Paramount track heart and soul of California car racing

Ruth Levy drove in the first car race at Paramount Raceway in 1956. She fired up a homebuilt "American Special" racecar April 16 when the National Park Service hosted an antique racecar show and picnic to reminisce about the old racetrack near Lake Malibou.

Paramount raceway in the Santa Monica Mountains was the site of just four races in the 1950s until three grisly deaths occurred.

By Hans Laetz/Special to The Malibu Times

It only lasted 18 months back in the middle of the 1950s, but a twisting, oak-tree-studded car racetrack in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains was recounted a week ago as the heart and soul of California car racing.

Paramount Raceway wound around the old movie set near Lake Malibou and was the site of just four races in 1956-57. The National Park Service hosted a reunion picnic and antique racecar show there April 16 that attracted some of the machines that actually roared around Paramount 49 years ago.

Racers like Dan Gurney drove homemade “California series” racers around a twisting one-mile loop that included a straightaway now used for parking by Paramount Ranch visitors.

Three drivers were killed in three separate accidents during one race in December, 1957. That grisly toll-plus a flood that washed out much of the racetrack-caused the volunteer association that had built the track to end racing at Paramount Raceway.

“This was the best driver’s track in all the state of California,” recounted Ruth Levy, who drove a Porsche 1600 in the first race at Paramount in August, 1956. “It was a tight, famous, kick-ass little track.”

Levy, who now raises horses in Solvang, said the straightaway had top speeds of 90-plus mph-not bad for a half-mile stretch.

Levy posed for a German TV crew behind the wheel of a restored kit racer car that had been purchased by a young married couple in 1955 for $1,600. The vintage racer caused the nearby ground to shake when Levy started it at the April 16 event.

First place at the Saturday Concourse d’ Elegance went to a restored racer that had spent 15 years buried up to its axles under a tree in a Pomona backyard. That car, called a “Lockheed Special” after the two Lockheed employees who hand built it in their spare time, was believed to also have raced at Paramount.

“This is the first time it’s been out in 40 years,” said co-owner Louis Leto of Bakersfield. He and the other owner, Steve Bowen, pushed the car around the one remaining high-banked Paramount Raceway curve for the benefit of a German television crew.

Remains of the 15-foot wide asphalt track sweep around the corner under an oak tree just west of the old western movie sets at Paramount Ranch. Formerly the scene for the “Little House on the Prairie” TV series, and dozens of movies before that, Paramount Ranch is part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and is open to the public.