The main event of the Grand Prix Jamboree was a precision-driving event. Race cars from all over the country and Canada were invited to participate. The downtown area of Portage was blocked off so the cars could use that part of Central Avenue as a racetrack. Pylons were placed in specified locations to create an obstacle course, emphasizing handling skill rather than speed. The first year of the race more than 150 cars entered the event. There was a full range of imported and domestic cars, sedans, and race cars. Bleachers were temporarily erected in front of City Hall for spectators.
The Grand Prix didn't just have racing. More than 30 non-profit organizations set up concession stands in the Portage Mall area. There was also a large flea market. Merchants in the Mall even held a "Midnight Madness" promotion with such events as a disco contest.
Problems with money, sponsorship, insurance regulations, and decreased participation forced the Jamboree in 1994 to switch to go-kart racing instead of autocross in an effort to save the Jamboree. At the time, go-kart racing was an up-and-coming motorsport and it was believed that its popularity would boost attendance and participation. The same problems continued to plague the Jamboree for several years, however, no one knowing from one year to the next whether or not there would even be another Jamboree.
In 1997, the committee that oversaw the Jamboree activities announced that there would be another Grand Prix in 1998--even setting a date. Their plans fell through. After 18 years as the main festival in the city of Portage, the Grand Prix Jamboree was history.
All photos and clippings courtesy of the Portage Public Library history files. If you would like to see these files, please ask at the Reference Desk.
Park, Museum, Buildings
History of Portage
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Created by Donna Smith for the Portage Community Historical Society
First Posted Oct. 19, 2005. Last Updated Mar.11, 2010.
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