Joe Sunseri acquired 25% ownership of San Jose Speedway in 1952 and maintained that position until the track closed in 1977. Joe was much more than an owner as he ran the finest concessions of any racetrack in the west at San Jose Speedway. People to this day still talk about the linguica sandwich and French fries.
Joe passed away in 2009.
Bob Mize was a track photographer in Seattle, WA before moving to San Jose in 1954 and taking over as the lens man at San Jose Speedway. He maintained that position until his death in 1976.
If you see a photo from San Jose during those years there is a good chance it was taken by Bob.
Cliff Yiskis was an accomplished racer at San Jose Speedway, having won an impressive 13 main events on the high banks.
The high point of his career was placing fourth in a Sprint Cup race.
Arnold Chaves was the man behind the “Blue Goose Special.”
As a car owner and engine builder he won four track championships at San Jose Speedway with Bill Scott as his pilot. At the fairgrounds his son Mark drove to two championships.
Chaves was also a very successful Drag Racer.
Arnold is very active nowadays.
Promoter extraordinaire, Bob Barkhimer was San Jose Speedway. When Bob took control of speedway in 1949 the track was struggling with crowd size. With the Midgets and Roadsters losing popularity, Bob decided to start a new class of racecar called Hardtops. Barkhimer hit a homerun with this idea and as they say, the rest is history. The Hardtops became the biggest thing in auto racing across the country.
Besides being a promotional genius, Bob was also an accomplished racer. He not only won Midget races at San Jose Speedway in 1946 and 1947, he was also the BCRA Midget champion in 1945.
Bob passed away in 2006.
Bruce Crowley formed the San Jose Speedway Hall of Fame and had the first induction ceremony in 1992. Induction ceremonies continued through 1999 when San Jose Speedway at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds closed. Here are the members of the San Jose Speedway Hall of Fame shown in the order of their induction.
Brothers, Harry and Tony Goularte, started building Hardtops in early 1950’s. One of their first drivers was Joe Soares who was on pace to win the championship when he was drafted. Johnny Key then took over and continued to win. Danny Graves, Mike Batinich, Clyde Palmer, Joe Leonard and Ernie Rose also drove for them and won scores of races.
One of the biggest wins was Tony’s victory in the 1953 Gold Cup at West Capital Speedway in Sacramento.
Harry (1999) and Tony (2013) are deceased.
Bill Scott was also a four-time champion, claiming the titles in 1967, 1969, 1970 and 1971.
Bill was one of the all time greats when it came to qualifying, once setting fast time sixteen weeks in a row.
Driving mainly the “Blue Goose Special” Scott won 52 main events and broke the track record seven times. Bill also has the distinction of winning the first Golden State Classic, A series of open competition races featuring the best drivers from the U.S. and Canada.
Bill died in 2004.
Rick Henderson was San Jose Speedway’s first four-time champion, winning the title in 1957, 1958, 1959 and 1962. His biggest championship came in 1959 when he won the NASCAR National championship.
Henderson has the distinction of being the only driver to win features in Hardtops, Modifieds, Supermodifieds, Midgets and Big Cars/Sprint Cars at San Jose Speedway.
His final tally at the track was 46 wins in the Hardtop/Supermodifieds, 2 wins in the midgets and one Big Car/Sprint Car win. Not to be overlooked was the fact that he broke the track record four times.
Rick passed away in 2001.
Clyde Palmer was one of the most versatile drivers of his era, having driven Roadsters, Hardtops, Midgets, Super Modifieds, Big Cars and Late Model Stock Cars.
Clyde won 43 main events at San Jose, with most of those wins coming in the Goularte Brothers Hardtops or Supermodifieds. He broke the single lap track record on two different occasions. Palmer won the track title in 1961 and the State title in 1962.
Clyde became a very successful head official at San Jose Speedway when his driving career ended.
He died in 2005
Al “Mombo” Pombo was a fan favorite at San Jose Speedway from the 1950'suntil the mid 1970's.
Driving his familiar blue (3), Pombo scored 87 victories to go along with his six San Jose Speedway track championships and six NASCAR
state championships. Al also broke the one-lap track record on eleven different occasions, the most of any drivers on the high banks.
The Marshall Sargent-Al Pombo battles of the 1960's were legendary and were one of the reasons for the big crowds during that era.
Al passed away during 2010.
You either booed him or cheered him but you could never forget Marshall Sargent.
Marshall, who like Johnny Key was also from Salinas, was one of the most colorful characters to ever race in San Jose.
Sargent won an impressive 89 main events in San Jose (including Alviso), which is amazing considering the amount of time he was sidelined because of suspensions. He won the Johnny Key Memorial in 1960 and 1963; the San Jose track championship in 1960 and the NASCAR state title that year.
Marshall Sargent passed away in 1990.
The first driver inducted into the San Jose Speedway Hall of Fame was Salinas, CA driver Johnny Key.
Johnny won the Racing Roadster, Inc. Championship in 1947 and 1948. During 1949 Johnny turned his attention to a new class of racecar called Hardtops. Key had great success in the new division, once winning eight main events in seven days. During 1952 Johnny won a 500-lap race at San Jose Speedway by an amazing 18 laps over second place. He was crowned state champion that year after winning an astounding 57 main events, seven of them at San Jose.
