A TRIBUTE TO

WEST DELTA PARK - PORTLAND INTL RACEWAY

By Greg Rollin

At an early age in the mid 60's, in one single afternoon, my life would be forever changed. It was at The Rose Cup Races at West Delta Park where I got my first taste of motor racing. Ever since that day, I've always felt a very strong connection with PIR. Sort of a home away from home kind of thing. As a lifelong Portlander, I have always been interested in our local history. I thought I'd combine these two into interests in the following pages. This will be an ongoing and always expanding project. Initially, my plan for this section was to focus exclusively on the drag racing aspects of PIR. But that would really be a disservice to a track so rich in Portland and racing history. Because of the graphic nature of this section, some pages may take awhile to load. But I hope you will find it worth the wait.

 

 To get things going, here's how it all got started.

On the land on which we race today, once stood the city of Vanport. Built by Henry Kaiser in 1942 for the WWII shipyard workers, Vanport was at the time, the second largest city in the state of Oregon. At its height, it was the home to 40,000+ people. On May 30th, 1948, the entire city of Vanport was demolished by flood waters when the swollen Columbia river crested and broke the west side dike. Within a few hours of the breach, the city was under water. Houses and buildings were floating off their foundations. At least 15 people lost their lives on that day. For many years, all that remained of the city were the streets and some building foundations. In 1960, the city of Portland purchased the land from the Army Corps of Engineers (and still owns it today) for the price of $175,000. In 1961, thanks to some car guys among the Portland Jaycees, who saw the abandoned roads as a place to stage sports car races, a race track was born. By convincing the Portland Rose Festival Association to sponsor a race as part of the festival activities, the first race was held in June 1961. Appropriately titled The Rose Cup Race. The RCR has been a part of the Rose Festival ever since.

 

Photo courtesy City of Portland archives (file #A2001-025)

Vanport, Oregon 1943

(Denver Ave. at bottom of photo)

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Rollin family archives

1961-1968 basic track layout.

(Denver Ave. on right)

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Rollin family archives

 1969-1970 track layout

(Denver Ave. on the right)

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 By using the sloughs and trees as reference points, in the pictures above and below, it is clear to see how the initial track layout was based on the former Vanport streets. In the early days, PIR was referred to as: The Vanport Circuit, West Delta Park or Delta Park Raceway. It wasn't until the late 60's, early 70's that the name Portland International Raceway was phased in as the official name of the track.

 

 

Rollin family archives

1971 track layout. 

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 1971 was a milestone year for PIR. The track was reconfigured and completely repaved. The funding for the rebuilding came from a $100,000 loan arranged by the Rose Festival Association from four banks. By 1973, the loan and interest had been paid back from revenues raised from racing. Ever since, Portland Intl. Raceway has operated as an enterprise. Meaning all funding comes from the revenues generated by the users of the park. Not from the taxpayers! No other Portland municipal facility such as the Civic Stadium, Performing Arts Center or any other city park can make this claim. In addition, today, PIR generates well over 30 million dollars each year into the local economy with its year-round activities. As well as being a source of revenue for the Portland Rose Festival Association.

 

 

Photo courtesy of www.portlandmaps.com

1984 - current. Even in this 1998 aerial shot, some of the original Vanport layout can still be seen. Most notably of course are Cottonwood St. and Victory Blvd. Visible in the infield is Island Ave. You can also still see the intersection of Force Ave. and Victory Blvd. which served as the original turn 4 and later as turn 3. With the golf course expansion in the mid 80's, Force Ave. is no longer a straight shot to the Expo Center.

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Copyright © 2002 Greg Rollin. All photos and copyrighted information used with permission. While I have gone to much effort to ensure the accuracy of the information posted here, the possibility for error exists. In my research, I sometimes found conflicting information even from credible sources. Should you see anything you believe to be in error, please e-mail ME