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Back in the Day: Racing was big in Banning in the 1920s

By in Press Enterprise on September 28, 2017

By Kim Jarrell Johnson

In 1925, the American Legion post in Banning decided to build a dirt oval auto racing track west of the city, near the intersection of 22nd and Wilson streets.

Called the Banning Speedway in local newspapers, the half-mile raceway hosted its first race July 4 of that year. A crowd of about 800 to 1,000 people showed up to watch the race. Given that the population of Banning and its next-door neighbor Beaumont combined was less than 4,000 at that time, the turnout shows how popular auto racing was as a spectator sport in the 1920s.

The American Legion had more races that year on Labor Day and Armistice Day (now known as Veteran’s Day). The oval was widened 20 feet before the second race to make the track a minimum of 60 feet wide around its entire length.

According to speedsport.com, on Armistice Day in 1927, two racers by the names of Byron “Speed” Hinkley and Bill Spence were in the lead in a 30-lap featured race, when, on the 12th lap, the two collided on the south turn.

Hinkley’s car was not damaged enough to knock him out of the race and he was able to continue, eventually winning. Right after the race, Spence and Hinkley got into a heated argument and it ended with Hinkley agreeing to split the first-place money prize with Spence.

Dirt tracks like the one at Banning attracted all sorts of drivers, some of whom made it all the way to that most prized race: the Indianapolis 500.

One of the most famous racers to get experience on the Banning Speedway was Floyd Roberts. Roberts qualified to start the Indianapolis 500 five successive races beginning in 1935, and won the race in 1938 in a then-record average speed of 117.2 mph. That number would not be matched […]    

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