Austin Raceway Park

I am writing this on a cold February afternoon in 2022 and some 20 years have past since I first researched and subsequently created a website to document Austin’s forgotten race track, Austin Raceway Park. I will recap that story below but over the ensuing decades the Austin area has again become a racing town. The Circuit of the Americas, COTA to most of us, hums with race car sounds almost every day of the week in nearby Elroy. I am fortunate enough to have driven many laps around COTA in my Triumph racecars and quite a few much slower laps on my Specialized bicycle.

Race tracks are special places. People come as spectators, workers, race teams and drivers in search of various forms of happiness. Spectators are almost always guaranteed a good time. They love watching racing, and usually are surrounded by friends that they brought with them or made 5 minutes ago. If they allow themselves they can even find a way to enjoy the downpours and inevitable cancellations that go along with racing. They sell beer at race tracks. Track workers follow racing wherever it goes. They are a fraternity, they are family, and each race is a reunion. The connection between them that cannot be broken. They guard the gates, the tracks and make it all possible. The racing doesn’t happen without them. For all that, they get some pretty good spots to watch the action, the “second best seat in the house.” When the track goes cold the grills fire up and the coolers open up. Good times. Race teams can have the same bond as workers but naturally they are more focused on particular tasks and goals. They work hard before, during and after the race knowing that their part of the equation is necessary for the team to win. Camaraderie comes easily when people are driven to achieve goals together, and so it is with race teams. Most race teams have sponsors and almost every team has a beer sponsorship. They say racing is life, but maybe it’s beer? Racing may be a team sport on the professional level, but driving is “mano a mano” at every contested turn. The drivers, oh the drivers, sitting in the best seat in the house yet faced with unending variables. The engine, the tires, weather, track conditions, and always there is that other guy in your line. When the green flag drops it is them against the world in competition as pure as it can be.

Austin Raceway Park was such a place, but in a different time. The track sat on the Travis County border, halfway into Williamson County. When the track was built in the late 1960’s this was a very rural area. The tract sat between Farm to Market Road 1325, better known as Burnet Road (it’s burn it, durn it, learn it) and Bratton Lane, a smaller winding road winding just west of the still relatively new Interregional Highway we know as IH35. It was mostly farmland in the mid 80’s when I drove up Bratton after looking sat some new construction homes in a far north Austin community then being developed. I don’t know what possessed me to make the right hand turn out of Wells Branch up the old road but within seconds we were in the country. I remember a very nice ranch house up off the road, now the home of the Wells Branch MUD and thinking that I would rather have that place, and the ranchland all around it than some 2 story, built in a week, NPC home. As we wound our way around the 90 degree property line turns we eventually passed a concrete plant and ended up back at the highway. There was nothing to tell me that I had just passed the entrance to Austin Raceway Park.

So why would anyone let a race track go to dust? Land isn’t cheap and designing and building a facility is a huge investment. They say follow the money and it is almost always a safe place to start but from what I can tell Austin Raceway Park didn’t fall prey to the developers. A small subdivision of modest homes butted up against the north fence of the back straight. I’m pretty sure it was there before the race track, and even today isn’t much to speak of. Later on some business parks encroached from the north end but the track stayed vacant well into the 2000’s. There were rumors that the ranchers, the cattlemen complained that the noise affected the cows. That seems far fetched to me as I have never met a cow that wasn’t a race fan. Nothing seems to bother cows, but ranchers, they can be touchy.

I had the webpage up for a while and was getting emails from folks with stories of racing and spectating at ARP, some sent me pictures to add to the site and the SCCA even included the pictures and story I had collected in an article in their monthly SportsCar magazine, later included in a book on ghost tracks.. On one of my visits to my ghost track, also known as trespassing, I ran into a fellow. I can’t call him a rancher, but he was a cattleman. I saw that the gate off of Bratton Lane was open and before I could scurry up the trail and take a lap I spied a ratty old pickup was heading my way. He told me that he was leasing the property to run his cattle. With visions of getting some Dellionaire to resurrect the track as a country club style racetrack with homes and condos built up all around it, I saw this as my opportunity to track down the name of the landowner. I suppose that good guess grass is hard to find in suburban areas and I did not get a name.

Life moved on for me. In 2003 I moved up the ladder from outside sales to inside sales management. ARP was no longer down the street from two of my regular accounts and I lost touch with the goings on. My internet service provider was swallowed up and I made the mistake of letting my webpages close down with them. They did give me the opportunity to move them to a different provider but I had neither the time or a love for the new higher prices. So here I am today, with all the data stored on an ancient hard drive, bringing back my story of Austin Raceway Park. I will not update the story at this time and I cannot vouch that anything I have said here or back then is 100 % accurate.

