Did You Know?

Did You Know: Start Your Engines!

From Park E-ventures, April 2014

With “Mark di Suvero at Crissy Field” soon disappearing in our rearview mirror (the successful exhibition closes May 26), the Conservancy is revving up an exciting new attraction on the grassy meadow at the west end of Crissy Field.

In the coming months, the eight steel sculptures that have graced the Crissy airfield will be replaced by a temporary racetrack, as part of our nascent “KART in the Parks” initiative.

Just as the di Suvero exhibit brought art lovers to the Golden Gate National Parks, this project is aimed at connecting the parklands with new communities—namely, local NASCAR enthusiasts and people from around the world who enjoy riding around San Francisco in tiny cars that sound like buzz-saws.

The project also serves as a living, breathing, exhaust-spewing interpretive exhibit, harkening back to Crissy Field’s place in the earliest days of auto racing. Indeed, the meadow owes its very existence to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition and the American Grand Prize auto race that was held during that “world fair.” Beginning in 1912, over 360,000 yards of mud and sand were dredged up from the Bay to fill in the swampy wetland along the Presidio waterfront.

The landfill created expansive exposition grounds, site of spectacular pavilions on the east side (including the Palace of Fine Arts) and, on the west, a Grand Prix race track—one mile in circumference, with grandstands for 25,900 people.

There were actually two big races in 1915. The American Grand Prize was held on February 27, a sodden day that saw 11 of the 30 drivers who started the race withdraw because of rain. The event—which featured Eddie Rickenbacker, destined for greatness as America’s preeminent flying ace in World War I—was won by dashing Brit Dario Resta, at the wheel of a Peugeot.

Incidentally, Resta also won the Vanderbilt Cup race, held on roughly the same course on March 6—a brighter day that brought out luminaries such as San Francisco Mayor James “Sunny Jim” Rolph and California Governor Hiram Johnson. Resta’s average speed on a fast track? A blistering 66 miles per hour.

While the new temporary racetrack will respect and showcase Crissy Field’s racing legacy, more modern flourishes will abound. The track surface will be composed of recycled and repurposed materials, and the go-karts will be fueled by biodiesel produced from sustainably sourced soybean oil, collected by Food for the Parks concessionaires.

The karts themselves are crafted of a light but durable plastic/paper composite, with no less than 30% of the fiber derived from back issues of the printed Park Adventures brochure.

Now, if you’ve read this far with credulity, congratulations! You’ve taken the checkered flag. But realize, too, that we’re having the last lap—er, laugh. Happy April Fool’s! (None of the above is true, save for the historical sections about the 1915 races; for more on the evolution of Crissy Field, consult Stephen A. Haller’s excellent The Last Word in Airfields.)

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