Racing Cars in Stockton

I like old photographs. I like them especially when I know something about them—for example, the names of the subjects and the context. When I don't, I'm tempted to make up imaginary stories that may or may not be grounded in reality.

Leon Clancy Collect., S.J. Co. Hist. Museum

Several months ago, I came across the photograph at left. It sits in the Museum's archives. Nothing we have in our records tells us the location, the names of the people, and the nature of the occasion. For all I knew, it could have been a photograph of Barney Oldfield at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Or was that just my overactive imagination?

A question from a patron recently brought me back to earth: Was this photograph actually taken in Stockton sometime early in the twentieth century? According to research of his in the Stockton Record, there was a track in Stockton in or around 1918 on which women were known to race cars. One of them was named Ruth Wightman, and she died there in a tragic accident in March of that year.

Women? Racing cars? In 1918? That sounds rather daring to me—especially in 1918. Who was Ruth Wightman, anyway, and what's her story? Was she racing against other women alone, or also against men? And why were women racing at all? Did the scarcity of men, many off serving their country during World War I, somehow influence the makeup of the field?

My patron has other questions, as well. When was the track built? Was this the forerunner of today's Stockton 99 Speedway, which apparently started in 1947? And how many people did it hold? Above all, is there a book or article somewhere that not only tells its history but also affords glimpses into its appearance over time?

I'm afraid I've exhausted my resources here at the Museum. So, once again, I ask for your help. I welcome your online comments and e-mails sent to me at the following address: leighjohnsen@sanjoaquinhistory.org.

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