Fonda Speedway is a stock car racing track in California. The track features a single long straightaway and is known for its fast speeds and long passes.
Fonda Speedway is located near San Bruno in the San Francisco Bay Area. The track was built in the 1950s and was originally named Cumberland Speedway. In the 1960s, the track was renamed in honor of a local brewery owner. After the brewery owner died, the track kept its original name.
Today, Fonda Speedway is one of the crown jewels of the NASCAR touring circuit. The track regularly hosts some of the biggest names in stock car racing, including Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Darrell Waltrip. In 2019, the track posted the 2nd highest average race speed (189.92 mph) among all US auto-racing tracks.
Located in a picturesque part of California, Fonda Speedway sits on a plateau above the San Francisco Bay Area. The track is built on a knoll covered in trees and is surrounded by vineyards. On the entranceway, there are two large concrete mushrooms that mark the start/finish line.
Like many other stock car racing tracks, Fonda Speedway has just one long straightaway. This 12.9-mile (one-way) surface is surrounded by banks, giving it a race-like feel. Along with the long straightaway, the park’s signature corner is the ‘Corkscrew’. This is a left-hand (clockwise) hairpin turn that leads into the back straightaway.
Due to its topography, Fonda Speedway is particularly prone to sudden and rapid changes in weather. The temperature can vary by more than 40°F between day and night, and the track can be hit by Pacific storms that cause flooding and mudslides. The track has never been closed due to weather conditions, but it has missed one race due to an accretionary depression in the Bay Area.
Even though Fonda Speedway is most famous for its fast speeds and long passes, its largest audience typically gathers around the track’s grandstands. This wooden structure, built in 1952, holds 54,000 spectators. In the early days of stock car racing, drivers would often crash into each other while racing, resulting in extensive damage to the track and cars. This led to the introduction of the SAFER (Safety Equipment For Racing) apparatus which protects the cars and track from collisions.
During the 1960s, the track’s capacity grew to over 100,000 spectators. In the ‘70s, the track was renovated and expanded, leading to an increase in its grandstand capacity. In 2020, plans are underway to increase the track’s capacity to 150,000 fans.
The History Of Fonda Speedway
Fonda Speedway was built in the 1950s and, at the time, was considered one of the premiere short-track motorsport venues in the United States. The track was named after John Fonda, a local brewery owner who funded the construction of the track. In the mid-1950s, the track was briefly rebranded as ‘Cumberland Speedway’, but was then renamed after its primary sponsor.
From the late 1800s until the early 1900s, Horsham, Pennsylvania, located near the border with New York, was the United States’ primary hub for automobile production. Several automobile manufacturers, including Bugatti, Daimler, Morgan, and Renault, built thousands of cars here, which were then sold to American consumers. One of the most iconic race cars ever created was the 1916½ – ‘Model T’ Ford that was built in Horsham. This car’s impact on automotive history cannot be overstated; it is often referred to as the ‘First Modern Car’ and helped popularize the notion of the ‘common man’ owning a vehicle. The Model T Ford’s innovative design and mass production made it accessible to average Joes like you and me.
In the years following World War II, Horsham’s car production facilities shut down. However, the town never really recovered from the loss of its car industry. The townspeople turned to bowling alleys as a way to recoup the losses suffered due to the war. Between 1946 and 1950, nine bowling alleys were built in Horsham. In addition, the American Fitness Council opened the Horsham YMCA in 1946 to provide residents with a way to stay fit. The YMCA membership program offered an indoor swimming pool and tennis courts, along with daily indoor and outdoor activities. In 1948, Horsham hosted the World’s Fair, known as the ‘Stadtlander Volksfest’ (people’s festival). The event showcased the technological advances of the time, including an illuminated Ferris wheel and movie cameras that could zoom in and out.
The 1950s were a difficult time for Horsham. The town’s population dropped by almost a third, from a peak of 8,745 in 1950 to 5,732 in 1960. The economy of Horsham was further hit when the US Federal Government terminated its subsidies for dairy products. This caused the price of milk to more than double, from 35 cents per gallon in 1950 to $1.10 per gallon in 1960. The bowling alleys were the only sport that attracted big crowds during this time. The Horsham Automobile Club was reorganized in 1952, becoming the Horsham Park Speedway Association. The track was then renamed ‘Fonda Speedway’ after the track’s primary sponsor. The community continued to lose population, dropping to 4,932 in 1970 and 3,871 by 1980. It is unknown how many people attended races at Fonda Speedway during this time, but it is estimated that fewer than 2,000 people still live in Horsham today.
The Present Day
Fonda Speedway continues to be a hub for motorsport in the San Francisco Bay Area. On any given weekend, you can often find race cars from the 1950s and 1960s lined up outside the track’s entranceway. However, the town’s biggest attraction is the grandstands, which are still holding up well despite being 60 years old. Even though the track’s capacity has increased, its popularity as a tourist destination has not.
Unfortunately, Fonda Speedway is a victim of its own success. While the track was originally designed with one long straightaway, it was soon discovered that passing is more convenient when there are no corners. The track now boasts five straights and nine flat turns en route to the finish line. This makes it a bit more difficult to overtake cars on a long straightaway. As a result, the average race speed at Fonda Speedway has declined over the years.
Fortunately, the track remains popular with auto enthusiasts and fans of vintage cars. In fact, it is often referred to as the ‘graveyard of mid-century cars’, since so many older models end up there.
Fonda Speedway is open all year round and there are usually some daily events, such as parades and car shows, that draw attention to the town. However, this is somewhat limited because the temperatures here can be quite extreme, ranging from 40°F in the winter to 110°F in the summer. The track is also prone to flooding from storms that dump rain on the Bay Area, making every year a bit unpredictable.
Nevertheless, Fonda Speedway remains a beautiful sports venue and the home of some great motorsport memories. Hopefully, one day the town will see a resurgence in its population and its economy will be able to benefit from the track’s existence.