DEL MAR — The racetrack at the Del Mar Fairgrounds has been the scene of several prominent racing events with little relation to Thoroughbred racing, the Sport of Kings.
In the 1950s and 1960s, retired doc Dick Wheelock, a very active San Dieguito Jaycee and member of the cancer society, came up with the idea of staging a Sunday afternoon matinee of Standardbred racing. More than 900 Standardbred horses were in winter quarters at the track. These are trotters and pacers that pull sulkies. A race card was a natural as they prepared to depart for their regular racing season. The Jaycees, in cooperation with the Del Mar Chamber, staffed food and beverage concession booths and also operated an unorthodox form of pari-mutuel betting. It was not approved by authorities, but proceeds were for cancer research so no one quibbled about cash payouts. Through the years, the matinee attracted several thousand spectators with little concern whether the horses were pulling carts or being ridden horseback by jockies. These lasted until the Standardbreds all but disappeared from the Western scene.
At other times there have been brief periods of quarter-horse races and motorized events like motorcycle and auto races. The latter ended when Indie 500 champion Rex Mays was killed in 1949 in an on-track 100-mile race accident. The fairgrounds’ board of directors immediately banned future motorized racing.
However, Lindley Bothwell, himself a winning 500 driver in the early years, convinced directors to allow Indie racers during the County Fair. These were vintage autos with the top speed in the neighborhood of 40 miles per hour. It was not widely known like in wrestling, but the winner was pre-determined. Nevertheless it was exciting as the speedsters chugged past the checkered flag wheel to wheel. Coincidentally it was often Bothwell.
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