The Portland International Raceway is just south of the Columbia River, where Vanport, Oregon, used to be. It’s also adjacent to the Kenton neighborhood. The Portland International Raceway has a unique and fascinating history—it’s amazing that something good came from a big disaster.
Portland International Raceway History
The Portland International Raceway began as something entirely different than it is now. It was actually part of a city—the city of Vanport, Oregon, to be precise. Vanport (a clever combination of “Vancouver” and “Portland”) was hastily built in 1942 to house shipyard workers. It was home to the largest public housing project in the entire country. At its peak, Vanport had 40,000 residents and was the second-largest city in Oregon.
On May 30, 1948, the city was dramatically washed away in a terrible flood. A series of dikes protected the city from the waters of the Columbia. But on that day, one dike broke and flooded the entire city, which was underwater in just half an hour. All that remained were the paved roads and the concrete foundations of buildings. Everything else was gone.
But Vanport’s largely intact street system was destined to become something new. In 1961, during the Portland Rose Festival, the raceway’s first races took place on these abandoned city streets.
By 1965, the roads were the regular home of sports car, drag, motorcycle, and kart races. However, the roads were actually quite perilous, and they became even more so as they began to deteriorate. If drivers left the track, they risked collisions with leftover concrete foundations or driving into the area’s many ponds and water sloughs.
Extensive renovation was necessary in 1971, since the roads were too dangerous to host races anymore. Since its last loans were paid back in 1973, the raceway has operated as a commercial enterprise. This means that it not only generates profit for the city, but it also costs taxpayers nothing.
In 1984, the track underwent $800,000 worth of improvements. A chicane was the most notable addition. 2008 saw another track renovation, including new asphalt and turn reconfigurations.
The Portland International Raceway generates about seven hundred jobs in the area. It also brings substantial business to North Portland hotels, restaurants, and other local shops. It brings an estimated $45 million a year into the local economy.
The raceway gives yearly contributions to the North Portland Trust Fund, a fund that distributes money for local activities like the wonderful Kenton Tool Library. The raceway regularly supports local artists, businesses, and the Kenton Concerts in the Park series.
The City of Portland is also working to make the raceway carbon neutral. This means that it will offset all of its own carbon emissions, reducing its impact on the environment.
The Portland International Raceway course is almost perfectly flat and runs clockwise. It has 12 turns and is 1.967 miles long. The facility includes a dragstrip and a motocross track.
The Portland International Raceway hosts ICSCC, SCCA, and OMRRA road racing, the NASAR K&N Pro Series West, and SCCA autocross events. It is also host to the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association’s races on the track and surrounding grounds.
If you’re interested in seeing some of the fun that happens at the raceway on a regular basis, check out its main events here. There’s also a full calendar here. If you like any kind of racing, there’s really something for everyone at the Portland International Raceway.