Grand Ave, Part II. The Real History behind the stories.
One thing is for sure...You can drive on Grand Ave in Corona and no matter how many red light signals you hit, or how fast or slow you go, you always end up at the same place you wasz....The street is a 3 mile circle around the city center built in at time when all they had were measuring sticks....Today as then, hundreds of historic homes lined both sides of the street and memories of a time when over 100,000 people stood at its woodened curbs to watch an historic race....The only one of its kind in the world, built long before the Riverside International Speedway, Ontario, or present day California Speedway, Corona's Grand Ave, was for a time, and briefly at that, a Mecca of the auto racing world.
The first 100 mph speed was achieved on Grand during its 1913 race, and that was done on a oiled earth 70 foot wide surfaced street....Can you imagine the speed if it was paved....But asphalt paving was still many years down the road, perhaps this race was the impetuous that led to modern day paving techniques....Who knows.
A purse of $11,000 drew some of the best drivers in the world to the first race....Promoters of the race had anticipated perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 people to watch the race....Over 100,000 attended opening day festivities and the race.
Despite a few mishaps, such as losing a tire, sliding sideways on the oiled dirt surface, Famed driver Barney Oldfield managed to finish the race, while Earl Cooper who averaged more than 74 mph around the 3 mile loop won the race and received a cash award of $5,700....Equal to almost $100,000 in today's currency.....Some say that Oldfield lost the race when he swerved into some trees to avoid hitting a 9 year old boy who had run out into the street to retrieve a ball....Total laps run were 91 which equaled a 300 mile race.
The promoters of the race made a profit of $65,000 and began planning for the next years race....With returning drivers like Oldfield and one of the hottest new drivers in racing, Eddie Rickenbacker, Ace of WWI Aerial dogfights the race of 1914 was also a success....Rickenbacher had to drop out of the race after completing only 36 laps due to the fact that he was going so fast that he blew up his engine.
The winner of the 1914 race was Eddie Pullen, driving a Mercer, dominated the race by screaming around the 109 lap course doing more than 87 mph to set a new world record....He won $4,000, plus another $2,000 for setting the new speed record.
Despite the success of the 1913 and 1914 race, no race was held in 1915, due to lack of sponsors, and because every body was so busy working or preoccupied with events happening in Europe to even organize the race.
A group of Coronans got together in 1916 to plan for a third race with a purse of $12,000....Unfortunally, attendance was terrible and only about 5 drivers showed up to race....The 1916 race was running well when an event occurred that would seal the doom of any possible futures races.....On the 12 lap of the race, Driver Bob Burmans Peugeot rear wear collapsed sending the car out of control at over 100 mph into the crowd.
His car veered off the course, hit a parked car, then plunged into the crowd and finally stopped after glancing off a telephone pole....Burman died in the hospital while his mechanic a passenger in the car, was tossed out of the car and died instantly after being struck by other drivers.....The out of control car also killed a guard, and injured several spectators who did recover, but also sued the race promoters.
Eddie O'Donnel won the race but all cars had slowed down by now and most of the drivers just didn't have the heart to finish the race.....The resulting lawsuits and the financial losses ended forever any sort of organized racing in Corona....Today, Grand ave is a busy hub of business in and out of downtown and also connects to the 91 and 15 freeways by several different ramps.....There was a brief flurry of activity and interest of holding another race on Grand back in the 1990's, but interest soon fell away....To many environmental concerns, traffic, homes, paving the streets, the total cost, was just to much for any promoter to endure.
Besides, other race venues could be had, and Corona's grand dream died once more.