- Chris Green
Photos by Chris Green, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29
Ocean Speedway Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds 2601 E Lake Ave Watsonville, CA 95076
Year Opened: 1960
Short Track, Cali Style
Ocean Speedway is a little-known gem in the California racing circuit, known to diehards and locals alike. Well-hidden off the PCH, this corner of California speed has been the home to future NASCAR stars like Kyle Larson as they worked their way up through the short track ranks.
Only a minor drive north of Weather Tech Laguna Seca, this track is the perfect side-stop for fans visiting in town for races farther south, or venturing along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Food & Beverage 3
While the selection at Ocean Speedway is limited to the traditional sports fare, the quality here is top notch – everything is made or grilled fresh. Hot dogs and corn dogs run you $4.75, while a chili dog costs $7. The most expensive item on the menu is worth every penny (Tri-Tip Sandwich at $9.75), with two other alternatives costing $8.75 each (Polish Sandwich or Linguisa Sandwich). Burgers run from $5.50 to $6.75, with a side of fries costing anywhere from $5.75 for regular fries to $8 for chili cheese fries.
Drinks include water ($2.50-$3.50), soda ($2.75-$3.75), and coffee/hot cocoa ($3). Snacks include peanuts, Cracker Jack, or sunflowers seeds for $2.75, or candy (including Red Vines) for $3.
Located at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, Ocean Speedway is outside the town of Watsonville, meaning you have that true small-town feel when driving to the track. To the east are mountains, and to the west is the Pacific Ocean and its beautiful beaches. The track is a high banked dirt track, which means the mud will be flying with every race on the track, so bring goggles just in case.
The seating area at Ocean Speedway is a bit old and weathered looking, but that gives you the feeling that you’re at an old, history-filled house of speed.
The area around Ocean Speedway is beautiful California coastal towns – an hour north is the San Francisco area, and an hour south is the Monterey coastline. The beach is just a few minutes west, while the forests are just a few minutes to the east.
For lodging, fans can pick from numerous hotels and motels, with Best Western Rose Garden Inn and Holiday Inn Express & Suites Watsonville being two of your closest options to the track. Straw Hat Pizza and Erik’s DeliCafe are two local favorites for food, and for visitors, the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park and Natural Bridges State Beach offer quintessential California nature and sights, just a short drive to the north along the PCH.
The fans at the track are mostly locals, and they know their racing. Drivers, stats, and history are all topics that the fans in the stands know in great detail. The fans are welcoming to visitors as well, and are happy to help flesh out the latest points standings, which create the biggest drama on the track.
Getting to the track, you will have to abandon the major highways of California for some winding local roads. Located off East Lake Drive, drivers on the 101 Highway will have to exit and cross through Hecker Pass, which winds through the coastal hills and mountains. Alternatively, if you’re taking the Pacific Coast Highway, turning off on Main Street will get you on your way east to Ocean Speedway.
Return on Investment 4
Parking and tickets are just a few bucks for fans, and all seating is general admission, meaning the cost for taking the kids and family out to the races isn’t going to be anywhere as high as other bigger races. Aside from the drive over to Ocean Speedway if you aren’t local, getting in won’t break your bank, or your stress level.
Ocean Speedway offers handicap seating at specific grandstands at the track, for those in wheelchairs to be able to catch the action. Pit passes are also available for fans who want an up-close view of the racing action behind the scenes.
For a hidden California racing gem, Ocean Speedway is a great option, especially when adding it to an already scheduled sports trip through the Golden State. The racing is exciting, the prices are low, and the value offered is high.