A LIFE IN RACING

1954-55 #5 Hank Hilton 20y at Slauson

“A LIFE IN RACING” by HANK HILTON

1943 Hank Hilton at 10y

Hank Hilton, age 10, after a fishing trip with a family friend, 1943

“I grew up with racing. My Dad was a promoter, driver, announcer, flagman & sports writer. He promoted auto racing, boxing, wrestling, dance-a-thons, walk-a-thons, and greyhound dog racing. He also raced Model-T sail cars. He started me racing at I6 on the Endert Beach in Crescent City to get me off the streets. This was I949. Then I began racing at the Crescent City Fairgrounds Track (Big mistake; then I was hooked.).   It was a 1/4 mile dirt track. I also raced one of the first chain-saw powered go-carts ever built. The track was finally condemned because of too many spectators and too many drivers’ injuries. I ended up with a spine injury. A new track was built, it was the Lake Earl Track near the drive-in, a small I/4 mile dirt,  it later became asphalt.  I held the record for fast-time when it was still dirt. I also raced in Gold Beach, Grants Pass, Medford, and up to this date I had run all three tracks at Roseburg, OR, and I also raced at Eureka (I952 or so).

Along with auto racing I was the gas-man and portage-man for Burt Pluvoy and the Trees of Mystery boat for the Klamath River White Water Rapids races. They raced from Yreka to Klamath. Burt was the first man to come down the White Water Rapids alone. My job was to make sure he had gas, we were in a pickup and had to race ahead of him. I had to go down over the cliffs to deliver gas to him before he ran out. I had to crawl back up, get in the pickup truck and we would race off to the next gas delivery or deliver a new propeller or portage to pick up the boat and motor and carry it over the rocks at the falls. Then back to the truck and off to the next gas stop. After the last stop the boat would beat us back to the finish line in Klamath by an hour, as we had to go over the Bald Hills to get the rest of the way back.

I also tried boxing, which was short-lived as there was nobody left to box in my weight class, which was 132-I34 lbs. The trophies were too small anyway.

These dates and times may not be accurate, due to carbon monoxide poisoning on a commercial fishing boat out of San Pedro in I957.  I lost over four years of my memory and was considered legally dead – but I fooled them.

1950s Hank ArmyThen I was drafted into the Army, where because of more I injuries to my spine, I received a medical discharge. I came back to Klamath and raced in Crescent City, south Oregon tracks, and Eureka.

I raced in Ferndale, but because a corner flagman was killed by a car that was in the spot I should have been in, and of offers to drive in Southern California I moved to Los Angeles.  I opened up an auto repair service and raced three days a week at Circle City Track at San Bernadino (which I think now is the Orange Bowl), Long Beach, Slauson, Guardina, etc.  I ran mostly jalopies, ‘32-’34 coupes and sedans. I was driving, building, and sponsoring as many as five cars.

Hank at 20 in the early 1950s with trophies won at Slauson Speedway.

Hank at 20 with trophies won at Slauson Speedway, early 1950s

1956 Thrill Show on hood

I was also in the Chuck Casteel Hell Drivers Thrill Show where I was the featured attraction-

“HANK HILTON’S DEATH LEAP”

DSCN7252I did the firewall crash laying on the hood of a ‘5I Hudson going through a wall of fire, and I received 3rd degree burns to my face and back. This happened because the set-up guys put paper with chopped tar in between the layers on the fire-wall. Then I had to do the T-Bone stunt, where I drove up a ramp, hit a car, and flipped over onto other cars. The seat belt broke and I left my burned nose on the steering wheel.  In the following year of ’57, I did the “Fire-Wall Crash” plus “Death Leap“ in a ‘36 Plymouth Coupe, where I jumped over parked cars using only one ramp. The set-up crew screwed up again and I had the wrong rear-end in the car, so I overshot the cars, crashing down on the hard track. Again my seat belt ripped out of the frame. I had a mild concussion and got 57 stitches in my forehead. At the time I held the World Record for height and distance over parked cars in a non-modified, street production car. (This was the end of my thrill-show career; p.s. all the cars were green).

I also joined NASCAR which was called Grand National Late Models at that time.  l raced at Ascot, Riverside, and San Diego. The last race I ran in Southem California was at Willow Springs. It was a 500 mile race in an open cock-pit Grand Prix style racecar. I finished second.

