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Parking Lot Series: The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs

The famous horse race “The Run for the Roses,” better known as the Kentucky Derby, has been a southern institution run in Lexington, Kentucky, since 1875. At that time a crowd of ten-thousand people attended the first race. In recent years a record-setting attendance of 170,513 racing fans packed the Churchill Downs track in 2015.

Today’s feature image taken at some point in the early-1950s shows one of the main parking lots located just outside of the track filled with hundreds of automobiles. The VIP section of this lot is visible in the lower far-left of the photo and for the most part, contains luxury cars that date back to the late-1930s.

Share with us what you find of interest here and date the photo by the newest automobiles in this scene. The “Atlanta Journal-Constitution” photograph by Kenneth Rogers is courtesy of the Georgia State University Library.

View a 1930s picture of the same Churchill Downs parking lot here on The Old Motor.


31 responses to “Parking Lot Series: The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs

  1. Photos taken probably no sooner than 1951, as I spot a `51 Mercury Monterey coupe with a light-colored vinyl top at the end of one row. Boy! The number of Caddys is almost overwhelming in this lot!

  2. Wonderful pictures! What a plethora of Americana.
    Can anyone say the make of the 5th car in the second row just past the post. Looks like a split rear window or a reflection. Resembles a ’53 chevy except for the back glass and the trunk emblem.

      • Happy to have the answer to this one, a ’48 Futuramic. I spent some time on trying to find a match to that rear window and was beginning to think it was a reflection.

  3. In the lead photograph, left of center in the foreground, facing the camera, is a four-door 1950 PACKARD [non-Custom model].

    In the same picture, in the row of cars starting from the lower right corner of the photograph, eleven cars back, is a four-door 1948 to ’50 PACKARD Custom.

  4. In the 2nd photograph are a lot of 1949 BUICK cars !!
    In the foreground is a dark four-door Super
    On the right, facing left, is a four-door Super [“above” this car two rows back is a 1950 BUICK Roadmaster]
    3rd row from the back, center right, is a 1950 STUDEBAKER Starlight Coupé flanked by two ’49 BUICK cars.

  5. In the 2nd picture, starting with the dark four-door 1949 BUICK Super in the foreground; in the row behind this Buick, nine cars back, is a 1952 PACKARD 300 Sedan [blocked in by a light colored FORD convertible with black top].

  6. Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Cadillacs galore. Even Packhards and Studebakers were there but does anyone see a Lincoln? I didn’t. Strange.

  7. The large Limo, bottom right in first picture, next to the Ford woodie, seems to be a 1939/40 Cadillac V-16 Fleetwood Formal Sedan.

  8. Again with the Cadillacs! Terrific shots, love it! Plenty of high end cars too, in addition to my favorite marque–Imperials, Packards, lots of Buicks.
    I also see Nashes and Studebakers, Pontiacs, you name it. Great post, and oh all those Caddies!

  9. A pair of two-toned 1949 Coupe Devilles parked to the left and just ahead of the four people walking toward the camera. What are the odds of this being a random happening given the rarity of this distinctive body style (only 2150 ever produced)?

  10. It’s 1951 for sure. There’s a YouTube video titled “Count Turf, 1951” (the winner that year) that shows this parking lot scene at about the 10 second mark.

  11. Arms of steel. Just think of all those cars parked in parallel with no power steering (except for the VIP stuff). Not having diagonal parking slots makes it much harder to get in and out. I know from experience as all of my cars except one were manual. However, it does look like folks took some care in parking as there seems to be plenty of room for entry and egress between cars, except for that Studebaker and another UI (on both sides of the convertible) in the row above the woodies!

    • Guess I am a bit wrong on the PS stuff. Chrysler introduced PS in 1951 Imperials and Caddilac in 1952, so not sure how many of the VIP cars would have it in this photo. Of course, if you drove a 1940’s surplus armored car, you probably had that luxury as Bendix supplied them during the war.

  12. I am impressed by the large number of wood bodied station wagons here too. Great for visits to the ranch! Closest to lens in VIP area is a 1941 Ford or Mercury (first year for Merc) sandwiched between the giant black Cad limo and other nice cars. Lots of variety including a nice early 1950s metal roof Mopar wagon too parked further back and slightly to right. It is remarkable to see a 1941 wagon in this crowd, it was probably a really nicely kept car. I love all the fine post-war and early “new car designs” of this era.

    I suspect many of the Caddies were commerical limos or chauffered private luxury rides for “proper” fashionable arrival and no worries to the VIP attendees regarding parking lot miseries and long unsecured walk with all their betting money and winnings (cash).

    Way out back and just a little to right of center I think I see a DeSoto extended wheel base livery vehicle (7 pass sedan?) with roof rack (hotel shuttle perhaps) between the ’49 Ford and the ’47 Ford.

    I see only one bus (Flxible maybe?) in center way out back near a shack.

    The giant lot appears to be mostly above grade compared to street level residences to right and grassy grounds to left (back a ways). Not too much scenery visibile from this view except for some large hills way off in distance.

    I also see a ’49-’50 Chev 4 door police car with large roof top red light and fender mounted siren just back of Cad sedan and to rear of ’50 Merc coupe. No markings on door, must be an “unmarked” police car (no one likely to know it is a police car, hah!”). I bet there are two officers sitting in it (window is rolled down) providing a bit of security for those walking back to their cars later on with cash winnings in their pockets and purses.

    Bet they had the two-way radio on to monitor any calls and probably had to have the old stove-bolt idling to keep battery up.

    Very interesting photo from the not too distant past.

  13. This has got to be Big Shot parking section!
    And I don’t think folks get quite as dressed up today on Derby Day as back then.

    • Actually a lot of people still dress up for the Derby, except for the proles in the infield. Nearly all of the men in the grandstands/club house area wear shirts and ties, and, usually, a sports jacket. The women wear dresses or skirts; nearly everyone, man and woman, wears some type of hat. When the horses for the Derby walk from the stable area to the paddock to be saddled they are typically accompanied by not only the owners and trainers but assorted wives, girl friends and children. It is always amusing to watch well dressed people slog through the mud; you will often see women take off their shoes and walk barefooted through the muck.

  14. The conspicuous lack of Packards present relative to Cadillacs, Buicks and Oldsmobiles, even Chryslers, is indicative of the loss of prestige reputation and therefore popularity among upscale buyers. Lincoln seems also to have been suffering the same situation. A Cosmopolitan sport sedan is in the right-hand row, tenth car up next to a Cadillac 75.

  15. Fourth row from left: 1947 Studebaker Commander, possibly the Land Cruiser model with longer rear doors with vent glasses. Twenty cars farther up in same row is another light colored Stude sedan.

  16. The conspicuous lack of Packards in concentration at this prestigious event versus Olds, Buicks and especially Cadilacs, even Chryslers, is indicative of the marque’s loss of prestige appeal by the early 1950’s. Lincolns were also scarce too, only a Cosmopolitan appears in the far left row, tenth car up next to a Cadillac 75.

  17. I’m very curious what the greenish colored car is that is two cars further down the second row from the previously identified ’48 Olds Futurama. That would make it the seventh car in the second row. If it moved a foot forward it would crunch the driver’s frond fender of the Chrysler woodie wagon. It is a fast back and seems to have fins with roundish tailights protruding off the top edge of each fin…

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