There is of course one more thing, there is always room for one more. What possessed my to dreg this all back up again? Karma. The property that once housed Austin Raceway Park, and fed a few cows has been fully developed. There are a lot of homes on the east end and on the west side, closer to Burnet Road a business park has replaced the keyhole that was once the downhill front straight to the hairpin turn and back up the rear straight next to the older subdivision. It is there that the company my wife works for is moving next month. She will be able to walk outside and over to a picnic table that sits on ground where a TR4A once sat upside down. Karma.

I have more to add over time but here is some of the stuff from the old webpage. I hope to add the rest of the pictures, if I can find them!

The following is an article I wrote for the Hill country Triumph Club newsletter about Austin Raceway Park. ————————————————————- A few years ago I traded a pretty nice, non-running TR6 for the ratty, rusty remains of a TR4A racecar. The story behind that car was that it had been raced extensively in the late 60’s and even won an SCCA Southwest Division D Production Championship. The seller stated that the car included some decent race parts, so the deal seemed favorable at the time. I planned on taking the good parts out and trashing the rest, but after I found out more about the car I decided to restore it. I didn’t have much to go one, just the relic I bought, plus a few photos and some proofs from races serviced by a company named “Action Limited” and a small notebook from the guy I bought the car from. Amongst those notes was an item stating that the car had been flipped while racing in Austin. Two photos, oddly dated 1972, were included in the package, showing a wrecked TR4A. Thus began my quest to learn more about this racetrack. I picked up a few pieces of information from car folks around town. Charlie Stewart passed on his childhood memories of going to the track with his father, helping me to figure out the layout as regards to parking and grandstands. Bob Skewis and Matt Baker did some searching which developed to a few leads. At Bob’s suggestion I talked with Phil Gerrow, at Internationals Motors in south Austin and came away with a picture of Phil piloting his Sunbeam Imp onto the front straight at ARP. Phil gave me a couple of other items to scan, including a few pages of an event brochure complete with the names of race officials. That led me to more people. Bob Sieberg was the SCCA Regional Executive for the Lone Star Region in the mid-1960’s. He was active in the SCCA for a few more years, helping to run events at ARP. He has promised to share pictures and documents from his collection in the near future. John Hancock, who builds and races formula cars, is still in business as Hancock Sports Cars. John informed me that he was pulling his ARP stuff together because the local SCCA chapter had requested it. He put me in touch with the Lone Star Region Registrar, Paula Taylor, who was heading up that project for a future “Ghost Tracks” article in the SCCA magazine. We talked for quite a while and agreed to share what we have. Paula has been with the local chapter long enough to know all the important people from ARP’s past. We’ll be meeting soon to go through the chapters “archive boxes”! I didn’t expect that there would be any trace of the track left, so I checked the Internet looking for historical information. I found absolutely nothing, but I did run across the Mapquest site that provides aerial photographs. The photos are a few years old, but pretty cool surfing. It didn’t take a genius to find the track site. As it turns out, the database includes a listing for Austin Raceway Park in their address files. When the picture popped up, I could see the outline of the track. These satellite shots were from 1995. I never would have guessed that a racetrack was hidden there. Early on I learned that it was a dual drag and road race facility, and that it closed in the early 70’s. Rumors that it was an old airstrip converted to a racetrack have been denied by all concerned. I have been told that some national drag events, with all the big names, were held at ARP. I eventually made a trip out there, found a hole in the fence and walked the track. I was amazed that this track existed in Austin all these years and I hadn’t heard about it. Conveniently, someone had recently cut the grass that now grows through the blacktop surface. I walked around the circuit clockwise. I recently found out that this was the only direction allowed for road racing, due to the entry road location. I could see a turn up ahead; a decreasing radius banked right turn. This is where my car flipped! That turn was quickly followed by a sharp snap back to the left, a short straight followed by a 90-degree right leading to a quick left-right combo. Drivers were now racing through the drag strip staging lanes, and had to navigate another 90 degree right onto the long dragway/front straight. If you were a paid spectator, you would have watched the race from a series of grandstands along that straight. After dragging it out down the straight, cars had to navigate a slightly banked and very tight hairpin. If a racer overcooked this turn, he could continue down the dragstrip cool down lane. After the hairpin, there was another short straight, followed by a left turn and another stretch back to the banking. The track totaled 1.5 miles. It doesn’t look like much in a photo, especially when compared to Mid Ohio or Watkins Glen, but it packed a big punch in a small area. It had both speed and twisties. The track was built by a contingent of drag race guys. They added the road course as a business decision. Here’s the story I’ve managed to put together so far. Back in the 60’s, there was nothing but farmland in the area surrounding the track. A few guys got together and built the track on land owned by the Leif Johnson Ford people so they would have a place to play with their cars. I remember driving Bratton Lane back in 1984 when I moved to Texas, and seeing a very impressive ranch which must have been the Johnson’s, a concrete plant and very little else. There had to be some remnant of ARP at that time, but I don’t recall. The ranch house is now the headquarters of the Wells Branch MUD! The track land sits over both Travis and Williamson counties and that would be its downfall. With 2 taxing jurisdictions fighting over it, a bunch of farmers complaining that the noise was affecting milk production, and low revenues, it’s easy to see why it closed. For what it’s worth, I’ve been told that the farmers were very powerful in Williamson County politics back then. Don’t mess with Bessie the cow! ARP was best known for it’s tower, a relocated oil derrick. Tall enough to be seen from IH35 in the pre-business park era, it provided a vantage point unparalleled for those that were allowed to climb it. The aforementioned Bob Sieberg, visited the track often during the construction of the track to make sure it met the specs required by that club. He climbed the tower and took many pictures. I’m hoping to come up with a good picture of the derrick. I have created a website to collect historical artifacts from ARP. It’s small now, but I hope to have a lot more stuff available soon. If you want to look at it now, in it’s early stages, you can find it at: http://flashpages.prodigy.net/bakramer/index.html You’ll find a map and a few photos and the satellite view. Save the web link and check back after a few months. If all goes well, ARP will live on, on the web! Bob Kramer

