Hopetown Reunion – A Gathering of the Faithful
On Saturday, August 18, there was a huge reunion celebrating the legendary Hopetown Grand Prix. It was held at Specialty Fabrications Incorporated in Simi Valley, California, not too far from the old Hopetown course. Mark and Randy Zimmerman put on the event just because they genuinely cared for the classic event and those involved with it.
About 3,600 people showed up to the event, and literally hundreds of bikes were on display in a shaded area surrounding the big plant. Everything from perfectly restored Huskys, CZs and Maicos to big British singles and twins were on display. They even had an old flathead Harley racer in the back of a truly crusty old Ford Ranchero. The owner rather proudly stated that’s the way he used to race in the early ‘60s.
An incredible number of racers were on hand to sign autographs or just do some bike-ogling and bench racing. I couldn’t walk 10 feet without running into someone from the good old days.
In no particular order these were just some of the faces in the crowd: John DeSoto, Preston Petty, Gary Bailey, Doug Grant, Jim O’Neal, Tim Hart, Mike Chamberlain, Sue Fish, Keith Mashburn, CZ Joe, Jim Holley, Marty Tripes, Gary and DeWayne Jones, Dave Ekins, Skip Van Leeuwen, Eddie Mulder, C.H. Wheat, Brad Lackey, Mike Runyard, Bruce Brown, John Rice, Jim Wilson, John Hately, Keith Lynas, Mike Sixberry, Bryar Holcomb and numerous others that I just can’t remember right now.
They even had food for the people who showed up, cooking courtesy of Marty Tripes. The BBQ was as good as anything I’ve ever had. Amazingly, all of this was free. That’s right … not a dime. The only way you could spend any money was to buy a t-shirt or a poster, and even a piece of that went to a local charity. Keith Mashburn, who is running for office in Simi Valley, was one of the hardest workers in making this event happen.
On the second floor of the building was a dirt bike museum that took your breath away. There were at least 200 bikes on display – maybe more – and they ranged from perfectly restored to very rare un-restored models. One bike in particular drew a lot of attention. It was a 1973 CZ 400 still in its original crate. At one point, it fell off a ship into the ocean and was retrieved. The bike, crate and all, was on display and caused many a shaking head. The museum is owned by the Zimmerman brothers and is not open to the public. These guys are just real honest dirt bikers who collected the bikes that they loved.
WHAT CAUSED HOPETOWN TO CEASE?
Many years ago I used to live in Ohio. That's when I first got interested in dirt bikes and racing. Like most dirt bike nuts, I grabbed every mag¬azine I could find about bikes. I digested every word. I mem¬orized the names of all the top riders.
I read the very first stories about the Europeans and the events they ran in this country and abroad. I read about the desert races of the Great West and the guys who ran those old Greeves and Triumphs. Conrad. Nel¬son, the legendary J. N. Roberts. Larry Berquist and his exploits in Baja.
I read and re-read those stories. These people and these events became bigger than life in my mind. They fired my imagination. They made me want to someday become a good enough rider to actually be in a big race, just to say that I'd been there. The one that I used to look forward to most of all was a huge race called Hopetown. It used to be called Corriganville until Bob Hope's outfit bought the land, hence the name change.
Cycle World used to run some stories on Hopetown and they'd usually have a photo or two accompanying the ar¬ticle. I used to pore over each word in the article as if it were handed down from stone tablets. And the photos! Hoooeeee! Shots of the famed Hopetown Mudhole, or a photo of Preston Petty skidding through the fake West¬ern town that was part of the movie set background.
The stories used to tell about the 50,000 spectators over the two-day weekend and the 1,500 riders competing in the different classes. I was entranced!! En¬raptured!! The most riders I had ever seen together at one time was 280 at a Hare Scrambles in Nelson Ledges, Ohio. And that blew my mind. 1,500 riders!
As the fortunes would have it, I found myself on the West Coast some time after that, and through bizarre twists of fate, I found myself a member of the Dirt Diggers Motorcycle Club. A good friend, Hydraulic Jack, was my sponsor, and after a reason¬able period of Prospective Member¬ship, I became a full-fledged, honest-to-God Dirt Digger. Red-and-white striped jumper and all.
And, I got to see Hopetown. Lordy, lordy. lordy. Right there in front of my eyes was Brian Wade, the Rickman brothers, Preston Petty. Torsten Hallman and all the rest.