Altogether he won 14 main events at San Jose and set the one-lap track record on fivedifferent occasions. He was also the San Jose Speedway track champion in 1951.
Tragically Johnny lost his life in a 1954 Ohio Midget race. There has been a race named in his honor ever since.
Howard Kaeding has won more San Jose main events than any other driver in the history of the sport. His 136 wins far outdistance the next closet driver, with 113 of those coming on the paved track and the rest at the fairgrounds. He won the 1973 and 1974 San Jose Speedway championships and also the state crowns during those years. He also won the 1973 Golden State Classic Open Competition series. He has held the single lap track record on both the paved and dirt tracks. Perhaps Howard’s most amazing feat was winning 17 main-events in a row, all while starting last.
Howard still attends the races every week.
One of the all-time greats to race in San Jose, Nick Rescino won a total of six championships at both the paved track and the fairgrounds. Nick won the 1972 and 1975 titles on the high banks of San Jose Speedway and the 1980, 1981, 1983 and 1984 championships at the fairgrounds. His 86 main event wins rank him near the top on that list. Rescino won the Johnny Key Memorial/Classic six times, in 1972, 1974, 1975, 1982, 1984 and 1986. He also won the Lloyd Beard race in 1980 and the Golden State Classic in 1972. He set two track records at the fairgrounds but will forever be known for setting the final track record on the paved track with a blistering 90mph average speed in the time of 13.33.
Nowadays Nick helps, Nick Jr. with his Sprint Car racing.
Mike Batinich holds the distinction of becoming the first auto race champion from San Jose when he captured the 1950 CSCRA title.
Mike won 3 main events at San Jose Speedway and was runner-up in the standings in 1949 and 1953.
Batinich was the final promoter at Salinas Speedway when it burned down.
Mike died in 1999.
Kenny Takeuchi is one of the best announcers to ever hold a microphone in California. Kenny was much more than that. He was a statistician, a reporter with a camera, a columnist and a marathon runner. He would work the pits uncovering information about the drivers and car owners and then share it during the event that day/evening.
Kenny is still very active and can be seen at the track.
Joe Leonard is the only racing personality in United States history to win both the USAC National Indianapolis Car Championship and the AMA National Championship. Joe was the AMA Grand National Flat Track Champion in 1954, 1956 and 1957. He won the USAC National Championship in 1971 and 1972. Only the great Sir John Surtees of Great Britain can lay claim to this kind of accomplishment. Joe gained notoriety when he won the pole position for the 1968 Indianapolis 500 driving the controversial “Turbine Powered” car sponsored by STP. Leonard is also the only motor sports personality to be inducted into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame.
Joe’s only win at San Jose Speedway came on opening day 1964 when he beat Al Pombo to the checkered flag driving the Goularte Brothers Supermodified.
Nowadays Joe can be found at the shop bench racing.
Nelson Kinney was a winning car owner and builder.
His biggest year came during 1959 when his car driven by Rick Henderson won both the California State and the prestigious NASCAR National Championship.
Other drivers who drove for Kinney were Marshall Sargent, Gary Patterson, Dick Whalen and Lee Humphers.
Kinney passed away in 1995
Stan Sinn started his racing career as a pitman for Johnny Key in 1950.
He started racing Hardtops in 1952 and continued to race them until 1960, picking up 3 main event wins in the process.
Sinn became a NASCAR official in 1961 and worked his way up through the ranks eventually becoming Chief Steward.
Stan still runs his machine shop in San Jose, Babbitt Bearing.
Eva Goularte, wife of Tony, is the third Goularte to be inducted. Eva started as a scorer, but soon she earned her way into the chief scorer’s chair. Her reputation as a fair but FIRM and honest scorer spread and soon she had the respect of all the drivers.
Eva passed away in 2012.
The first female member of the Hall of Fame was the wife of Bob Barkhimer, Molly. She was a terrific scorer and, later, chief scorer. She always aimed to please but still held her ground when she was faced with gruff. She would spend hours reviewing the scores sheet to make sure everyone was satisfied.
Molly passed away in 1976
Ray Raineri was the San Jose track champion in 1953 and was leading in 1954 with three races to go when he received a season ending suspension. This led to the formation of Western Auto Racing (WAR). Ray later returned in 1957 and won six races in seven tries, including the Johnny Key Memorial.
Ray won a total of 42 main events at San Jose Speedway and 7 at Alviso Speedway. He set the one-lap track record four times.
Johnny Colendich made his mark during the 1950’s and early 1960's driving flathead powered Hardtops.
Johnny was crowned the 1955 San Jose Speedway champion after nearly winning it in 1954. He missed out on winning that one by a single position when he was booted out of the groove with a couple of laps to go during the final race of the year. Johnny had 14 main event wins on the high banks of San Jose Speedway.
He still tinkers with old cars and is a collector of flathead engines at his San Jose shop.
Joe Diaz was a fixture at the speedway for over two decades. His biggest moment came when he won the main event on September 1956.
