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Dune Buggies Racing Across America

Posted in Features on February 15, 2017
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Photographers: Courtesy Of Aces Car Club

After her death a few years ago, I “inherited” Jean Calvin’s reference and correspondence files. This was after her husband, John Calvin, had also died. Jean and John were the owners and operators of Dusty Times monthly newspaper, and before that, Jean was the editor of SCORE News and wrote for Hot VW’s magazine.

Many of her files were press releases and photos from all over America about racing organizations that popped up following the early NORRA races such as the Mexican 1000 and Baja 500, and the Mint 400.

Since Jean was mainly concerned with VW-based-buggies, her files concentrated on the VW and Corvair-powered vehicles, but I’m sure an equal amount of four-wheel-drive race organizers were putting on races, such as were held in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, in the mid ’60s. The organizers made a good point to the public—you can go racing for as little as $1,000—and $5,000 would get you a top-of-the-line buggy. Most were Manx-style fiberglass jobs, but some custom-built race cars were appearing. A rundown of air-cooled race organizations and their locations and any interesting notes are as follows:

The Eastern Dune Buggy Association held races on Daytona Beach, and had short-course races fashioned after events at Ascot raceway in California. Entry fees were $15 per racer. They also had their own newsletter, the “Dune Buggy News.” The Midwest Dune Buggy Association raced on the beach north of Chicago on Lake Michigan and had a gymkhana-style event where VW and Corvair-powered buggies raced one at a time over a sand dunes course with a series of gates.

The International Dune Buggy Association was headquartered in Arroyo Grande, California. Four clubs from central California made up the IDBA. They were the Salinas Sandbugs, the Dune Riders from Oceano, the Fresno Sand Pipers, the Hanford Dune Riders, and the Ventura Sand Challengers. Their main thrust, besides organizing racing events, was lobbying to keep racing areas open in opposition to the San Luis Obispo county ordinance code that limited dune buggy events at Pismo Beach.

MORE (not to be confused with MORE racing in the California desert) was started in Michigan in 1970 and held races at the Owosso Speedway and in Ithaca at the Gratiot Historical Village. There was a buggy show preceding the Auto Cross events at each venue. Entry fees were $3 for MORE members and $5 for non-members. (How things have changed.) They also published their own newspaper, the M.O.R.E. News.

A short-lived but very energetic effort was started at Goose Lake Park, just east of Jackson, Michigan. They had a one-mile closed course and a hillclimb area. Spectators were protected from “misguided buggies” by a cyclone fence, a 5-foot ditch and a 3-foot embankment.

In 1971, the A.C.E.S. (Air Cooled EngineS) car club association held a series of 12 races in Trenton, New Jersey; Nazareth Speedway, Pennsylvania; and Staten Island, New York. Like most of the organizers mentioned, the only safety equipment required was a rollbar cage, seatbelts, shoulder harness, and a helmet.

Their first overall points champion (pictured here) was Bob Kemp, “Kempie” from Plainsboro, New Jersey, in his race car “B-2,” and is shown proudly holding his championship trophy.

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