Event Program: 2023 Portland SpeedTour

Destination: Portland

The Northwest Passages

Portland International Raceway is just 7 miles from downtown Portland, one of the hippest, laid-back cities in America. I’m not an expert on Portland’s ever-changing “scene” – I can’t tell you which West End bar is trendiest this week or where to shop, but can assure you that if you venture out, you will find something interesting in and around Portland International Raceway.

First things first. There are over 200 hotels in the greater Portland area, including all the usual suspects. If you’re looking for something a little more upscale and interesting, take a look at the modern Marriott Portland Downtown Waterfront (www. marriott.com, 503-226-7600), the historic 1909 Sentinel (www. sentinelhotel.com, 503-224-3400), the chic boutique Kimpton Hotel Monaco (www.monaco-portland.com, 503-222-0001), eastside contemporary Hotel Eastlund (www.hoteleastlund. com, 503-235-2100) or upscale riverfront boutique Rivers Edge Hotel (www.riversedgehotel.com, 503-802-5800). 

If you’d like to splurge a little and don’t mind a 30 mile drive to the track, the Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg, OR is a favorite romantic get-away for well-heeled locals. It’s not cheap, but very special (www.theallison.com, 503-554-2525).

Thanks to innumerable trips up and down the Pacific Coast Highway and a once-in-a-lifetime adventure financed by Popular Mechanics during which I used a Honda- powered outboard bay boat to follow the route of Lewis and Clark from St. Louis on the Mississippi to Fort Clatsop on the Pacific Ocean—up the Missouri, down the Snake then down the Columbia—I do know something about the spectacular scenery and fascinating history to be found within 100 miles of Portland.

If, like most vintage racers, you not only like cars but boats, airplanes, motorcycles, watches and guns—anything that moves and makes noise—there are two cool machines to see near Portland that you can’t see anywhere else. The first is PT- 658, one of only 11 World War II PT boats left and the only one that’s both authentically restored and still running. PT-658 is berthed at Swan Island, in the Willamette River, just 5 miles from Portland Raceway. There are tours between 9 am and 4 pm Monday, Thursday and Saturday. To find out more, go to www.savetheptboatinc.com, e-mail ptboat658@gmail.com or call 503-286-3083.

The other unique machine is 40 miles southwest of Portland in McMinnville, OR. This is Howard Hughes famous 1947 H-4 Hercules, better known as the Spruce Goose. Still the aircraft with the largest wingspan ever built—321 feet—this giant transport was assembled almost entirely of birch wood and flew only once. It’s been completely restored and now rests in the Evergreen Aviation Museum along with many other historic aircraft including an SR-71 Blackbird, B-17, P-38, P-40, Spitfire Mk XVI, ME 262 and MIG-17A. The museum is open almost every day from 9 am to 5 pm. For more information: (www.evergreenmuseum.org, 503-435-4180).

If you can spare an extra day or two to look around the greater Portland area, I suggest two spectacular drives; one to the mountains, one to the sea. Start by heading out of Portland on US 26. Follow 26 all the way to its intersection with Route 35, just after the mountain town of Government Camp. Marvelously twisty Route 35 will take you around scenic Mount Hood, then North to the town of Hood River on the Columbia. Cross the bridge to Washington State and turn West on Route 14.

Route 14 will bring you to the Washington Shore Visitor Center at Bonneville Lock and Dam (www.nwp.usace.army. mil, 541-374-8344). Built by WPA and finished in 1938,  this National Historic Landmark is fascinating, whether you’re into vast views, huge machinery or leaping salmon. From Bonneville, Route 14 follows the Columbia all the way to Vancouver, WA, across the river from Portland. Take either I-205 or I-5, and you’ll be quickly back to Portland Raceway or downtown Portland.

For a longer, even more scenic drive, hop onto US 30 just West of Portland. Follow 30 North to Scappoose, OR, where you can exit onto the Scappoose- Vernonia Highway. This will twist and turn over the mountains and eventually T-junction into Route 47/Nehalem Highway North.  At the town of Mist, Route 47 changes its name to the Mist-Clatskanie Highway. Follow it all the way to a T-junction with US 30 at Clatskanie. Of course, you can also just stay on Route 30 and skip the mountainous twisty bits. In either case, follow 30 West along the Columbia River to the fishing village of Astoria, where the Columbia River meets the O’ Mighty Hulking Pacific Ocean.

Bonneville Dam 

From Astoria, take US 101 North across the bridge to Washington, and then follow it from there to the cute waterfront fishing village of Ilwaco. Hint: the local specialty is Pacific Oysters!

From Ilwaco, take a few minutes to follow Route 100 South to Cape Disappointment State Park, the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. The scenery is breathtaking. Historical Footnote: Cape Disappointment was named in 1788 by English ship captain John Meares, who sailed past the mouth of the Columbia River and got lost. He was disappointed. You won’t be.

Once back in Ilwaco, follow Highway 101 South to Astoria, then across Youngs Bay. Follow signs to the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, also known as Fort Clatsop. Despite its rustic appearance set in the midst of seemingly ancient forest, reconstructed Fort Clatsop dates only to 2007.

From Fort Clatsop, head South on 101 through Sunset Beach and Seaside to Cannon Beach. When you see those beautiful photos of the Oregon Coast with igneous rocks sticking out the sea, they most likely show Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach. Cannon Beach is Portland’s equivalent of The Hamptons, where locals have their weekend beach houses.

If you’re short for time, US 26 will take you from Cannon Beach directly back to Portland. If you can, follow 101 along the coast to Tillamook, and then take Route 6 over the mountains to Banks where you can intersect 26 on the way back to Portland. Even better, stay on 101 all the way to Otis, then take Route 18 East. This will take you to McMinnville to see the Spruce Goose, then connect to 99W to Newberg and Allison Inn on the way back to Portland. Assuming your significant other has been patient while you look at hydroelectric plants, PT boats, reconstructed forts and obsolete airplanes—not to mention a weekend of noisy vintage race cars—you can reward her with an afternoon at the Allison Inn Spa, a grand dinner with a bottle of local Willamette Valley wine and overnight in the lap of luxury. Who knows what nice things might happen?