Racing venue on Carmel and Santa Clara roads was a part of Atascadero’s history from 1953 to 1973
ATASCADERO — If you ask the right people, they tell you stories about the Atascadero Speedway that are so vivid that you can smell the dirt on the track as the now vintage cars sped around the long-gone oval that used to pack the hillside with onlookers for a 20-year span from 1953 to 1973. One thing that’s clear is that for 20 years, the Atascadero Speedway was the social hub and a car racer’s dream that sadly isn’t around anymore.
Joyce Rabellino and her husband moved to the old Speedway site in the early ’90s but had no idea of the property’s history.
“One of our neighbors came down and showed us a picture, the standard overhead picture, from 1953, and said, ‘Hey did you know this is what used to be here?'” said Rabellino, who started the Speedway’s Facebook group. “We had no idea, and my husband’s a gearhead and loves anything with motors that goes places, so I’ve absorbed that during our marriage. And got interested in the history of it and started collecting stories and pictures and things.”
The Speedway was built in south Atascadero on the corner of Carmel and Santa Clara roads, and now three different properties cover the space where crowds as large as 2,000 would gather to watch the races on Saturday nights from the end of April through October every year. However, at the start, the Speedway only ran races during the daylight hours. Later on, they added lights that made it possible to race once it got dark.
“We always recognize that our house is kind of sitting in the middle of a pit,” added Rabellino. “And on the back hill, our view out our backyard, we can see the steps in the hill where the grandstands used to be. That’s a really good reminder. There’s a lot of people that know about it but just don’t think about it because it’s not right there anymore.”
George Westlund ended up at the track because his father was the deputy sheriff, who would work as security at the track during races if he was available.
“We’d sit up on turn four and watch the races in the dirt,” Westlund said of his time hanging at the track between 1968 and 1972. “Have a blanket for warmth and also for protection from the mud that would come up flying as the cars came around the corner.”
Roy Guy Sr. and his brother Lester started the Atascadero Speedway with Elmer Lee, who owned the property where Rabellino’s house now sits. Roy Guy Sr. raced as well, starting in 1953, and it was his son Roy Guy Jr. who won the last championship in 1973 before the Atascadero Speedway came to an end.
Back when the Speedway was alive and kickin’, Atascadero had a gas station on every corner, and each station either had their own super-modified cars or sponsored someone who drove, including Bob Elliot.
“My dad (Bob Elliot) was a manager at the track for three years. That was from ’69 to ’71,” added Tammie Elliot Wenter. “When my dad managed the track, we were all kind of put together to work. My grandfather sold tickets at the gate, and I was working with him selling programs at the gate. And then my mom was the scorekeeper, so she sat up in the announcing booth. And my uncle drove, and my dad drove some of the years, but not all of them.”
Though the Speedway might not exist anymore, its stories will live on.
You can find the full story on the Atascadero Speedway in the upcoming August edition of Atascadero News Magazine.