Wow! Look At This! Huell Howser’s Former Producer Makes a Racy Documentary

A documentary reveals L.A.’s secret speedways

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The ground under your feet may have once been a racetrack. From 1934 to 1950, the grandstand at the Gilmore Stadium at Third and Fairfax (where the CBS Television City now lives) would fill beyond capacity, holding 18,000 motor-mad spectators screaming for their favorite midget race car. That’s just one example from L.A.’s surprising legacy featured in Harry Pallenberg’s film Where They Raced: Speed Demons in the City of Angels, which was just released on DVD. Pallenberg and his merry band of car geeks track the racetracks great and small from Playa del Rey to Altadena, Santa Ana to Corona. Pallenberg, who worked on Huell Howser’s California Gold for fifteen years, knows how to merge high-speeds and hidden histories. Here, he chats about car people, wooden tracks, and teen drag racers. 


For more information, check out the film’s official website.

How was last night’s screening at the Petersen Automotive Museum? 
All the people who came were super car people, so it was playing to the right audience.

The movie is especially strong in tying together social and historical trends.
I worked for Huell Howser for fifteen years doing L.A. and California history. Me and my friends were shocked that everyone said L.A. had no history. I’ve had a long love of L.A. history.

The wooden Beverly Hills board track was amazing.
How could they make a racetrack out of wood? A mile and a quarter around—that’s a lot of wood! Also the idea of wood and gasoline didn’t seem like a clever combination. There’s a mythical ten-minute film of cars running at the Beverly Hills board track. Very few have seen it. I didn’t know there was this much history. It shows how truly important Los Angeles was to the development of car culture.

The film’s “star” Harold Osmer has a rough appeal, but did you think of finding a host who was slicker?
He’s got a little bit of Howser charm. He’s wide-eyed and eager to learn about what’s in front of him. He’s accessible, not pretentiousbut definitely not a professional. He’s just the guy who wrote the book. When I was approaching different TV companies about making this a series, that’s all they cared about. Who would be the host? Jesse James? Would the host be smokin’ hot? I did think about a slicker host, but in the end Osmer was the right tool for the job. 

Auto Club Dragway is promoting events to get street racers off public roads. It’s the same story as with the first drag strips in Santa Ana and Long Beach.
If people do it, it seems like the first time around, 50 and 60 years ago, there was a code of conduct: the idea of joining a car club and not racing on the streets any more. Kids nowadays will leave the Fontana strip, and they’ll race later that night on the public streets. 

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