War 2 bomber base near Sebring, Florida.


When the SCCA Delta Region wanted to host a New Orleans race in July 1955, they chose to host it at Alvin Callender Airfield—an aerodrome first cleared in the 1920s for a Charles Lindbergh national tour—on Belle Chasse Naval Air Station. Located just a few miles south of downtown New Orleans, the course’s southernmost tip resides a mere quarter-mile from the Mississippi River.


Callender Field (which was named for an American World War I ace) held five races July 3, a Sunday in the middle of the long 1955 Independence Day weekend. As was the style of the time, each race’s winner took home specially named hardware, like the Plaquemines Trophy or the Mrs. Club of New Orleans Cup. The 1955 entry list (above) saw the usual fare of Jaguar XK120s, Allards, Austin-Healeys, and MGs, but there was also the odd Volkswagen, Porsche 550, and even an early A.C. Ace with A.C.’s ancient 2.0-liter straight-six motor, whose first iterations had been put in road cars in 1919.

Unfortunately, I cannot find results from any of those five races, which included two 15-lap races, two 10-lap races, and a 30-lap feature late in the day. Curiously enough, the 1955 races would be the only time Callender hosted racing. The original airfield—its runways too short for the coming jet age—would officially close just two years later in 1957, replaced by a larger two-runway field immediately to the southwest. This new field would also be called Alvin Callender Airfield as part of what is now Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans. Modern aerial photos show the old field mostly intact, albeit a little worse for the wear and with runways being used to store cars, boats, trailers, and assorted other detritus.

In 1956, the local races moved north of Lake Pontchartrain to Hammond, where the local SCCA nuts would race until 1963. Unfortunately and bizarrely, I can find virtually no information on the Hammond circuit itself aside from some awesome old photos on the Autosport forums that showed Hammond Northshore Regional Airport as the course’s home.


As I pointed out in my Thanksgiving Turkey post, modern motorsports legacy derives only partially from the fame and excitement generated in real life. The real path to enduring legend is whether or not someone’s put a car or circuit into a video game. Despite only hosting one known race weekend, someone modeled Alvin Callender Field as a user-generated circuit in rFactor. The modeler added in some clever (if possibly incorrect) details, like a parked B-52 Stratofortress and hangars with the name in 10-foot letters. But there it is, nonetheless, a super-fast 2.8-mile circuit that has almost certainly seen more virtual race miles than actual.

[Source: NA Motorsports; Abandoned & Forgotten Airfields | Image Sources: Frank Sheffield website; Google Maps; rFactorCentral YouTube Page]

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