1970s 27 Red Car scan00001

Hank (center) raced the red #27 Chevy for Elmo Bowie (right) in the early 70s; pictured here with Larry Woodhurst (left) at the garage in Loleta, CA.

Hank Hlton and niece Bristol Woodhurst circa 1980s

Redwood Acres Jr. Fan winner Bristol Woodhurst with her favorite race driver: Uncle Hank

During NASCAR, Willow Springs, and Ascot, I also raced with Lee Petty and Parnelli Jones.   At a Championship Banquet in LA, I received one of my championship trophies from Johnny Parsons, one championship trophy from the Mayor of Montebello, and one from a Chief of Police. While I was winning in jalopies, I was also winning in Late Models. Then my son got seriously ill, so we moved back to Klamath.

I drove a few races in Crescent City, Medford, Roseburg, and Eureka. I joined Six Rivers in Eureka. Then after the I964 flood, I took my Ford that went through the flood, called it “Floodmud” and raced in Eureka. Then we went to Bob Britt’s I/4 mile track and then to the bigger one in I968.  Eventually, I ended up back at Redwood Acres.  Then I was racing in Eureka, Shasta, and Medford.  I had my neck broken during this time, then racing full time.  I ran NASCAR in Eureka (Sportsman & Late Model) when it became asphalt.

1981-4-26 Stock Report Cover

A-Main Winner at Redwood Acres Raceway (The Stock Report cover 1981)

I bought a car from Jimmy Walker and raced at Roseville, Shasta. and Eureka.  In Eureka I finished 3rd in I980, 2nd in I98I, and won the championship in I982.   Because of rule changes made after the pit meeting and alter the race, I was cheated out of ‘80 & ‘8l.  I’m the only driver I know who was blackflagged while leading a race.

After ‘82 I ran Roseville, Shasta and a few Eureka opens. Then the track was asphalted and I haven’t been worth a damn since. But I did finish 9th in the NOR-CAL Series in I998. and 4th in TRI-STATE with the Wasmunds in 2003…

I was going to retire in 2003 but my friends, Dave and Barbara Porter of Crescent City, did not want to see me stop racing so they bought a new body for my car. Then I picked up a sponsor with Klamath’s Ravenwood Motel, help from the Klamath Country Club Bar & Grill, and help from my friend Howard Ford, so I decided to race another year…

2004 Hank Hilton signed postcard

With a little help from his friends:  Hank was rolling in a new car for 2004

Scrap BookDuring my career I have helped many kids in Southern California and up here get started in racing.  At one time we had the hated “Klamath River Rats”, there were five guys from Klamath and Crescent City running in the street stocks.  My son Frank Billy, who used to help me with my car before he joined the Marines. and was my pitman when he came home, is now in Sportsman.

So, other than breaking my back, burning of my face, breaking my neck, steam-broiling the family jewels, knocking out most of my teeth, having my head split open and mild concussions, I have never really been hurt bad in a race car in all my 56 years of racing.”

– Hank Hilton

 

2006 Fall Spectacular

Hank racing at age 73, after the annual Fall Spectacular open show at Redwood Acres, 2006

This article was originally written by Hank Hilton in 2005 at the request of Lissa Usleton for her excellent and much lamented web site racintheacres.com

Hank passed away February 28, 2008 in Klamath, California.  He was racing right up to the end.

Archival photos are courtesy of Hank’s wife Delores Hilton.

