The CRA (California Racing Association) was formed in the garage of Babe Ouse in 1945. Originally it was known as the California Roadster Association. Ouse, a dry lakes record holder in a Marmon, was tired of racing against the clock and, with the help of Bill Dehler and Emmett Malloy, they built a race track just blocks away from the dirt lot that would later become Ascot Park raceway.
Watching the historic video above, really gives a look back at what it was like to drive and race way back when. That first track was known as Carrell Speedway and Judge Carrell & Christopher J.C. Agajanian were the driving forces behind both tracks and the continuation of the CRA. Sprint cars were introduced in 1953 and the name was changed officially in 1957 to the California Racing Association (CRA).
Even though there isn’t any sound, you can really get a sense for what it must have been like to be behind the wheel as the dust flies all around you. Exhilarating speeds in some of the earliest forms of professional competitive track racing is something we can only imagine, but the histroy is still preserved today.
In 1978, Gary Sokola became president and instituted several new safety measures, including the national 410 limit, the tire rule, and padded roll cages. Sokola left the CRA to join the USAC and Frank Lewis took over where he left off, however Lewis would be the last president, as things declined for the sport shortly thereafter. Ascot raceway closed in 1990 and the CRA was left without a home track. Lewis tried expanding the sport across the state and various parts of the country, increasing the purse and spending thousands on advertising out of his pocket to keep the show going.
In 1993, a scheduled race was cancelled at the Ventura Raceway and a majority of members formed the SCRA and honored the date. The CRA was suspended indefinitely in 1994 after just four races, with Bobby Michnowicz leading the point standings by one point over Leland McSpadden.
Many sprint car legends have come from the ranks of the CRA. Stars include Bob Hogle, Billy Wilkerson, Jimmy Oskie, Bobby Olivero, Rick Goudy, Buster Venard, Dean Thompson, Bubby Jones, Brad Noffsinger, Eddie Wirth, Rip Williams, John Redican, Ron Shuman, Lealand McSpadden, Richard Griffin, Billly Boat, Mike Kirby, Mike Sweeney, Stan McElrath and many more. The CRA became a natural stepping stone to more sophisticated racing, including the Indy 500, as 19 winners of the Indy 500 got their starts from open track roadster racing.
Give the video a watch, and you’ll appreciate just how much rich history goes along with all things auto, and how much early days of racing influenced the entire hot rod and custom car culture.