Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
Will Harper
Saugus Speedway

Click image to enlarge

Click to enlarge.

Will Harper leans against the back of a Taco Bell-sponsored 1988 IROC Camaro at Saugus Speedway.

According to Bill Coleman, the date is probably September 10, 1988, when Harper finished in sixth place. He completed all 100 laps of the Miller-sponsored event, which was the 16th of 19 races that comprised the 1988 NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour.

It's difficult to tell if the photograph shows the No. 92 car that Harper rented from Allen Beebe, or Troy Beebe's No. 93 car. They were essentially identical. We're guessing Beebe's No. 93; compare the Rodeway Inn decals in the side-by-side photos below.

Allen Beebe, Troy's father, said Harper rented cars from him several times in the late 1980s. Allen Beebe owned a number of Taco Bell franchise restaurants. He said it appears Harper is talking to Troy Beebe in the photograph.

Harper, of Tarzana, was the overall NASCAR Sportsman division champion in 1989 and 1990 (Osmer & Pherigo 2001:181). At that time he drove a red car (No. 96) with a chassis by Jackson Race Cars of Palmdale. According to William Rousch, Harper was still driving the red Jackson car in 1991.

The central feature of this image, holding the clipboard, is Harper's then-wife, Erin, who obviously caught the attention of track photographer Gary Thornhill.

In the background in the top photograph are Harrison "Bart" Bartholomew (upper left) and Kirk Rockwell (plaid shirt).

Information sources: Allen Beebe, Bill Coleman, William Rousch, Osmer & Pherigo (op.cit),,, The Signal newspaper (see below); also Steve Arrigo, Tom Atkins, Rick Crow, Mike Duryea, Brian Ruesch, Ken Sapper, David Wittstruck.

Harper's No. 92 rental car and Troy Beebe's No. 93 car at Saugus. Photos by John "Spider" Hruska, courtesy of Bill Coleman. Click to enlarge.

Gary Thornhill About the photographer: Photojournalist Gary Thornhill chronicled the history of the Santa Clarita Valley as it unfolded in the 1970s, '80s and '90s. From car races in Saugus to fatal car wrecks in Valencia; from topless beauty contests in Canyon Country to fires and floods in the various canyons; from city formation in 1987 to the Northridge earthquake in 1994 — Thornhill's photographs were published in The Los Angeles Times, The Newhall Signal, The Santa Clarita Valley Citizen newspaper, California Highway Patrolman magazine and elsewhere. He penned the occasional breaking news story for Signal and Citizen editors Scott and Ruth Newhall under the pseudonym of Victor Valencia, and he was the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff Station's very first volunteer — and only the second in the entire LASD. Thornhill retained the rights to the images he created; in 2012, he donated his SCV photographs to two nonprofit organizations — SCVTV and the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society — so that his work might continue to educate and inform the public.

Click to enlarge.


The NASCAR Southwest Tour came to Saugus Saturday, featuring the Miller 100-lap event.

In a race running 21 minutes at an average speed of 53.87 miles per hour, rookie Mike Hood, 23, of Bakersfield took his first Southwest Tour win finishing just ahead of points leaders Roman Calczynski of Sepulveda and Modesto's Troy Beebe, the Tour runner-up.

Hood was gifted with a high starting position, just one off the pole held by Loran Kelley of Vacaville.

Mark Perry of Saugus took a hit on the 16th lap but completed 47 laps before leaving the race.

Dan Press of Frazier Park spun on the front stretch in lap 36 and was involved in a hard hit that tore most of the passenger side fiberglass from Newhall driver Harry Brady's car.

Press was out, but Brady came back, minus body work, in time for the 40th lap restart However, he left the race seven laps later.

Kelley and Hood held the first and second positions, respectively, through 58 laps when Kelley left the track on a restart, possibly with an ignition problem. That gave the lead to Hood, who never relinquished it.

Saugus Speedway will hold fan appreciation night next weekend on Saturday as the racing program features modified and sportsman racers, plus mechanic's races and the final night of ego challenge.

(See the full story in The Signal for coverage of the day's stock car racing.)

About Saugus Speedway:

About Saugus Speedway.

The future Saugus Speedway was built originally as a rodeo arena in 1927 by Roy Baker, brother of shoe magnate C.H. Baker.

Roy Baker purchased the 40-acre property east of Bouquet Junction in 1923 for the purpose of breeding and selling show and pleasure horses. To that end he imported saddle brood mares from Kentucky and studded them with a pedigreed, chestnut-colored saddlebred stallion named Peavine McDonald (b. 1910), which sired five pedigreed mares and four pedigreed colts between 1920 and 1936. Baker advertised that he had 2,500 acres of grazing land and also offered training and boarding services for outside horses.

Probably to attract horse buyers to his ranch in faraway Saugus, Baker staged rodeos. Some references suggest he built a 12,000-seat arena in 1924, but this is dubious. (Promoter Bob Anderson organized a local rodeo in 1924, but its exact location is unclear, and it wouldn't have had grandtands.) Anderson did hold the annual rodeo on Baker's property in April 1926. That December, Baker and Anderson started construction on a new stadium, complete with partially covered grandstand seating and a quarter-mile oval track. When it opened May 1, 1927, it seated 18,000 fans, and thousands more had to be turned away for lack of room.

Over the next decade, ownership of the arena would change hands three more times.

As with a majority of the American populace, Baker was hit hard financially by the Great Depression of 1929 and was forced to sell the stadium to cowboy actor Hoot Gibson in 1930. Gibson continued to hold rodeos at the stadium and drew a Hollywood crowd including famous actors such as William S. Hart, Harry Carey, Tom Mix, and John Wayne. He also used the stadium as a movie set or leased it to other companies for film making.

But Gibson felt the effects of the Depression, as well. In September 1933 he appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom and pleaded poverty, saying he had no assets with which to repay a $2,500 loan. He testified that he owned a one-third interest in Hoot Gibson Inc., which owned the Saugus rodeo, and that it was in arrears.

In 1934, Gibson sold the stadium to Paul Hill, owner of the Western Livestock Stockyards, who continued to call it the Hoot Gibson Rodeo. As with his predecessors, however, the stadium brought Hill financial hardship when it was hit by the Great Flood of March 2, 1938. Heavy rains that year caused a river of water to flow down Soledad Canyon and filled the ranch home and arena with mud and debris. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the "old buildings ... collapsed during the March floods" and the arena was built anew.

Nonetheless, Hill lost the ranch sometime after the April 1938 rodeo. According to Reynolds, the property was repossessed by the bank. In 1939, ownership passed to William Bonelli, and it was renamed Bonelli Stadium.

Bonelli, a professor of economics at Occidental College, continued the annual rodeo tradition for a number of years but introduced auto racing in 1939 on a more frequent schedule; ultimately auto racing became the primary draw and Bonelli renamed the arena Saugus Speedway. Occasional rodeos and circuses continued until at least the late 1960s, auto racing until 1995. The facility was sometimes used for concerts before the grandstands were removed in 2012 (the originals had been replaced in 1955). The venue continues to host an outdoor swap meet.

GT9201: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photographs by Gary Thornhill.



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