Three Star Raceway

Feature  |  One of the cool things about doing RUST is the way stories come out of the blue and fall in your lap. I met Jim Jones when he stopped by the shop to inquire about a motorcycle that was parked in front. One thing led to another and Jim turned me onto his personal history book of Three Star Raceway. The book consisted of a very thick three-ring binder full of photos, programs and newspaper articles. This was augmented by Jim’s own recollections of racing at Three Star. I know most of you have never heard about Three Star. This is understandable given that it’s not there anymore. It used to be off the south end of the runway at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento. Jim says it’s a warehouse now. Three Star was actually three tracks laid out concentrically, with the two inner tracks paved and the outer track dirt. The paved rings were for midget car racing and the dirt outer track was for motorcycle racing.  

Jim was a member of the Fort Sutter Motorcycle Club, which was part owner of, and promoter of lightweight bike races at Three Star. The FSMC was one of the oldest clubs in town and Jim’s dad had been a member before him. The club promoted racing as a way of generating money for the club as well as providing club members, and others a place to race. In 1955 they promoted a race series on the horse track at Selby Stables just off the corner of Watt and Fair Oaks Blvd. The horse track proved to be a little hairy so for 1956 and '57 they raced at Mather Speedway.

In 1958 the FSMC entered into a partnership (headed by Doc Tuffs) to build a raceway specifically for their needs, and Three Star Raceway was born. Ironically, despite the expense and trouble it took to build the two inner, paved tracks they were seldom used due to squabbling among the midget racing promoters. The bike-racing track was successful and was used until about 1969 by the club.

Guys like Dan Haaby, Rich Hardmeyer, Chuck Barton, Ray Huff and the Corder family — father Lem and his sons Gene and Butch, as well as Jim — were the stars of Three Star. Some of these guys also raced bigger Grand National bikes on the big tracks, some with more success than others. Chuck Barton was killed racing a Harley K model at Ascot. In fact, a number of the racers in Jim's book ended their lives racing.

Local shops like Joe Sarkees’ and Al Lauer’s were active in the scene and some of the better riders worked at the bike shops. Rich Hardmeyer and Benny Clausen worked at Sarkees' and Lem Corder was the head of the shop there.

The races were run for motorcycles in 50cc, 125cc, 200cc and 250cc engine sizes only because the track was less than a half-mile in length. The most common bikes used in the larger classes were Triumphs until the onslaught of Japanese bikes in the mid-1960s. There were also a number of bikes from the continent as well. Bultaco, Parilla, Ducati and Aermachi/Harley-Davidson were all represented on the track. Small Hondas, Yamahas and Italian bikes dominated the smaller classes.

Dick Bertolucci sponsored a couple of Triumph cubs in the 200cc class. He ran Cub motors in Terrier frames. His father Mario built the engines and he had some of the best riders of the day as his pilots. Chuck Barton, Butch and Gene Corder, and Al Lauer Jr. all rode for Dick at one time or another, but Dick remembers Gene Corder as being one of his most successful riders. Gene’s rival at the time was Dan Haaby and his Bultaco. The Spanish screamer was fastest bike on the track for a while and more than a match for the Triumphs. Dick remembers that Gene complained that their Triumph shook badly when on the power. Mario took the engine apart and discovered that the crankshaft wasn’t balanced well enough so he got out the knife-edges and set to work.  Once they got the Cubs balanced correctly, Dick says that Gene could pull any bike on the track, even Dan Haaby's Bultaco.

Jim remembers owning the first Bultaco in Sacramento. One of his racer friends brought a Sherpa up from the bay area and ran it at Three Star. Jim had a go on it and liked it so much he decided he had to have one of his own. He tried to get Joe Sarkees to order him one but Sarkees didn’t think much of the Bultaco so he wouldn’t order it. So Jim went to Al Lauer and got him to order a 200cc Sherpa. He still laughs as he remembers uncrating the bike and finding it with mud all over it. At the time, Bultaco test-rode its bikes before shipping them out.

He still laughs as he remembers uncrating the bike and finding it with mud all over it.

Apparently they weren’t that big on cleaning them up, though. The Sherpa proved to be a very fast bike and Jim raced it for a couple of years. One night, during a race Dan Haaby crashed in front of him. Jim went over Haaby’s downed bike and launched in the air. He went over Rich Hardmeyer, who Haaby had taken out when he went down, and flying into the air, went over the top of the six-foot wall surrounding the track. He landed on the other side with his Bultaco, a broken wrist and a split helmet. The bike was sold on after the wreck and Jim moved on to enduro racing and gave up racing at Three Star.

Jim is still into motorcycles and he collects and rides vintage trials bikes. He is in touch with some of his old racing buddies and is always looking for more photos and memorabilia from the early days of motorcycling in Sacramento. So many people have come to me with info on racing and the club scene in Sac that I’m sure we will be bringing you more stories on the subject in the future. If you are out riding and see Jim riding his blue Triumph trials bike, stop and say hi. I’m sure he could turn you onto an interesting story, too.