Home News Vision Historically Speaking: A brief history of racing in Roswell

Historically Speaking: A brief history of racing in Roswell

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The photo's caption reads, "Roswell Daily Record Photo — Cars such as these will be racing next Saturday and Sunday at the Bottomless Lakes. No. 22 is a Vee, Class Formula. No. 21 is an Elva, Class: Modified. In the background, No. 11, is an Alfa Romero. Class: Production. (Record Photo by Cabral) — date and location unknown.

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily

Record

Roswell, since it’s inception, has always been a town of racing. In the early days, there were horse races. Moving forward, our town has hosted go-kart races, drag races, motorcycle races, sports car races and many others. Today, I would like to take a brief look back to feature some, but mainly one, that was held at the Bottomless Lakes called “Los Ocho Millas,” which was first a closed-circuit national race course for sports cars and, at the time, was slated as being the longest in the country — and a very dangerous one.

The earliest horse race was put on by J.J. Roscoe, who later became Roswell’s police chief. In 1904, land west of town was acquired, which had been used for a race track as part of the July Fourth celebration in 1890. It was used at least once after that.

In an Aug. 11, 1905 Roswell Daily Record article the racing history was mentioned: “In the early days there was a race track down Main Street to the Hondo River, and when there was a horse race on, all business was suspended until the fun was over.”

Roswell Daily Record, May 16, 1954

“26 Boys Prepare For Soap Box Derby Set for July 4 Here

“A valuable souvenir and prize will be given to every boy that enters the Roswell Soap Box Derby, July 4, it was announced yesterday. To date there are 26 entries who are getting well along with their racers.

“Since it takes at least 30 days to build a good racer to enter in the soapbox derby, prospective entrants should not wait until the last minute before finding out the complete rules and specifications that they must know about before beginning to build their entry.

“Contestants between 13 and 15 years old shall be known as the A group. The other group with boys 11 and 12 years old will be known as the B group. Each group will race against members of his own group first during the Soap Box Derby set for July 4. The winner of races in Group A will meet the winner of Group B races, in the finals to determine the Roswell Champion of the Soap Box Derby for 1954.”

A Roswell Daily Record article, dated Oct. 21, 1956 has a preview about a motorcycle race:

“Motorcycle Races Draw 40 Teams

“As many as 40 teams of motorcycle riders are expected to compete in the tag team scrambles to be held at the motorcycle track 5 miles east of Roswell on US 380 beginning at noon today.

“Two-man teams from Texas and New Mexico will compete in the four hour endurance race, which is sponsored by Motorcycle Recreation Inc.

“In a tag-team scramble, one man rides his motorcycle on the 3 mile track for as long as he can. Then he takes the marker off his shirt and gives it to his partner, who takes over until he is ready to stop. The two continue to trade off until the four hours are up, and the team which has logged the most miles is the winner.

“Spectators, twelve and over may watch the race for a $1 donation.

“Children under 12 get in free.”

The most well known race was the closed-circuit sports car race held at Bottomless Lakes State Park. It drew crowds of up to 3,000 spectators and according to the documentations was very thrilling, yet dangerous. Following are a couple of articles on these races:

Roswell Daily Record, Nov. 22, 1964

“More Than 100 Cars Enter

“Races Set Next Weekend For Bottomless Lakes

“Sports cars next Saturday and Sunday from the Western United States will compete in the longest closed circuit race course in the country at the Bottomless Lakes State Park. Speeds up to 100 mph are anticipated.

Cars will swish around the eight mile course which has become famous for kart races. The races will be sponsored by the Junior Chamber of Commerce under sanction of the Rio Grande region of the Sports Car Club of America.

“All sanctioned classes of cars will be run from the small roadster type cars to the very fast Cobras, Ferraris, and Lotus. With the long straight runs on the course the more powerful cars will attain speeds in excess of 160 mph.

“Since this is the first race for sports cars at the Lakes it was anticipated that it would be a small race in the number of cars entered but news of the race spread fast and more than 100 cars will be entered, making it one of the largest road races to be held.

“Racing teams are already arriving in Roswell to set up their machines for the race. National publications such as ‘Car and Driver,’ ‘Road and Track,’ and ‘Southwest Racing News,’ are sending their staff writers and photographers to cover it.

“Spectators will be limited to four designated areas to view the race, to ensure complete safety. When entering the park they will be advised as to where they can park. All parking areas will afford a good view of the race. Practice runs will start on Saturday at 9 AM with the first race at 2:30 PM that afternoon. Sunday will be practice from 9 AM until noon, and the first race will be run at 12:30 PM. The present schedule calls for nine races for the two days, however, it appears there will be more races due to the fact that there are more entries coming than had been planned on, making it necessary to split some of the classes into elimination races.

“Admission to the races will be $1.50 per person a day with children under 12 admitted free if accompanied by an adult, and the admission is paid at the gate entrance. Advanced tickets are now on sale for a dollar each at the Chamber of Commerce and the Pit Stop, 501 South Main St.”

A May 7, 1967 Roswell Daily Record article tells of the final “Los Ocho Millas Race,” in which a fatal accident occurred.

“Los Ocho Millas Races Thrill Crowd

“A good crowd was on hand for the third annual Los Ocho Millas at the Bottomless Lakes State Park Saturday, but a bad accident marred the proceedings.

“Ken Haynes of El Paso, Texas, driving an Alfa crashed at the esses of the Lazy Lagoon, turn six. His car flipped and flew through the air for some distance, and narrowly missed safety officials, catching afire. Officials put the fire out and pulled Haynes from the wreckage in short order in a very commendable fashion.

“An unidentified doctor in a car directly behind the wrecked vehicle stopped and applied necessary first aid. Upon arrival of an ambulance with a tracheotomy tube he performed a tracheotomy at the scene. Haynes was rushed to Eastern New Mexico Medical Center suffering from head and neck injuries.

“The races Saturday were regional events and finished as follows; First Race, 24 mile, won by Kirby of Los Angeles, California driving a Porsche in the E-production class. F-production, won by Forrester of Oklahoma City in a Datsun. G-production won by Coman of Tulsa in an Austin Healey Sprite. H-production won by Bagnell of Phoenix in an Austin Healey Sprite. H-sports race won by Cowherd of Jinks, Oklahoma in a Sabre.

“The second race of the afternoon was a Formula Vee and was won by Hester of La Jolla, California in an Autodynamic. The third event was in Class C and was taken by Ranney of Santa Anna, California in a Porsche, and the final race in the B division was won by Nygard of Phoenix in an A.C. Cobre with average speed of 100.2 mph.

“Spectators for today’s races are expected to be on the grounds by noon and in the spectator areas by 12:30 o’clock. The road will close to all traffic at 12:30 o’clock.”

The doctor that performed the emergency tracheotomy was named Foerster, and he performed the tracheotomy using a pen knife he carried. Sadly, Haynes passed away later that night at the hospital.

This would be the last race of this kind at Bottomless Lakes. There were no races held after the 1967 event. I could not find reasons for this, possibly the loss of life, or the fact that our Walker Air Force Base was forced into closure that year. However, that track was one of a kind and certainly drew the attention of the national car sports magazines and writers during its short tenure.

There is now a cycling event that takes place on this same road called the Tour de Ocho Millas. Life goes on.

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.