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TRACK CHAMPIONS

Trophies RAR 8-24-13 012
REDWOOD ACRES TRACK CHAMPIONS

1965
Super Stock:        JACK PRANGLEY

1966
Super Stock:        RED CHRISTIANSEN

1967
Super Stock:        DENNY MYERS

Jim Walker

Jim Walker

1968
Super Stock:        RUDY ZECK

1969
Super Stock:        BOB BRITT

1970
Super Stock:        JIM WALKER

1971
Super Stock:        JIM WALKER

1972
Super Stock:        JIM WALKER
Hobby:                MITCH GILBERT

1973
Super Stock:        RAY LUZZI
Hobby:                DON BAILEY

Larry Pries

Larry Pries

1974
Super Stock:        LARRY PRIES
Street Stock:        DON CALDWELL

1975
Super Stock:        RUDY ZECK
Street Stock:        JOE WILSON

1976
Super Stock:        TOM WYATT
Street Stock:        JOE WILSON

1977
Super Stock:        LARRY PRIES
Street Stock:        CASEY DUNGAN

1978
Super Stock:        DON PRICE
Street Stock:        BOB WOODY
Jalopy:                 MIKE RODRIGUEZ

1979
Super Stock:         LARRY PRIES
Street Stock:        ANTHONY NUNES
Jalopy:                 DENNIS MYERS

1980

1981
Super Stock:         KEN WALLAN
Ltd. Sportsman:    FERGY FERGUSON
Jalopy:                 PAT WALSH
Ltd. Modified        WALLY MARTINS JR.

Rusty Olson

Rusty Olson

1982
Super Stock:          HANK HILTON
Ltd. Sportsman:     MIKE BRADBURY
Jalopy:                   JERRY TOLEDO
Ltd. Modified:         ROGER CARTER

1983
Super Stock:          VIC BLANC
Ltd. Sportsman:      GEOFF NEELY
Ltd. Modified:        TIM MARSH
Bomber:                 SKIP RICHTER
Jalopy:                   JERRY TOLEDO

1984
Super Stock:           VERTA HENELL
Ltd. Sportsman:      CASEY DUNGAN
Bomber:                  JIM PORTER JR.
Open Wheel:           TIM MARSH

1985
Super Stock:          BILL HALL
Ltd. Sportsman:     MATT KUNKLER
Hobby Stock:         JIM PORTER JR.
Open Wheel           LONNIE TAMBOURY JR.

Glenn Shewry

Glenn Shewry

1986
Super Stock:         RON PETERS
Hobby Stock:        JIM PORTER JR.
Open Wheel:        BRENT DOTHAGE

1987
Super Stock:        MARK BALDWIN

1988
Super Stock:        JIM WALKER
Street Stock:        TIM STANDIFER

1989
Super Stock:        JIM WALKER
Street Stock:        RUSTY OLSON
Mini Stock:          DOUG PULVER

1990
Super Stock:        RANDY OLSON
Street Stock:        GLENN SHWERY
Mini Stock:          DOUG PULVER

1991
Sportsman:        RANDY OLSON
Mini Stock:        MATT KUNKLER

Bernard Burns

Bernard Burns

1992
Sportsman:        RUSTY OLSON
Mini Stock:        TONY PULVER

1993
Sportsman:        STEVE MOULTON
Mini Stock:        RON BORGES

1994
Sportsman:        RUSTY OLSON
Mini Stock:        BERT GUTHRIDGE

1995
Sportsman:        GLENN SHEWRY
Pure Stock:        RAY RAPP
Mini Stock:        MIC MOULTON

1996
Sportsman:        GLENN SHEWRY
Pure Stock:        RAY RAPP
Mini Stock:        BERNARD BURNS

Angelo Marcelli

Angelo Marcelli

1997
Sportsman:        TIM McCRACKEN
Pure Stock:        OTIS STABLER
Mini Stock:        BERNARD BURNS

1998
Sportsman:        LARRY PRIES
Pure Stock:        CRAIG JOHNSON
Mini Stock:        BERNARD BURNS

1999
Sportsman:        OTIS STABLER
Pure Stock:        CRAIG JOHNSON
Mini Stock:        PHIL WOOD

2000
Sportsman:        ANGELO MARCELLI
Pure Stock:        JEFF BRODERSON
Real Stock:        RUSTY TURNER
Mini Stock:        JASON SHAHA

Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson

2001
Sportsman:        SHAWN ANDREWS
Pure Stock:        CRAIG JOHNSON
Real Stock:        SHAWN CRAIG
Mini Stock:        PHIL WOOD

2002
Sportsman:        ANGELO MARCELLI
Real Stock:        RICK FOX
Mini Stock:        PHIL WOOD

2003
Sportsman:        ROGER SANDERSON
Ltd. Street:        LEE BRANSTETTER
Real Stock:        AARON BYERS
Mini Stock:        JASON CHAND

2004
Sportsman:        ANGELO MARCELLI
Ltd. Street:        RON BROWN
Real Stock:        CECIL ARISPE
Mini Stock:        JERRY PETERSON

