Bill Pollack Named Grand Marshal of Sonoma Historics
Bill Pollack, who drove an Allard J2 to a victory at the first Golden Gate Park Road Races in San Francisco in 1952, has been named Grand Marshal of the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival at Infineon Raceway June 2-3.
Pollack, an influential pioneer of the California sports-car racing scene in the 1950s, headlines this year’s event theme, “Moments in Time: a Celebration of the History of Motorsports.”
The program for the 26th annual event will focus on highlights of the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s - the eras in which auto racing began to cement its international status as a world-class spectator sport.
Pollack began his career in the late 1940s and early ‘50s racing an MG, then won the Pebble Beach Road Race twice in Tom Carstens’ famous red-wheeled, Cadillac-powered Allard J2, as well as the Sports Car Club of America-sanctioned 1952 Golden Gate Park Road Races. Driving a variety of other cars, such as Alfa Romeos, Porsches and Maseratis, he won in Stockton, Willow Springs, Torrey Pines, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, among other venues, competing in over 60 races.
The 87-year-old, who now resides in Sherman Oaks in Southern California, is also credited with designing the race course at Willow Springs International Raceway.
The Golden Gate Park Road Races were held in San Francisco from 1952 until 1954, at a time when the San Francisco Bay Area began its infatuation with all things automotive, especially sports-car racing.
“It’s very exciting for me to be the Grand Marshal at the Sonoma Historics,” said Pollack. “I was fortunate enough to be one of maybe a half a dozen people or so who were involved in sports-car racing as amateurs in the late ‘40s. Most of my colleagues are gone, like Phil Hill who became a world champion. We were all just kids then and it was the beginning of a sport that none of us realized would grow to be so popular so quickly.
“It was a marvelous time and a wonderful period. The cars were beautiful, there were lots of different kinds of cars, so there was an esprit that existed all up and down the West Coast, from Pebble Beach on up to Golden Gate Park and even as far as Seattle and all the way down to San Diego eventually.”
“While he was a true gentleman, Pollack was also a fierce competitor at that 1952 race in Golden Gate Park,” said Steve Earle, president of General Racing, Ltd., who has organized premier historic car events for four decades. “The people of San Francisco turned out by the thousands to see a road race held for the first time in 25 years in a major American city.”
On May 31, 1952, Pollack started on the front row in the 28-lap, 86.8-mile main event, The Guardsman’s Cup Race. Also in the field were Phil Hill, Don Parkinson, Jim Seeley, among other notable California racers of the ‘50s. At the start, Pollack pushed the Allard into the lead and, despite a hard charge from Hill in a Ferrari, held on for a spectacular victory, as Hill’s Ferrari limped across the finish line sans one bank of cylinders. The winning Allard J2 resides today in the collection of William J. Marriott in Bethesda, Md.
“Phil Hill was very popular, deservedly so, and he lost the race, I didn’t win the race,” explained Pollack. “I was driving a 6-liter car, the Allard, which was really fast, and Golden Gate was a very fast course, about two miles long, and he had this 2-liter Ferrari which on a three-mile or a four-mile circuit would have been competitive with the Allard. He also apparently lost a magneto and instead of a 12-cylinder car the Ferrari became a 6-cylinder car, so he didn’t have a prayer.”
Today, Pollack enjoys writing, swimming and gardening, he says. In addition, Brown Fox Inc. has reprinted a limited number of his book, “Red Wheels and White Sidewalls: Confessions of an Allard Racer,” originally published in 2004. It will be available for purchase at Wine Country Motorsports at the raceway during the Sonoma Historics weekend.
Winning the 1952 Golden Gate Park Road Races was a remarkable triumph for Pollack, who will be on hand to discuss those glory days and answer questions during a seminar at Infineon Raceway, on Saturday, June 2. Pollack will be joined by other race-car drivers from the early days of the sport, who will share their racing experiences. The seminar is free and will be held in the Driver’s Lounge in the paddock area.
On Saturday and Sunday, 400 historic race cars will compete and parade around the 12-turn, 2.52-mile road course, including a number of significant cars, ranging from a 1911 National Indy 500 racer to a 1991 Roush IMSA GTO Mustang.
For more information on the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival, visit infineonraceway.com/historics or call 800-870-RACE (7223).
Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival
WHAT: Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival
WHEN: June 2-3
CIRCUIT: 12-turn, 2.52-mile road course
TICKETS: $40 day/$60 weekend; Youth (Ages 13-20): $20 day/$30 weekend; Children 12-and-under FREE and parking is FREE. Each ticket includes entry to the Wine Country Pavilion.
INFORMATION: 800-870-RACE (7223), infineonraceway/historcs.com or ticketmaster.com.