1967 Aerial View of the track

Here’s an aerial photograph of the Austin Raceway Park location. The site is just a few miles south of the FM1325 and IH35 Interchange. This area has experienced rapid growth in the last few years. The track property is for sale. It won’t be long until there are houses or corporate centers built on this land and ARP will be gone forever. I walked the track and although the layout is simple, the designers did the best they could to make it interesting. The most obvious feature is the wide dragstrip which became a long straight on the road course. The 1.5 mile course was run in a clockwise direction, down a 3,200 foot long straight into a very tight, slightly banked hairpin. Racers had to back it down quickly for a very sharp turn, or use the dragstrip over-run area at the end of the straight. The biggest feature on the backside is a fairly tall decreasing radius banked 180 right-hander, followed by a quick twitch to the left. I’ve been told this was the most challenging part of ARP.

My interest in this track came about because I am restoring a TR4A that was raced and wrecked at ARP. Dick Prestridge was driving for Bob Stewart when a rear axle broke and the car spun and flipped on the banked turn. That was back in 1967. I had nothing else on this track, no period photos, no literature, nothing, but I’m starting to get some pictures and info, and I’m adding and editing stuff as I go along. Please help document this portion of Central Texas auto racing history here, send me what you got!

If you want to walk the track like I did, you have 2 choices. There aren’t any signs warning you not to trespass, so I found a way in and took a hike. As a matter of fact, it would make a good jogging trail. Alternately, you could make it official and call the real estate agent and ask for permission. I didn’t want to take the chance of refusal, because then I would be trespassing! The way I went in was through the backside. If you look at the map you’ll see a road named Summit Drive, accesible from N. Mopac Exwy (which is really FM1325-Burnet Road). At the dead end which is closest to the track, there is a field that looks like it was set up for mobile homes, with water spigots everywhere. I drove to the far right corner of that parcel and climbed to the top of a pile of dirt that they must have placed there just for my benefit. I could see the track, and a way in. I scurried down the other side of the dirt pile to the fence line, and there was a break in the barbed wire. I did this in winter, with the weeds dead and dying. I wouldn’t recommend in summer. Wear long pants, and do it soon. There is a project on the City of Austin development books called “Noahs Ark”, using 7 acres. I found a moving and storage company with that name, so I’m surmising that we’ll soon have a Storage Facilty on the Burnet Road side of the old track. Matt Baker from the Hill Country Triumph Club found an internet record of the plan for this project submitted by a developer going under the name of “Austin Raceway Group”.

ARP SCCA Program cover from November 1966. Provided by Phil Gerrow.

Race Officials from the Nov. 66 SCCA event. I’ve tracked a couple of these people down, including Bob Seiberg.

I’ve been told that the builders of the track were drag racers, and the road course was an add-on. I found a reference to “Austin Dragway Park” in an old newspaper clipping. ARP may have been more well know for visits from the Winter Nationals crowd. I’ll add that material here as well, if anyone has something to provide.

Track Records of of Nov. 1966. Some familiar names! Thanks to Phil Gerrow. Phil tells me that it wasn’t long before people were running ARP in under a minute, first eclipsed by a go-cart.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.