handful of prominent Albuquerque businessmen
organized the first Territorial Fair near Old
Town in 1881, the first structure they built was
a racetrack and grandstand. The racetrack
offered sulky, horse, burro, mule and foot
The crowd had plenty to watch. As races
continued, the Albuquerque Browns played
baseball in the oval inside the track. Betting
was heavy on both races and baseball. In its
second year the fair included a four-mile foot
race by Zuni runners. Other events were horse
and harness racing, and bicycle and burro
racing. A 1908 photograph of the Indian Marathon
shows runners in bare feet or moccasins.
In 1917 the fair succumbed to financial
pressures, but local boosters revived the fair
in the 1930s. When Gov. Clyde Tingley secured
funding from the federal Works Progress
Administration, one of the first developments at
the new site was a one-mile track, grandstand,
racing office and jockey room. The fair reopened
was then the only state with pari-mutuel racing,
and 5,000 fans packed the grandstand the first
day. Horsemen – some from as far away as
Montana – filled the
adobe stalls. There were harness and
steeplechase races, trotters and pacers.
That year the fair refused to register two women
jockeys, Harriet Coneel and Helen Currier. Two
other female riders, Wanda Banks and Alma Lloyd,
had obtained their racing licenses from another
track before the fair. Banks and Lloyd were two
of the best riders ever to race in
New Mexico and were so
popular with fans that fair officials built a
female dressing area for them the next year.
After the war, fair racing became the biggest
such event in the Rocky Mountain region.
Another sport in the 1880s and 1890s was the
endurance contest between companies of volunteer
firemen. In those days, firemen, and not horses,
pulled the fire cart. The first men to respond
to a fire bell began towing it toward the fire;
others dashed through the streets and took their
places inside a harness. As the men and their
cart gained speed, the slower runners released
their harnesses and got out of the way.
At the early state fairs firemen competed in
such events as coupling team trials, wet and dry
hose tests and hose cart and foot races. These
events became so popular, they drew contestants
Betting could reach $15,000 on an event, and the
outcome was a matter of civic pride.
W.T. McCreight, a former player with the St.
Louis Browns, organized
first baseball team. He also organized a
training club of boys called McCreight’s Colts.
baseball season was finished in the East when
the Territorial Fair opened,
major league players could be
recruited for $100 plus expenses. Sometimes they
formed a team to play exhibition games against
the Browns, and sometimes they joined the Browns
for games against rival towns.
Albuquerque’s arch rival
then was San Marcial, near Socorro. In 1894 the
San Marcial team lost its game and its bets and
had to walk home.
Albuquerque Dukes played in 1915. In 1931
the Albuquerque Dons became the city’s first
During the Depression,
Gov. Clyde Tingley secured federal WPA funding
to build bleachers and a 4,000-seat concrete
grandstand at the ballpark at 10th
in the Barelas Neighborhood.
When it opened in
1937, Branch Rickey, general manager of the St.
Louis Cardinals, had high praise for Tingley and
the Works Progress Administration. The
Albuquerque Cardinals then lost an exhibition
game to the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1938
the park was named Tingley Field.
Tingley Field had a capacity of 3,000 seats, but
often 5,000 fans overflowed the stadium. When
the batter hit a home run, he strolled along the
bleachers, and fans handed him money.
Cardinals were a farm club to the St. Louis
Cardinals from 1937 to 1941. During World
War II Tingley Field closed from 1942 until
1946. Baseball fans were entertained by semi-pro
clubs and Kirtland’s Flying Kellys, which
included major and minor league players.
In 1945 the team was sold and joined the West
Texas-New Mexico League, playing as the
Albuquerque Dukes until 1958. In 1954 a local
pitcher joined the team for a time: Pete
Baseball’s popularity waned in
in the early 1950s, and “Save the Dukes” became
a slogan by 1954. A local group bought the team,
and they continued to play ball, but they were
losing money. Farmington
oilman Tom Bolack assumed the team’s debts in
1956. Bolack negotiated a working arrangement
with the Cincinnati Reds in 1958, then the
Kansas City Athletics in 1960. In 1963 the Los
Angeles Dodgers bought the franchise from
Bolack, and the team became a Triple-A club.
They were renamed the Albuquerque Dodgers in
in Tingley Field until 1968 when the existing
stadium first opened.
bought the team from the Dodgers in 1979 and
sold it in March 2000 to a group in
The Dukes departed for good.
Bereft of their team
and convinced they needed a better stadium to
lure a new team,
voters in May 2001 approved general obligation
bonds to upgrade the stadium. Businessmen Ken
Young and Mike Koldyke acquired the Calgary
Cannons and moved them to
then signed an agreement with the Florida
2004 Triple-A baseball returned with completion
of an 18-month, $28.8 million renovation of the
stadium. Inspired by an episode of “The
Simpsons,” team owners chose to call their team
the Isotopes. The new
has a capacity of 13,000, up from 7,500
previously and is one of the finest stadiums in
the Pacific Coast League.
The Best of the Best
Owen Smaulding, who moved to
was named the most outstanding athlete in the
in 1915. He participated in track,
football, tennis, baseball and race-car driving.
In 1937 he managed a team called the Collegians
and later the St. Louis Blues, playing in the
Negro Baseball League. He alternated pitching
with Satchel Page.
first speed limit in 1908 was 8 miles an hour.
That didn’t keep automobile enthusiasts from
finding out who had the fastest vehicle.
