January 21, 2014 5:00 pm 18 comments Views: 1900

Bull ring dirt racing –Sacramento’s Secret

A story about American Bull Rings.

The very first dirt race ever held in the United States was in 1907 at the 1-mile horse racing track at the fairgrounds in Sacramento California. [Built in 1906]AMERICAN BULL RINGS


Oldfield beats airplane !
Click picture for film clip









In attendance was the legendary stogie smoken’ Barney Oldfield (pictured) who raced the Wright Brothers Airplane and the fastest trains of the times. Barney Oldfield would only finish 4th in an event that was called ‘World’s Fastest Men’. [1913]

Sacramento would have a long and rich tradition in racing with as many as a half dozen assorted dirt tracks in the nearby area. They were farmers and only raced after harvest on make shift dirt tracks in empty fields.


Click picture for rare film footage
‘typical thrilling midget race’

As the crowds grew to see these amazing pioneers and their fantastic machines there were competitions, regular events and finally racing in stadiums like the fabled Hughes Stadium  in Sacramento, site of the first organized midget race in  America. Hughes Stadium  was located not far from the California State Fairgrounds. This would lead to the development of many thriving racing based businesses.  One day, manufactures and inventors will proliferate from Sacramento far too voluminous to illuminate. It would be fair to say if you trace most things back in Sacramento you’ll find in many cases they connect back to racing in the once small city.

The biggest and most well guarded secrets were held very close within an elite group of builders and drivers. Although there will be more invention, innovations and advancements it will be a single idea that will hale Sacramento as the ‘Dirt Racing Capital of the World’ for nearly a quarter of a century.

The secret of how you can identify a car from this era built by one of the master builders like Don Tognotti, Duwayne Star, LeRoy Nicholsen or the iconic Duke McMillen is by simply using a tape measure. There you will find the ‘Secret’. The secret of a little cow town dominating dirt track bull ring racing by evidence of the track records and speed records of the day, can now be revealed. AMERICAN BULL RINGS

The secret the builders had and some of the drivers like 3 times CSRA Champion Jimmy Gordon, Gary Patterson, LeRoy VanConnet, Wayne Sue and a couple others new was this. The motor plate for a bull ring dirt track needs to be 42 inches from the center of the rear axle. That’s it !… Well almost. You see, now you have to have a driver who knows how to drive a race car with the rear wheels because at low regular driving speeds the car will not turn or even go straight easily. The car ‘crabs’. This will be a precursor for the term, ‘The Sacramento Slide’.


Click picture to see video ‘A day at West Capitol Speedway’

It will take a completely new driving style and driver to excel in these machines of growing sophistication. The driver of these new designs had to throw the car sideways at full speed half way down the straight away thus apexing or caroming off a small dirt berm to turn the car. It took faith the car would eventfully turn. Drivers needed confidence in the car. If anything happened or upset the trajectory they were arcing for, they were going for a ride- a ride out of the park.

So now that you know the little secret Sacramento had to dominate the bull ring world of dirt racing. With this innovation and master builders, Sacramento would be the mecca for bull ring racing for nearly a quarter of a century.

We want to share a very special race car in the history of motorsports and particularly Sacramento. This little racer is from the fastest dirt track in the world and the city that held the first dirt race in America. A race car that is 43 years old and raced at America’s toughest bull rings on dirt, against the best in the country. Here is the only known survivor from that era at the ‘Action Track’, West Capitol Speedway in Sacramento California. It’s a 1970 Don Tognotti, Duwayne Star SuperModified.


Duwayne Star was head of Tognotti engineering. Tognotti’s was one of the great racing businesses that started in the very early 60’s.

The legendary Tognotti’s Speed Shops with 19 locations also pioneered the business of worldwide shipping of specially built race parts.

One of the first things you notice are all the sponsors, some NASCAR teams would be envious. These are some of the biggest companies in Sacramento and all of them regularly fielded cars for the races that easily had 80-100 cars competing for 20 starting positions at the famed West Capitol Speedway.AMERICAN BULL RINGS

The West Capitol Speedway Racer is very low to the ground with a Chassis tilt from tire stagger. Tire stagger is when one of the rear tires is smaller than the other, thus forcing the little racer to turn. Because of this new design tire stagger is now required to turn the car.

You will now drive the car with the rear wheels. All other designs are now obsolete although many will be reluctant to change.

AMERICAN BULL RINGSIf you notice a San Jose Car, (Pictured left) the motor plate is very far forward because they drive them like a car and needed the front wheels to grip and steer.

The San Jose racers had the front slightly higher than the back so it could transfer the weight to the rear. If the motor plate was set further back the San Jose racers would have achieved a modern chassis set and been able to be driven much harder.

Sacramento cars were so fast the rear ends were always coming around so the way you drive a West Capitol Speedway Racer is with the rear wheels.


Click picture for very rare 1958 film footage

In 1958, Supermodifieds were the first race cars to ever employ an inverted wing for down-force, a full 15 years before Indianapolis race cars tried them and like them.  (Pictured right)

Wings will become ubiquitous with Supermodifieds and they will never leave these little speed demons.

(Modern Supermodifieds are the fastest oval cars in the world)


Notice the compact cockpit. You wear this car ! You also don’t sit straight in the car. The configuration of the cockpit requires the driver to not only be stuffed in but slightly turned so his feet will fit.

Driver comforts were nonexistent. You actually sit very straight up and the ‘milk can truck’ style steering was to help you hold on through the bumps and vagaries of the Sacramento gumbo clay used at West Capitol Speedway.AMERICAN BULL RINGS

Study the early aerodynamics being employed. Oh there is a lot going on here ! The wings are in a special Sacramento configuration that uses the front wing for down force while ‘flicking’ the used air to the top wing for even more down force.

The Sacramento builders thought, “We paid for the air once with aero drag lets re-use it on the top wing.” Genius. Pure genius.

Not till the mid 90’s do some builders and race engineers finally catch up and use this technical engineering principal.

O0o0o0o0 there are so many tricks on this little devil !


As far as power plants, the Capitol Supermodifieds ran anything that would run. It was very common for engine swaps to happen from the car hauler to the racer- really. So these cars ran Ford, Chevy and Mopar products with the car set up to use all at any time.

Are these all the tricks ?   NO ! There is neither time nor space here and they would have to kill me if I told you anymore. Is the car safe you ask ?   NO !   Race cars will never be safe, however these vexatious little monsters were truly death traps with not a lot of forethought about driver safety until the 1980’s and 90’s.

The historic little racer will be on display at the World Famous 2014 Sacramento Autorama. So if you’re in the area don’t miss it otherwise you’ll have to wait and catch a glimpse of the legendary little Ford racer touring race tracks still knock’n down wins in your area.


World Famous Rex Hutchison Racing Engines
Entrance Front Offices, Customer Counter and Parts Dept.
Sacramento, California USA

We want to thank the owners, Race Craft Products, llc., their entire race program- Sacramento’s Downtown Ford Sales, Pacwest Trailers, Rex Hutchison Racing Engines and the famed Tognotti’s Speed Shops along with 10 others for sharing this spectacular, historic and stunningly prepared car with America. It is an American treasure that was hand built in America by Americans.

It’s the ‘Pride of Sacramento’ dedicated in memory of Jimmy Gordon, Ernie Purcell and Walt Reiff who gave their lives in one race at the 1-mile Sacramento State Fairgrounds race track, October 25th 1970 the last race ever held there. (1913-1970)

Dr. Victor Amon, Racing Historian and Researcher


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