History of the Gold Cup – Race of Champions
In 1951 Harry Truman was President, Chevy didn’t have a V-8, telephones were on party lines, microwaves were something for radio communications, and a big screen was the Saturday night drive-in movie. Things have changed since Johnny Soares chased the first Gold Cup trophy surmounted by a gold lacquered miniature stock car in 1951.
The “Gold Cup” theme has not changed during the past 40 years, as we continue to gather for a year end showdown, featuring the best open wheel drivers in the country. The names, the cars, the purses, and even the facilities have changed but we are still drawn by the people, the speed, the competition, and the happening called “Gold Cup.”
Our “Gold Cup” research took many turns during the past three years but getting the actual race count accurate was a much bigger task than we envisioned. Everyone agreed “Gold Cup” had a continuous run from 1959 to 1992. The odd part of this count was that in 1971 in order to avoid a superstitious 13th race, the event jumped from the 12th to the 14th race.
The countdown continued one race off until 1975 when the count leaped from the 17th to the 22nd. The unexplained change in 1975 is what kept us digging. Finally, one quiet day at the Chico State library, Art Spaulding found the missing link. In the September 1, 1951 Sacramento Bee the word “100-lap Gold Cup Classic” were spotted. Continued research turned up four “Gold Cups” from 1951 to 1954 at Hughes Stadium.
The single race exception seemed more plausible at this point but back to the library we went trying to answer what happened during 1954 through 1959 and also why we had a single race discrepancy. Much the same as the 1951 race, we found an August 18, 1956 ad in the Sacramento Union pointing us towards the 100 mile hardtop championship held on August 25, 1956 at Capital Speedway. At last it all added up.
One of the obstacles slowing this process were several name changes during the 39 year history. We also suspect a feud may have developed over using the Gold Cup name, because several other events were held with a similar designation. None, however, offered the purse, number of entries, and the distance that early “Gold Cups” were recognized for.
1951 to 1954 were very clearly called “Gold Cup Classics.” All were held at Hughes Stadium. The 1956 event was simply called “100 Mile Hardtop Championships.” In 1959 State Championships was added to the name and this was the first use of “Race of Champions.” 1960 to ’63 races most commonly were called “Pacific Coast Modified Stock Car Championships”, 1962 was the first use of “Super Modified” in some of the pre race adds.
“Race of Champions” was used exclusively from 1964 to 1966 and Modified Hardtops were the featured attraction.
1967 is the first year “Gold Cup Classic” and “Race of Champions” were combined. This, however, was used interchangeably in 1968 and 1969. In 1970 the “Gold Cup Race of Champions” nameplate was adopted and has been used ever since.
West Capital Raceway was the “Gold Cup” home for twenty two events. From 1956 to 1979 the “Action Track” hosted some of the most grueling events in auto racing history.
“Gold Cup” relocated to Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico in 1980.
Eleven races were held on the West Capital half mile. Four were logged in on the Hughes Stadium flat 1/4 mile. The remaining events have all been held on 1/4 mile high banked tracks. West Capital had a perfect split, between two tracks, with eleven races on the 1/4 mile. All of the Silver Dollar Speedway races have been on the 1/4 mile.
The Hughes Stadium races all went 100 laps. Probably one of the most demanding tests for man and machine were the 200 lap events on the 1/2 mile from 1956 to 1966. The 100 milers required nearly as much gasoline tank as a car. The reduction to 100 laps on the 1/4 mile was a welcome change for the competitors.
In 1970 and ’72 the last 1/2 mile races were held but the laps were contained at 100. The demands of preparing the big track plus needed renovations closed the 1/2 mile after the 1972 race.
Fifty laps were adopted as a standard in 1974 and lasted until 1985 when the count dropped to 40.
In 1965 a record 63 cars started the 200 lap grind and 12 finished. The twenty car fields, which started from 1979 to 1984, were the smallest. The most unusual count was 33 in 1972.
The “Gold Cup” purse has increased one hundred percent since its humble beginning in 1951. The Hughes Stadium events all carried a $1,000 purse. The 1956 purse jumped to $2,000. In 1959 the winners prize became 1000 silver dollars. The total purse did not increase until 1961 when it hit an all time high of $3,405.
$1,000 was paid to all winners from 1962 to 1969. Total purses ranged from $3,000 to $4,500. In 1969 Jimmy Gordon was awarded $1,500 for winning the “Gold Cup”. Although overall purses increased, the winners share declined to $1,000 for 1970 thru 1972.
Perhaps the turnaround financially was the 1973 race when Jimmy Boyd pocketed $2,200, which included lap money and a track record bonus.
Certainly, the turning point for the notoriety was the $30,000 purse with $5,000 to win in 1975. “This was unheard of in those days,” Ohio’s Rick Ferkel told us. Ferkel, along with numerous other travelers came to West Capital. When the checkered fell, Idaho’s Terry Crousure was $5,000 richer. The gamble, for promoter John Padjen, also paid off as 6,237 fans came to watch the big money showdown.
The dollar may not go as far today but the $100,000 plus 1993 purse with a $20,000 winners share could even lure Al Pombo out of retirement.
Keeping this tradition alive have been the faithful participants and patrons of this Northern California classic. The communities and facilities which have hosted Gold Cups have always been kind to motor sports. The staffs and sponsors have always been first rate. We hope this trip down memory lane offers some repayment to the makers of the “Gold Cup Race of Champions.”