In 1916 the state’s first distance car
race took place. The Albuquerque Automobile
Racing Association staged a race from
Gallup over a segment of
the National Old Trails system, the forerunner
of Route 66. It normally took 13 hours to drive
In that race Lloyd Cunningham, driving a
Maxwell, won in six hours, 53 minutes.
would gain a high profile in car racing from the
Unser family, who in the 1940s operated a
wrecking service at their Unser Garage on 7700
Central SW. Since
1964, either Al Unser, brother Bobby or Al Jr.
has been in every
500 except one. Al won four races, Bobby won
three, and Al Jr. won two.
The Unsers have
which features 28 of their race cars, plus other
memorabilia the family has collected and items
from other racers.
UNM started its football program in 1892,
three years after the school was founded. Back
then the team was called the University Boys.
They lost their first game on Oct. 7 to
by a score of 5-0.
In 1920 a UNM student journalist named
George S. Bryan suggested "Lobo" (Spanish for
“wolf”) as UNM's mascot. "The Lobo is respected
for his cunning, feared for his prowess, and is
the leader of the pack," he wrote in an
editorial in the
Oct. 1, 1920,
issue of the UNM student newspaper.
That was the same year Coach Roy Johnson
arrived at UNM. Johnson was a shot in the arm to
an otherwise lackluster athletic program. From
then until 1959, he coached football, basketball
and track, and his teams were winners. For his
huge impact Johnson Gym, built in 1957, was
named for him. In 1958 the first eight black
football players joined the team.
UNM has produced two
football stars: Halfback Don Perkins, later with
the Dallas Cowboys, who played during a winning
seven-season stretch (1958-64); and Brian
Urlacher, with the Chicago Bears.
University basketball players had posted
years of losses through the 1940s and 1950s.
Lobo Basketball as we know it today didn’t begin
until Bob King arrived in 1962 from
King brought a 6-foot-81/2-inch player named Ira
Harge, who would become one of the university’s
King quickly turned the team around, and
fans noticed. Tepid crowds of a few hundred
quickly grew to thousands and began filling
Johnson Gym. In 1966 UNM built University Arena,
fondly known as The Pit, saving money by
hollowing an arena out of the ground instead of
erecting it above ground, and 7,000 fans became
15,000 fans. Screaming, barking, howling fans.
Lobomania was born. In 1975 the university added
a mezzanine, expanding space for 18,000. And the
fans are still wild.
Bob King died in 2004 and was eulogized
as the architect of Lobo basketball.
Lady Lobos had an equally modest beginning.
Before New Mexico
was a state, UNM women had two basketball teams
– the Olympians and Gladiators. They played in
knee-length bloomers, heavy stockings and big
collars with bows.
In the 1970s, thanks
to Title IX, women’s sports began in earnest at
UNM. From the 1990s on, women's basketball,
under the guidance of coach Don Flanagan, took
off and has been nationally ranked in attendance
Boxing has long been
part of the city’s sports scene.
In 1897 the
first movie shown in
was of a fight
between boxers Bob Fitzsimmons and James Corbett
for the world championship.
Fighter Bobbie Foster had a
training gym in Albuquerque.
He won the world light heavyweight title in 1968
and kept it until he retired in 1974 with 56
wins, eight losses and one tie. In his time he
took on such daunting opponents as Joe Frazier
and Muhammad Ali. When he wasn’t boxing, Foster
was a Bernalillo County deputy sheriff.
For his weight, he
was one of the deadliest punchers in history.
In recent years,
Johnny Tapia is a five-time world champion.
Danny Romero is a three-time world champion.
Albuquerque’s first skier was probably
Charlotte Ellis, who in 1896 strapped on a pair
of skis crafted by her brother and set out in
the Sandias, where her father had a homestead.
The father of skiing as we know it is Bob
Nordhaus. Growing up in
Nordhaus had already spent time in the
mountains, but as a Yale student in the early
1930s, he came to appreciate the popularity of
skiing in the East. When he returned to
Albuquerque in 1935, he and his wife Virginia
skied by walking up slopes and sliding down. In
1936 he organized the Albuquerque Ski Club.
There was no ski area, no tow and nobody to
teach them the sport. Skis were wooden; rubber
from inner tubes held boots to skis.
That year the U.S. Forest Service built a
small warming hut and cleared a slope at Tree
Spring in the Sandias. Next the agency
established a system of trails, and La Madera
Ski Area was born.
In 1940 Nordhaus enlisted and, because of
his skiing experience, served in the famed 10th
Mountain Division. When he returned after the
war, in 1945, he started a rope tow at La
Madera. Lift tickets were $1. Nordhaus decided
to turn his hobby into a business and formed La
Madera Co. He bought the club’s assets, sold
stock, and built a T-bar lift that was the
longest in the nation.
But the weather didn’t cooperate, and it
wasn’t profitable for years.
In 1957 Ben Abruzzo became ski area
manager and a year later bought half the assets
from Nordhaus. Two years later the road to the
ski area was paved. In 1963 they added a
double-chair lift and a mountain-top restaurant
and changed the name of the ski area to
Notah Begay III is from
and learned to play at Ladera Golf Course. Half
Navajo and half
he’s the first Native American player to reach
top-ten status on the PGA. And he was the only
player who could putt equally well right-handed
Albuquerquean, Rosie Jones, won more than $4
million during her LPGA career.
Cathy Carr West and
Trent Dimas are
Olympic gold medalists. She won her gold in
swimming in 1972 at
he won his in gymnastics in 1992 at