It was awesome to one as impres¬sionable as myself. The Diggers proved to be a very powerful, long time Dis¬trict 37 club, with lots of clout and the bankroll to back it up. Much of that bankroll came from the receipts of Hopetown every year. Yup … the Dirt Diggers were the inventors of Corriganville (Hopetown) and put this great race on every year.
I got a chance to see just what went in the workings of a genu¬inely great event. When the Diggers throw a race, everyone works. If you don't show up for a work party, you damn well better have a good reason or you'll find yourself drummed out of the club.
The reason behind this thinking be¬came rather clear when I saw first hand the enormous amount of work required to actually put on Hopetown. Beside the expected things like course preparation, haybales, ribbons and such, a vast amount of time and energy was involved with the politics of the event. Permits, permission, talking to the police department, officials of one sort or another ... an endless string of red tape.
The club members pitched in. They handled all of the entries, drew the numbers of each class, processed the paper, ordered the trophies, sweatshirts, set up the programs, got insurance . . . the 1001 things most peo¬ple take for granted.
But, somehow everything got done. And when race day came, every¬thing went smooth. Bike inspection, sign up, passes . . . everything was handled in the most professional man¬ner possible.
There was no pit racing. None. It didn't matter who you were. You pushed your bike to the starting line. If you thought you were a smartass and had to do a few burnouts in the pits, chances are Andy The Brown Devil would whang you across the back of your head with a crusty two-by-four. Yep, this was one where the family was welcome; one you didn't have to worry about the kids get¬ting run over by some squirrel on a Hodie with an open chamber.
The two-day event was more than a race. Much more. It was a happening. A win at Hopetown was important. Very important. It sold a lot of bikes. All the racing shops got a well-groomed mount ready with their top hired killer aboard. Good starting num¬bers were sought after like plasma at a vampire convention.
The race was started in rows, with the earliest entries receiving the choic¬est numbers. Twelve numbers to a row, with 1 through 12 in the front row, 13 through 24 in the second row and so forth. Tough rowing for the rider with number 67 or 84. Entries were bought and re-sold for astronomical prices, so the legends go.
One year, over 600 250 Novice en¬tries had to be returned to the appli¬cants when the class got filled. Such was the impact of Hopetown. But somehow, the Diggers managed to pull it off each year, mak¬ing the event continue.
The original permit to run races at Hopetown was issued 1n 1962. It was good for 10 years. As with all race permits in Ventura County, Cal¬ifornia, the landowner is the one who applies for permits, not the race or¬ganizers. This, if nothing else, placed the Diggers at the mercy of the Hopetown owners.
No real problems transpired for the first 10 years, other than the normal stuff. In 1972, the application for a permit was re-applied for. And ap¬proved. The length of the new permit was to run less than four years. The 10-year permits were now a thing of the past and four-year passes were in. But, somewhere along the line, a few months were lost and the new permit was to expire Oct. 5, 1976.
This presented a problem to the Dig¬gers, as they traditionally held the race in the first week of November for 16 years in a row.
If the race had been held before that fateful Oct. 5th date, chances are the classic would have run one more time. But, that would have been it. Actually, the Hopetown event had the Kiss of Death put on it in 1969, when the city was annexed. Urbanization reared its head. It was only a matter of time.
At first, the public hearing went well, with the written backing of the Fire Department, the Sheriffs Dept. and a number of other respected parties. Still, the track neighbors got up and bitched loud and strong about the noise aspect. They said that the valley formed a natural amphitheater, much like the Hollywood Bowl, and that this sent the sound echoing back not only to their property, but to all the homes in the area as well. A hearing was set.
Then, the Chairman of the Planning Board, Vinetta Larson, asked if anyone else had anything else to say in the way of introducing some new facts into the hearing. The Dig¬gers, thinking that everything was well under control, sat on their hands.
The Commission voted. And the vote was 5 to 0 against the renewal of the permit.
Thus, it died.
When all things are said and done, it appears that noise was the prime mo¬tivator to the negative feelings gen¬erated, even though we feel that this was blown out of proportion. In fact, the police started a pistol range on the Hopetown track recently, in an effort to keep the riders out, only to have the locals bitch about the noise of the guns.
A lesson was learned. Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t trust any politicians and put out small fires before they turn into destructive blazes.