River­side’s grand open­ing, as seen through 1950s smog.

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Contents - —DAVE WAL­LACE

Along with ex­treme heat, wind, and dust, River­side, Cal­i­for­nia, promised race fans chok­ing smog (spewed by the West Coast’s largest steel mill, since shut­tered by Kaiser, in nearby Fon­tana). Nev­er­the­less, a huge crowd gath­ered on Me­mo­rial Day week­end 1958 for what was billed as the grand open­ing of a com­bi­na­tion-road-course­dragstrip ini­tially named River­side In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Race­way. These sprint cars were fea­tured Satur­day, fol­lowed by stock cars on Sun­day, then mid­gets on Mon­day.

Five broth­ers (of 11 siblings) in the spon­sor­ing Yeakel fam­ily op­er­ated ma­jor auto deal­er­ships in the Los An­ge­les area. Bob Yeakel ran the big­gest Oldsmo­bile store in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, thanks to a weekly tal­ent show tele­vised live from the show­room from Satur­day af­ter­noon to Sun­day af­ter­noon; more than 18 hours, con­tin­u­ously, of per­form­ers and new­car shop­pers. (Glory-bound un­knowns in­cluded as­pir­ing singer Phil Spec­tor, still in high school; fu­ture Hawai­ian Eye costar Pon­cie Ponce; co­me­dian Lenny Bruce.) Rocket to Star­dom also rock­eted Bob, a po­lit­i­cal novice, to a shock­ing sec­ond-place fin­ish in L.A.’S re­cent may­oral elec­tion. He also played him­self in a low-bud­get movie, Man on the Prowl, in which the deal­er­ship and a new Olds con­vert­ible en­joyed con­sid­er­able ex­po­sure.

The driver and pas­sen­ger(s) here are too

tiny to pos­i­tively iden­tify, but chances are that Bob per­son­ally chauf­feured queen Dyan Can­non to start the CRA 500. (See this is­sue’s in­stall­ment of Back­stage Past for pho­tos and re­sults.) Two years later, Bob died as spec­tac­u­larly as he’d lived, crash­ing his Co­manche air­plane onto the nearby San Bernardino Free­way (I-10). Five lives were lost: Yeakel, 41, two of his sons, aged 22 and 13, a busi­ness ac­quain­tance, and an un­lucky mo­torist. Bob’s Ply­mouth agen­cies in Downey and Comp­ton would con­tinue mo­tor­sports spon­sor­ships into the mid’60s un­der the di­rec­tion of Lou Baney, a for­mer Yeakel me­chanic. The fa­mous track suf­fered re­peated fi­nan­cial scares and bailouts, fi­nally suc­cumb­ing to res­i­den­tial devel­op­ment in 1989. (Pete Lyons’s beau­ti­ful 2015 his­tory book, River­side In­ter­na­tional Race­way, is still avail­able from pe­te­lyons.com.)

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