Some months ago the magazine Racer X ran an article about Torsten Hallman one of the first pioneers of European moto cross to race in the U.S, former world champion, and legend of the sport. One of the illustrations in the article was a black and white picture of people sitting on the roof of a barn watching riders actually go through the center doors. That picture brought back memories and prompted another story.
The barn in the picture was located in Westlake, California. Located about 45 miles north of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica mountain range, Westlake was, in 1969, not the sprawling suburb it is today. The barn was part of a complete old west town used as a movie set. Besides some big budget western movies, the television western series “Gun Smoke” was filmed there. On occasion, the Viewfinders Motorcycle Club was allowed to run moto cross and grand prix races on the location. One of the unique features of the course is that it ran right through the center of the barn and right down the main street of the town. As with most movie sets, the barn was located in a remote valley east of the city of Westlake.
In 1969, there was no national series in the U.S. Supercross had not been invented yet. In the fall of each year, after the Grand Prixs determined the World Moto Cross Champion, the Husqvarna importer Edison Dye promoted a 12 race series across the United States called the Inter-Am. Made up of the top riders from Europe, and the best America had to offer at the time, the Inter-Am series could be considered as the forerunner of the championship series we have today. In 1969 the Inter-Am made 3 stops in southern California, Carlsbad, Saddleback, and Westlake.
What follows is an account of my first experience at the Barn. As a 15 year old kid in the fall of 1969 every waking moment was spent in pursuing my passion for moto cross racing. I was the guy in study hall drawing pictures of bikes instead of doing homework. Speaking of homework (or the lack thereof), it was pretty rare at that period of time when I actually did any, which made my dad pretty crazy. Most of my spare time was spent in the garage working on my Hodaka. Even though I had a perfect attendance record, I just didn’t concentrate on school as it got in the way of racing. An all too common scenario these days.
By the fall of 1969 I had a couple of races under my belt with pretty dismal results. Having already seen the Inter-Am at Carlsbad, when my Friends asked me to go to Westlake I jumped at the chance. Never having been there before, I had no idea what to expect and did not know about the barn. I had convinced my parents to let me go alone, just me and my friends. Little did my parents know was that my friend “Crazy Henry” would be driving. On an overcast Sunday morning we drove north west from Los Angeles through the San Fernando Valley on a two lane road that would in later years become the 101 freeway. When we turned off the highway on Westlake Blvd, Crazy Henry (whose name was well deserved) turned to my friend Kevin and myself seated in the back seat and said “jump in the trunk, it’s only half a mile to the track, we can eat on the way home with the money we save on admission” . So there we were, locked in the trunk of a 1963 Studebaker (no inside safety latch releases back then) totally at the mercy of my hoodlum friends, who, couldn’t be trusted on a good day. As it turned out, it was over six miles to the track entrance and another half mile up a very bumpy dirt road. When we were finally released from the trunk, bruised and nearly deaf, I could not believe what I was looking at. A track exiting a barn and heading down the main street of an old western movie town. Practice was already under way. After practice, walking around the pits ( no separate pit passes in those days), I was shocked to see the europeans smoking a cigarette. Un like today’s riders who’s faces are plastered on posters, lunch boxes, even cereal boxes, top riders of that era, especially the one from Europe, were shrouded in mystery. For a kid my age, that day, seeing those guys up close was like magic.
I spent the rest of that day watching the best America had to offer, riders like, John Desoto, Gary Bailey, Jim Wilson, Tim Hart, and the late Jim West, battle the top of the Moto Cross world from across the Atlantic, names like Roger Decoster, Bengt Aberg, Sylvan Gabors, and of course Torsten Hallman. In two 40 minute moto’s, the U.S’s. best could scarcely keep these guys in sight. I watched from every point on the track, but for the most part I was memorized by the rider going through the barn. Late in the last moto, as the sun was setting and the shadows cast by the hills were getting long, the thick dust was making the growing darkness worse for the last few riders on course. My friends and I were some of the last to leave that day. By the time we piled into the Studebaker (front seat this time) it was pitch dark. As we made our way down Westlake Blvd towards the highway, all we could talk about what the things we had seen that day. We spent the drive home all trying to talk at once. By the way, we did eat on the way home (tacos were only 25 cents back then at Taco Bell)
I never went back there after that day. Naturally, as a kid, I just assumed it would be there forever. Racing stopped there many years ago. The last remains of the movie town lasted until the early 1990’s before being demolished for housing development.
Today the area once occupied by the movie town is a neighborhood park surrounded by expensive houses. It is difficult to tell, but most likely the spot where the barn actually stood is a swing set in the playground of that park. Whenever I am in that area riding bicycles or at Langtown (just down the road), I always stop by the park. Sometimes, lat in the day as the sun goes down, you can look at the swing set and just imagine.