Forgotten Racetracks: The Eloy Grand Prix

Hooniverse has written about several old temporary racetracks used by club racers when prepared racetracks were somewhat scarce: Brynfan Tyddyn, Las Ochas Millas, Callender Field, and Lake Garnett. Nearly all of those had gone away by the early 1970s, when liability concerns crept up and willingness among chambers of commerce dropped down. Street circuits became virtually non-existent at club-level racing, but one remarkable example cropped up in Arizona in the early 1980s.
Not only did the Arizona Sports Racing Associationwho’d branched off from the Arizona SCCA to focus on wheel-to-wheel racingtalk the small city of Eloy into hosting a race around its downtown, they also managed by 1984 to turn it into a two-hour telecast. Now, thanks to the deep archives of local racer Dave Riddle, you can enjoy the ASRA’s five-race 1984 Eloy Grand Prix, which is a profoundly unique affair for reasons that will be discussed after the jump.

When the first grand prix was held there in 1980, Eloy was a very small desert city (around 6,500 people) just off I-10 and almost equidistant between Tucson and Phoenix. It was little more than an oasis and yet the ASRA leadership convinced the local chamber of commerce to host a race. At the time, Phoenix International Raceway and Firebird Raceway were the usual ASRA haunts, but the club sought some variety, which they found first in races on Tijuana’s streets and later in Eloy.
Eloy’s streets make up a rough grid, but the downtown streets were turned into a very-tight 0.7-mile circuit around the city-center park and the city police station. Because of the short chute at the finish line and the more open back side of the track, the races started between turns 5 and 5A. Nearly all of the nine turns were 90-degree excepting the two tight turns leading onto and off the back straight and the two bends on the same “straight.”
Top speeds for any class probably never eclipsed 70 miles per hour, but with the track limits defined by a couple layers of loosely stacked tires, that was probably plenty of speed. A tight circuit like this tends not to breed super competitive racing so qualifying well and then running a mistake-free race was the way to win it.
This brings us to the broadcast itself, a full two-plus hours on the Arizona Sports Programming Network (ASPN). The play-by-play announcer, Steve Stoddard, seems to have a general idea about cars, but much as it was to the rest of the world, road racing was something of a mystery to him. Luckily, color commentator Mike McGurk, an experienced road racer, pitches in great insights to the broadcast. [Author’s note: I can’t confirm either of those name spelling; I’m just pulling them from the broadcast.]
If you don’t want to have time to watch the whole thing (though this is the kind of race Hoons should make time for), I’ll give a quick rundown of the highlights. Each race runs 20 laps or 30 minutes, whichever comes first, and the transition music between races is pure, wailing ’80s glory. All of the races include some great B-roll footage and features of competitors and their cars, but the races themselves are adequately entertaining. Without further adieu, spoilers below in some cases:

  • Race 1 “Big-bore sports cars” – At the head of the field to start are a handful of C3 Corvettes, a rare sight at racetracks today but new cars at the time of the race. The thundering V8 cars have trouble putting down the power on the dusty, bumpy streets in lower gears coming off corners, but they’re also not troubled much by the rest of the field, which includes a Volkswagen Scirocco, a Mazda RX-3, a couple of Showroom Stock Chevy Camaros, a Triumph, a Chevy Vega, and a V8-swapped Ford Pinto. This race is worth the (free) price of admission just to see C3 Vettes hanging the tails out on corner exit and also to see loose tires sitting on the track after the tire stacks took a shot. Safety standards were different even in the mid ’80s. [Race starts at beginning of video]
  • Race 2 “Formula Vee and Formula Libre” – The chest-high tire stacks must have looked ominous in the low-slung, low-power formula cars. The late Gene “Mr. X” Cosmano showed up with a bright-yellow Formula Libre (Read: Mostly open regulations) and proceeded to whip up on the other six cars in the field. Until the last lap. Oh, that last lap is glorious. I won’t even spoil that for you. [Race begins around 20:00 mark in the video.]
  • Race 3 “Sprint cars and buggies” – The ASRA really wanted to be a run-what-you-brung series and nowhere was that more evident than in this race, which included tubeframe cars built both for clay ovals and for desert driving. As one might imagine, the cars struggle for lateral grip on the pavement since they’re designed to drift through turns, most notably going awry when Dave Strang cartwheels his buggy deep into the tire stacks at Turn 6. He emerges from the car under his own power but only after some time and looking shaken. Most of the fun is watching these cars well out of their element, twitching mightily under braking and then crawling mid-corner before leaping briefly forward under full throttle in the short 200-foot straights. [Race begins around 39:30.]
  • Race 4 “Small-bore sports cars” – Today, this is exactly what a small-displacement vintage race looks like: Ford Cortinas, Triumphs, Datsun Fairladys, Austin Healeys, Mk.1 Volkswagen Rabbits, an original Mini, a Fiat 850, and a LeMons-caliber Datsun 520 truck that apparently broke its cooling fan in warmup, pitching it across the back straight. With the track made up entirely of tight turns, these cars are in their element and generally look comfortable, excepting that most of the field either breaks or ends up in the tire bundles from pushing too hard. It turns into a race that no one seems to want to win with the eventual winner coming out of nowhere to lead the last couple laps. Also cool: An early onboard camera on Tex Guthrie’s polesitting Cortina shows just how physical and demanding a track with nine turns on 0.7 miles can be. [Race begins around 1:08:00.]
  • Race 5 “Formula Ford and Sports Racers” – The fastest group runs last with the then-new Van Dieman (and older chassis) Kent-powered Formula Fords taking on the new S2000 (2.0-liter, purpose-built sports racers) as the sun begins to set over Eloy. The big 15-car grid kicks up plenty of dust and, like cars in many the other classes, engine smoke that combine with the long shadows add a dramatic flair to the race. John Brooks drives away  flag-to-flag and is an absolute pleasure to watch while the rest of the field engages in a complete dogfight behind. [Race beings around 1:37:30.]