Phil Wood

Phil Wood

2005
Sportsman:        ROGER SANDERSON
Ltd. Street:        LEE BRANSTETTER
Real Stock:        AARON BYERS
Mini Stock:        JASON CHAND

2006
Sportsman:        MARTY WALSH
Ltd. Street:        ADRIEN BETOURNAY
Real Stock:        BILL BRADBURY
Mini Stock:        CHAD GRAMMER
Roadster:          DAVID HENDERSON

2007
Sportsman:        BRANDON BARNWELL
Ltd. Street:        SCOTT LYONS
Real Stock:        BILL MIDDLETON
Mini Stock:        BYRON McINTOSH
Roadster:          PAUL PEEPLES JR.

Paul Peeples Jr.

Paul Peeples Jr.

2008
Sportsman:        BRANDON BARNWELL
Ltd. Street:        FERGY FERGUSON
Real Stock:        JIM REDD
Mini Stock:        CRAIG BAKER
Roadster:          PAUL PEEPLES JR.

2009
Sportsman:        DENNIS DELBIAGGIO
Real Stock:        RYAN WALTERS
Mini Stock:        CRAIG BAKER
Roadster:           DAVID HENDERSON
Roadrunner:       CHARLIE ANDERSON

2010
Sportsman:        MIC MOULTON
Real Stock:        CASEY MITCHELL
Roadster:          THOMAS PAYNE
Roadrunner:       RALEIGH WILLOUGHBY

Brandon Barnwell

Brandon Barnwell

2011
Sportsman:        LARRY PRIES
Real Stock:        RYAN ROBINSON
Roadster:          THOMAS PAYNE
Roadrunner:       KINSEY/MURREL/HANSEN

2012
Sportsman:        BRANDON BARNWELL
Real Stock:        DONNIE HYMAN
Roadster:          PAUL PEEPLES JR.
Roadrunner:      MICHAEL LAWRENCE

REDWOOD ACRES RACEWAY

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Known as “The Acres”, Redwood Acres Raceway is located at the Redwood Acres Fairgrounds in Eureka, California, in the heart of Humboldt County.  A 3/8 mile “D” with a curved back stretch, the track has 2 degrees of banking on the front stretch, 6 degrees on the curved backstretch, and 12 degrees in the corners.

2013 RAR Google Earth 1

Hard Tops racing at The Acres in 1952 (Stock Report)

Hard Tops racing at The Acres in 1952 (The Stock Report)

Redwood Acres Raceway opened in 1947 as a dirt track featuring Midgets, Roadsters and Hard Tops, which specialized in door banging racing with the brakes removed to reduce drag and end-over-end flips commonplace.  With no walls except for the main straight, it was typical to see a car go off the track in turn two disappearing in a cloud of dust, only to rejoin the action in turn three.  Just outside the regular 3/8 track was the 5/8 “Big Track” which had motorcycles and stock cars racing on it. In 1956 and 1957 it hosted the NASCAR Grand National series.

In 1965 the Six Rivers Racing Association began promoting races at the track.

In 1968  a NASCAR Pacific Coast Late Model race was won by Harold Hardesty.

In 1972 the 100 lap NASCAR Grand National West race was won by Hershel McGriff.

1970s Redwood Acres Dirt

Fabulous aerial photo by J.W. Shipley from 1976

1974 cars on main stretch (J.W. Shipley)

1970s 52F Ray Dugan Motocross on the  track

(J.W. Shipley – Northern California Racers)

1973 saw the Redwood Empire Quarter Midget Association open a true “short track” complete with tiny grandstand, located behind where the pits are today.  Though that track is now gone, still in use since the around 1978 is the BMX track beyond turn three.  The 70s also saw motorcycles racing on the flat main speedway.  (#52F Ray Dugan at right)

1976 Permatex 200 Victory Lane (Dirt Trackin At The Acres)

In 1976 three-time RAR track champion Jim Walker of Ferndale took a local crew and his dirt car down to the road course in Riverside and raced against a field that included Bobby Allison and Neil Bonnett, winning the Permatex 200 Sportsman race.

The Riverside win lead to a ride at Daytona for the Permatex 300, where he was moving up through the field before getting caught up in a another car’s spin causing a crash resulting in a fractured knee.  But Walker’s success at Riverside only added to the local interest in stock car racing at Redwood Acres.

