Riders line up for the start of the 1956 Catalina Island Grand Prix
The famed Catalina Island Grand Prix, held annually from 1951 to 1958, attracted thousands of spectators and hundreds of riders to Catalina, a 176-square-mile island 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. Like the Isle of Man in England, it was perceived as an elite event, and its success inspired BSA to name one of its bikes the “Catalina Scrambler.” Now word comes that racing will return to Catalina in December following a 52-year hiatus.
Last run in 1958, the race was inspired by the Isle of Man TT, which has been held on the Isle of Man 70 miles off the coast of England since its inception in 1907. The Catalina Island race was proposed to Catalina Island owner Phillip Wrigley with the idea of drawing more people to this little known spot off California’s southwestern coast. Wrigley liked the idea, and thus was born the Catalina Grand Prix. The first race was held in 1951, and in the years following it became one of the most hotly contested events on the West Coast, drawing superstars and emerging talents to vie for top honors as they blasted through the main port town of Avalon and up into the surrounding hills.
We found this image showing the 1954 Catalina Island Grand Prix course at www.race-dezert.com, posted by Hog Wild, who noted the 2010 course will have more in-town miles than was used in the 1950s.
The island has been under the control of the Catalina Island Conservancy since 1975, when Wrigley deeded his shares to that group, which he had a hand in creating. Since then, the CIS, as it’s called, has opposed any return to racing, although it has allowed some motorcycle events, such as 2008’s Catalina Grand Prix Reunion, a static show that celebrated the glory days of racing there.
Just what turned the tide to a return to racing, we don’t know. There’s been suggestion in some corners that the Wrigley family, which supposedly still holds influence in the island, pressured the CIS to encourage the Avalon city council to grant a permit request from AMA District 37 Motorcycle Club for the race. Importantly, the permit for this year’s race is a one-time only. Avalon’s mayor was quoted in the Catalina Islander saying, “The success or failure of this event is going to dictate whether anything like this happens again on Catalina.”
My Cuz Vinnie Promotions is promoting the event, and we understand they’ll have a web site up with complete information on the upcoming race by mid-June. We’ll post that information as soon as it becomes available. — Richard Backus