The Isle of Man TT and Ireland’s North West 200 take place on public roadways, but for the most part “road races” are not road races at all. They’re closed-circuit races held on dedicated courses resembling public roads.
But in 1967 a group of enthusiastic California closed-circuit racers who normally competed in AFM (American Federation of Motorcyclists) club races at Cotati and Vacaville race tracks got the notion to promote a road race through the streets of the California State Fairgrounds in Sacramento. It would be known, according to AFM literature of the time, as a “Grand Prix Road Race.”
The July 2, 1967, race was part of the Sacramento Motorcycle Festival and Safety Fair, a two-day cycling carnival featuring field events, a bike show, a midway sprinkled with vendor and dealer booths, motorcycle safety demonstrations, and of course the motorcycle road race held on Sunday. Pre-event publicity promised that the festival would have “everything for the two wheel enthusiast.”
One pre-race flyer’s hyperbole touted the festival as a don’t-miss spectacular. Beyond its grammatical errors and misspelled words, it read: “On Sunday, July 2, the AFM will compete for over 1,000.00 dollars in prize money in a European style Road Race on the California State Fair Grounds Grand Prix Circuit. The grounds facilities at the Fair site are excellent for this type of event — there are many good viewing areas and lots of shaded picnic spots, as well as snack bars, drinking fountains and regular rest rooms.” Admission was $3 for the weekend; $2 for Sunday only.
The 2-mile course looped in a counterclockwise direction through the fairgrounds, utilizing a series of short and narrow connector and service streets, plus sections of parking lots, all lined with hay bales and construction sawhorses for safety and crowd-control purposes. The road surface had slippery manhole covers and nasty curbs.
AFM racer Jim Keys, riding his Suzuki 250 X6 Hustler in the production class, recalls falling on an oil spill that went unchecked by course flagmen: “The turn marshal was standing there, talking with his girlfriend [and not raising the caution flag].” In fact, Keys remembers that “flagmen were in some corners, but there were people walking across the track all day. It was like riding on the Sunday Morning Ride,” he said, referencing another Northern California motorcycle mainstay that takes place every Sunday morning on Highway One.
The Sacramento road race turned out to be a one-time event. A few years later AFM members in Southern California, led by Los Angeles Chapter president Jim Manning, opened negotiations with the commanding officer at nearby Los Alamitos Naval Air Base (now known as the Joint Forces Training Base) to promote a similar event on its seldom-used roads (by 1971 the base had been relegated to reserve status). But when Manning accepted a job with the AMA later that year, efforts to promote the road race vanished. AFM road racing continued on closed circuits only, where it’s remained ever since. — Dain Gingerelli