Mason County’s Racing and Performance Driving Instruction History

Shelton Airport Road Racing Course 1960 Mason County has long been a home to the automotive racing community. After World War II, the Civil Air Patrol in charge of the Shelton Airport approached local automotive enthusiasts to encourage the use of the facility for races.

Starting in 1951, the airstrip began being used for quarter-mile drag race events. Scenic surroundings, proximity to local services and ease of access quickly made Shelton Airport a desirable location for competition through 1959. From 1964 through 1967 competition returned with larger-scale races featuring nationally-known racers, including the likes of “Big Daddy” Don Garlits.

Shelton Airport, however, might have been best known for the road racing it hosted from 1955 through 1961. Many Sports Car Club of America events, including the well-publicized Seafair Cup run in conjunction with the hydroplane races on Lake Washington captured national attention. Northwest residents still fondly remember witnessing legendary cars from Ferrari, Jaguar, Corvette, Lotus, Porsche, Allard, and Mercedes whip around the seven-turn 3.2-mile course. Like quarter-mile events, Mason County road racing attracted some of the era's best competitors, from local legends like Tom Carstens, Ray Rairdon, and Ron Lee to internationally-known drivers including Pete Lovely, Pat Piggott, Tom Meehan, and Jerry Grant.

Drag racing returned to the Shelton Airport (now called Sanderson Field) in the form of nostalgia competition by the Shelton Drag Strip Association. Multiple events attracted hundreds of amateur competitors and thousands of spectators.

Of course, the area around the airport has also been home to another type of high performance driving. Since 1947, the Washington State Patrol has utilized its Mason County Academy property for performance driving instruction. Its 2.3-mile course was one of the nation's first tracks dedicated to teaching law enforcement professionals advanced vehicle operation, and is still recognized worldwide as among the best facilities and programs.

(Photos courtesy of Martin Rudow -- author of the definitive book on Northwest Racing: "Long Straights and Hairpin Turns")


Tom Carstens on his way to winning the 1958 Seafair Cup at Shelton in a Lister-Chevy-Knobbly


Ron Lee corners at Shelton in his Lotus 11 Le Mans in 1960


"Big Daddy" Don Garlits preparing to compete in Shelton


Tom Carstens in his Chrysler Hemi-powered Allard during the 1955 SCCA Nationals at Shelton


April 1958 -- Pete Lovely races Shelton in a '57 Ferrari 500TR


The Gladiator and Jerry Ruth's epic battle in Shelton during 1967