The races continued in Eloy for several years, possibly as late as 1989 with ASRA sanctioning most or all of them. It may very well have been the last club American club circuit racing held on closed public roads.
Hat tip to Type44 on the 24 Hours of LeMons Forum for letting me know about the Eloy GP.
[Track map copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Eric Rood | All other images: Dave Riddle via YouTube]

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7 responses to “Forgotten Racetracks: The Eloy Grand Prix”

  1. parkwood60 Avatar

    This is pretty awesome. I remember Los Angeles doing something similar around 1997-1999. I think it was a collaboration between the promoters of the Long Beach Grand Prix and any sanctioning body they could get to talk to them. The first year is was VARA vintage racing, then afterward I think American Le Mans.

  2. Fuhrman16 Avatar

    Awesome. Awesome to the max! There needs to be more races like this today.

  3. BlackIce_GTS Avatar

    Wildly divergent from the topic (and slightly less so from reality);
    Due to terrifying depths of cold experienced in Calgary, much of the downtown core is connected by overhead walkways and tunnels (or so I’m told), allowing people to navigate without going outside and risking shattering their lungs by breathing too fast.
    It might be possible to lay out a race circuit that wouldn’t cut off access to anything at all, thus totally eliminating nearly one of the many many reasons this sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore.

  4. Longhaired Redneck Avatar
    Longhaired Redneck

    In 1986 or 1987, a friend of mine and I lit out from our homes in San Diego for a real honest to god street race in a place we’d never heard of; Eloy Arizona. On the trailer behind Mario’s aging Chrysler minivan, was his aging and patched together PRS 07 Formula Ford. Our racing pit was located right across the street from the cityhallpolicedepartmentfiredepartment building next to the pa. I don’t remember a whole lot about the racing, except for a couple of Formula Fords locking wheels and getting “air”, but it was without a doubt one of the best race weekends I ever experienced.

  5. Sergio V. Mendivil Avatar
    Sergio V. Mendivil

    I grew up in Eloy, the race track went right in front of my Grandparents house. We use to look forward to the races every year. They would block off parts of the city and stack tires on most of the turns. We use to climb on top of my Grandparents house in order to see as much of the race as we could. I’m not sure why they stopped having it but it would be awesome if they brought it back.

  6. Steve Mack from Chandler Avatar
    Steve Mack from Chandler

    I dont remember when the Eloy races ended(1989?) but in its last 2 years I was a driver/participant with a small group of guys the Arizona Kit Car Club, we were invited to share in all the fun and boy did we! besides actually racing and all the thrills, we learned what makes a fun team, it will be a memory i wont forget, a big Thank You to everyone involved in putting those events together. I still have my car if you want to put on another race!
    p.s. I have alot of pictures I will have to dig out and post a few on here.

  7.  Avatar

    As I remember, but that isn’t always reliable, the main reason we went to Eloy was that the Salt River had washed out the roads to P.I.R. Eloy and Shamrock distributing, Miller Beer, stepped up and we had “Monaco West”. With a lot of people helping, we had a great time for 2-3 years and then insurance, law suits ad naseum did Eloy in. Great times back in the old days of ASRA.

    Steve Campbell, formula libre