Tony Casho began his racing career with the Big Cars at the old San Jose Speedway on Alum Rock Ave & King Road in the 1930’s. From there he made the transition to the Tully Road San Jose Speedway fielding a Roadster (Hot Rod). When that class died off, Tony joined the Hardtop ranks. He followed the evolution from Hardtop to Modified and then Supermodified. He built his last car in 1974. Casho’s cars won numerous main events with a host of drivers.
Casho died in 2006.
Margo Burke was an asset to not only San Jose Speedway but also auto racing in general. She held the position of scorer, chief scorer and promoter. In the latter she started by promoting the BCRA indoor Midget races at the Oakland Exposition Building in 1949. As she grew into this position, Margo promoted various Stock Car events on the West Coast, becoming an associate with BBA, INC. She was a key person in that operation and was an early pioneer for women in business management.
Al Gaetano was a veteran of the Roaring Roadsters when he joined the Hardtop wars in 1949.
His Best year was 1951 when he won six main events, a record at that time, and set a single lap track record.
He won a total of ten main events on the San Joe high banks.
Al calls Los Gatos his home
“Jumping” Joe Valente was the 1948 Northern California Roadster Racing Association champion. He won 5 main events in the Roasters before getting hurt in one. He then switched to the safer Hardtops where he would pick up 4 more feature wins before becoming a flagman. Joe was known for entertaining the crowd with his crazy antics.
Mike Sargent is the first 2nd generation driver in the San Jose Hall of Fame. Mike won the 1977 San Jose Speedway championship and the 1979, 1985, and 1986 titles at the fairgrounds track. Mike had a very impressive 53 main event wins between the two tracks. Sargent set the single lap track record a total of seven times, more than any other driver at the fairgrounds. He was the 1981 Johnny Key Classic winner and the 1982 & 1985 Lloyd Beard winner.
Mike has been actively restoring vintage cars.
While John Viel’s glory days were at the San Jose Fairgrounds Speedway, his driving career had it’s beginning at Alviso (Where he won 2 main events) and San Jose Speedway.
John raced a number of years at West Capitol Speedway in Sacramento where he won the 1975 Supermodified track championship. A few years later he turned his attention to San Jose where he found more success. Big John won the San Jose Supermodified championships in 1982, 1987 and 1988. During those years he racked up 43 main event wins, a record at that time.
John lives in pleasant Hill.
Mel Fernandez has been called by many one of the greatest flagman to ever wave a green flag. Mel has a style that was unique and fan pleasing. A man who always had an encouraging word and friendly smile, he took nothing from any of the drivers and ran the show his way. Often when there was an extended downtime Mel would entertain the crowd by either singing or
doing the jitterbug.
Mel passed away in 1975
Flyer was a big fan of the Hardtops when he started painting them and doing the bodywork. Some of the best-looking cars during the 1960’s & 1970’s were his handiwork. Tabata’s most famous car and the most successful car in San Jose history was the #3 driven by Howard Kaeding.
Flyer passed away in 2000.
The first driver to win three track championships at San Jose was Johnny Freitas. Those titles came in 1950, 1952 and 1956. He was always a strong contender and fan favorite. He ended his driving career at San Jose with 15 main event wins.
Johnny died in 2008
Carmel Fernandez, Sr.
Carmel Fernandez, Sr. was a forty-three year old rookie when he first raced his jalopy on the high banks of San Jose Speedway. Carmel never won a main event (finished 2nd once) but he did win 7 C-race championships during the 1960’s. Carmel was one of the most loved drivers of that era.
Carmel died in 1995.
Although Everett Edlund had much of his success in the Central Valley, winning multiple championships at Kearney Bowl, Clovis and Madera Speedways, he did win ten main events at San Jose Speedway, including the 1971 Johnny Key Classic. He was also crowned the 1969 state of California champion.
Edlund is still very active in vintage racing.
Merv Furtado did well driving Midgets with the Bay Cities Racing Association before joining the Hardtop ranks at San Jose Speedway during 1950. Merv won two main events before he decided to build the cars and let somebody else drive them. In later years he helped his son Rod build Supermodifieds. Those cars won several feature events.
Merv passed away in 2009.
Paul ‘Red’ Bender is the second flagman to be enshrined in the San Jose Speedway Hall of Fame. At one time or another, Red wore most hats at the track, filling in where needed, even selling programs.
Perhaps he will always be remembered for the night Marshall Sargent stormed the flag stand and preceded to break all of Paul’s flags.
Bender also promoted the San Jose Autorama for nearly 30 years.
Paul lives in Modesto.
Burt Foland was one of the best all-around drivers to ever race on the high banks of San Jose Speedway.
Burt’s accomplishments in the BCRA and USAC Midgets are second to none. His 18 wins were five more than the great Fred Agabashian’s 13. Foland also broke the Midget qualifying record five times with the last one of 14:60 being the final in the tracks history. His numbers in the Hardtop/Supermodifieds were just as good. He won 27 main events, including the 1965 & 1966 Johnny Key Classics.
Burt still helps out in the pits when his son is racing.