By Sara Paulson, Associate Archivist
An amusing (and confusing) conversation could be overheard in the Archive the other day. It went something like this:
“You know the Rose City Speedway?”
“Yeah, the one that closed?”
“Yeah. You know, the golf course one?”
“Hmm, maybe…you mean Portland Speedway?”
“Rose City Speedway was Portland Speedway? But I thought it closed in the 1920s?”
“No. I’m thinking of a race in the 1980s. What?”
There is good reason for confusion. Archivists to the rescue!
With a dig into the World of Speed Archives and a little help from historical newspapers, we were able to clear things up. The answer? Same city, two different Rose City Speedways.
Featured here is a photograph from our Motorsports Photo Series (WOS#3787, MPS 15 p82) that depicts Rose City Speedway in the 1910s—clearly not a race from the 1980s!
The Rose City Speedway was located where the Rose City Golf Course sits today, at NE 71st Avenue. It opened some time in the early 1910s. Below is a 1914 article from the Morning Oregonian, one of the earliest that mentioned the track.
Owned by the City of Portland, the Rose City Speedway hosted horse, auto, and motorcycle races until it closed in 1921 to become a golf course. The track was managed by Fred T. Merrill, a member of the Northwest Automobile Association who actively promoted the events there. Merrill hoped for Portland to be well-represented in the racing circuit that included Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, and North Yakima.
Writing to the editor of the Oregonian in 1916 Merrill boasted, “Men of means of the various cities in the Northwest are taking an interest in auto racing and the result will be some excellent sport. There is not a better mile dirt track for auto racing in America than the Rose City Speedway” (Oregonian, 21 May 1916).
Fast forward to the late 1970s…
In 1979 a new promoter came onboard at Portland Speedway, Ted Pollock. Off to a rocky start with an especially rainy initial season, Pollock attempted to make his mark by advertising the track in North Portland (across from Portland Meadows) as Rose City Speedway. He also invested $80,000 to improvements to the raceway that year (Oregonian 10 May 1979).
The rebranding effort was short lived, however. By 1984 races were back to being advertised as Portland Speedway events, sometimes with a short explanation of the former name (Oregonian, 13 July 1984). The World of Speed Archive has a special affection for the artifacts in the collection that bears the Rose City Speedway name!