1980 Jim Walkter paces the field 980x

Jim Walker paces the field in 1980 (The Stock Report)

Throughout the 60s and 70s the local classes were variations of Super Stock, Hobby/Street Stock,  and Jalopy, as well as the various visiting series like Midget and Sprint Cars and occasional stunt shows and destruction derbys.  Nightly car counts upwards of 100 filled the hectic dirt infield.  Top short track drivers from Oregon came down to test the local hot shoes.  This culminated in the first annual North Coast Dirt Track Classic in 1978 featuring drivers making the tow from far off places such as Medford, Concord, Santa Rosa, Yreka, Truckee, Carson, Chico, Chula Vista, Pinole, Hayward, Vallejo, San Pablo, Susanville and Smith River, among others.  The 100-lap A-Main race was won by 1977 NASCAR Winston West Grand National Champion Bill Schmitt of Redding, who received a purse of $2,000.

1978 Bill Schmitt  (Dirt Trackin At The Acres)

1984 Here Come The Outlaws (Stock Report) BorderIn 1983 the SRRA replaced the hard smooth sandy surface with wet Blue Bay Mud / Clay, and true dirt cars ruled The Acres through the 1987 season.  Open Wheel/Modifieds shared the race forms. Visiting Outlaw Dirt Late Models rode into town from as far away as Arizona for the annual Dirt Track Classic, where the cars spent more time sideways than straight in true ‘dirt trackin style’.

Since the 70s there had been debate between the fans and within the SRRA about paving the track.  The exciting possibility of luring the “big boys” to town with a newly paved fast track was tempered by cost factors; the initial debt incurred by the paving would be daunting, selling the water truck would be balanced out by having to buy a sweeper, and changing over the cars and setups would be tough on drivers’ budgets, not to mention the concern for safety that the new speeds would bring.

1987 Paving the TrackIn 1987 Rich and Linda Olson won the bid to operate the track, paving it out of their own pocket and adding a wall from turn one to turn four and a new pit section outside the back stretch for the 1988 season.  Some local cars that had left for other tracks where their older hard-packed dirt cars were more asphalt-friendly, now returned to RAR.  In the Super Stock division, the more recent wedge-style dirt cars now converted for a paved track and raced alongside sleek new ’88 Camaro bodies for the new season.  Local fan favorite and former track champion Jimmy Walker returned to be champion once again.

1988 Don Graham and Rob Hansen 980x

Before the stricter templates, the variety of car bodies were apparent in the Super Stocks in 1988;       Don Graham (left) and Rob Hansen (The Stock Report)

Between 1988 and 1995 the track was sanctioned by NASCAR, and since being paved has hosted the NASCAR Southwest Tour (1988-1995), Winston West Series (1990), and various Northern California Late Model and Modified touring series, as well as the local classes of Super Stock/Late Model Sportsman, Street Stocks, Jalopies/Bombers, Mini Stocks, and more recently Thunder Roadsters and Road Runners.

While the track surface has changed over the years since 1947, the basic 3/8 mile D-shaped oval has remained the same.  Names like Jimmy Walker, Larry Pries, Hank Hilton, Fergy Ferguson, and Angelo Marcelli, who raced in the dusty dirt days and long after it was paved, have provided the track its identity; just like so many drivers at regional short tracks around the country that share in the tradition as the birthplace of NASCAR.

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The 2012 Fall Spectacular – an annual end of the year Open Comp event.

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Dirt Trackin At The Acres (Cover)Much of this information was found in the out of print book Dirt Trackin’ At The Acres, which details the racing action year by year thru the 1978 season with insider stories and an entertaining writing style by SRRA member Tom Dilling.  Though hard to find, it is worth searching for.

Additional historic images came from back issues of the track’s former program The Stock Report, featuring the work of  J.W. Shipley and others.

Historic results plus stories of recent racing action at Redwood Acres can be found here:
http://streetdreamer83.blogspot.com/

Touring and open show race information can be found at The Third Turn here:
http://www.thethirdturn.com/wiki/Redwood_Acres_Raceway

Visit the official Redwood Acres Raceway web site:
http://redwoodacresraceway.info/

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