Teenagers caught drag racing in L.A. River [updated]
March 6, 1955: Police check licenses on hopped-up cars driven by teenagers drag racing on a paved section of the Los Angeles River bottom. Four squad cars converged on the racers. Photo taken at 6th Street Bridge.
A story in the March 7, 1955, Los Angeles Times reported:
Police yesterday rounded up more than 150 teenagers who were drag-racing their souped-up cars on the paved Los Angeles River bottom.
Four squad cars and five motorcycle officers converged in the river bed where the youths had marked off a quarter-mile racing strip between 4th and 6th Sts.
About 90 jalopies were lined up in single file while the occupants, protesting bitterly, were ordered to show their driver’s licenses and registration papers to policemen guarding the river bed’s 6th St. exit.
Officers estimated that some 30 other cars escaped up the San Fernando Road ramp before police could catch them. There were no arrests….
The photo above by former staff photographer Julian Robinson was published on the March 7, 1955 Los Angeles Times front page.
Below is a related photo from 1958 by former staff photographer Ken Dare. Police blocked one of the Los Angeles River bed exits and calmly handed out tickets. To light this scene, Ken Dare used at least two remote flash units plus one unit near his camera. The man, top left of center, appears to be holding a remote strobe head. Another light unit appears to be held on the extreme top left.
Dec. 11, 1958: Police issue citations to more than 100 drivers, charging violations of a municipal law that prohibits operation of motor vehicles on the paved bed of the Los Angeles River. This photo was published in the Dec. 12, 1958 Los Angeles Times.
After this blog post appeared Monday, reader Ted Sebern contacted me, wanting to make sure the complete story of the early drag racing was told. Sebern, a longtime member of the Road Kings auto club of Burbank, writes:
I’d like to bring you up to speed about drag racing in the LA river in the fifties. I realize you are probably too young to have been there in the fifties, but believe me it was a ball.
First of all you must understand that we were kids who didn’t want to race on the streets. The idea of our clubs was to provide the safest drag racing venue at the time. For three years the LA cops came down and watched while we raced. In all that time the cops never bothered us, nor did they ticket any of us.
Then the LA City fathers decided that the youth shouldn’t be allowed to run races flagrantly in the river under the Sixth Street Bridge.
For months after that the LAPD would come down under the bridge and say, “We have to come down and raid this place in twenty minutes.” Of course we all split. They were wonderful guys. After that we moved to the River Road to the north of Griffith Park, just south of the L.A. River and just west of Victory Blvd.
LAPD and Burbank P.D. watched for some years while we raced; again no tickets. We had a Snyder ambulance on site in case of an accident, and there were none.
1957 Chevys and Pontiacs raced against blossoming MOPAR vehicles and it was a ball. Early San Fernando drag racing groups were forming and their clubs would become the basis for that track.
The River Road near Griffith Park is now the location of the Ventura (134) Freeway.
For more photos, check out this LIFE magazine April 29, 1957 photo essay: The Drag Racing Rage. The photo essay includes images of drag racing in the Los Angeles River.
[Updated March 19, 2014 with reader provided information.]
March 17, 2014, 12:55 am
Oh, heedless, wicked youth! When was Lions drag strip in Long Beach opened so they could do it safely and legally?
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