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Drag Strip List

A Comprehensive Encyclopedia

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CALIFORNIA

Alameda "Drag Strip" (1931)
Goleta Airport (Santa Barbara) (1948)
Buchanan Field Airport (Concord) (1949)
Salinas Municipal Airport (1949)
​Sky Park Airport (Scott's Valley) (1949)
​Maricopa "Drag Strip" (1950)
Santa Ana Blimp Base (Tustin) (1950)
Santa Ana Drag Strip (1950)
Tracy "Drag Strip" (1950)
Bakersfield Drag Strip/Famoso (1951)
Fontana Airstrip/Airport (1951)
Hammer Airfield/Fresno Air Terminal (1951)
Kingdon Drag Strip (Lodi) (1951)
​Oakland Stadium Speedway (San Leandro) (1951)
Paradise Mesa Drag Strip (San Diego) (1951)
Santa Maria Dragway (1951)
Saugus Field (Newhall) (1951)
Pomona Drag Strip (1952)
Samoa Drag Strip (Eureka) (1952)
Tidelands Circuit (San Carlos) (1952)
Colton/Morrow Drag Strip (1954)
Inyokern Drag Strip (1954)
Madera Airport (1954)
Visalia Airport (1954)
Willow Springs Race Course (1954)
Winters Airstrip (1954)
Little Bonneville Drag Strip (San Jose) (1955)
Long Beach Associated/Lions Drag Strip (1955)
Minter Field Air Base (Bakersfield) (1955)
Redding Dragstrip (1955)
San Fernando Drag Strip/Raceway (1955)
Ventura "Drag Strip" (1955)
San Gabriel Valley Drag Strip (Baldwin Park) (1956)
Santa Rosa/Cotati Drag Strip (1956)
Vacaville Drag Strip (1956)
Half Moon Bay Drag Strip (1957)
Holtville Airstrip (1957)
Riverside International Motor Raceway (1957)
San Luis Obispo "Drag Strip" (1957)
California State Fairgrounds (Sacramento) (1958)
Gardner Field/Taft Drag Strip (1958)
Vaca Valley Raceway (Vacaville) (1958)
Antelope Valley Drag Strip (Palmdale) (1959)
​Dinuba "Drag Strip" (1959)
Fremont Drag Strip (1959)
Hourglass Field (San Diego) (1959)
San Jose Reid-Hillview Airport (1950s)
Mojave Airport (1960)
Oroville Drag Strip (1960)
Fontana Raceway (1961)
San Gabriel Drag Strip (Irwindale) (1961)
Fresno Dragways (Raisin City) (1962)
Marchbanks Speedway (Hanford) (1962)
Bishop Drag Strip (1963)
Ramona Drag Strip/San Diego Raceway (1963)
Vina Raceway (1963)
Carlsbad Raceway (1964)
Palmdale International Raceway (1964)
Sacramento Raceway Park (1964)​
​Irwindale Raceway (1965)
Marysville Drag Strip (Yuba City) (1968)
Porterville Municipal Airport (1968)
Golden State Raceway (Santa Maria) (1969)
Indio Drag Strip (1960s)
Santa Ynez Airport (1960s)
Champion Speedway (Brisbane) (1970)
Ontario Motor Speedway (1970)
Coachella Valley Drag Strip (Thermal) (1971)
Oxnard Air Force Base (1971)
Vernalis Speedway (1971)
Manzanar Drag Strip (Lone Pine) (1972)
High Desert Raceway (Adelanto) (1975)
Brotherhood Raceway Park (Terminal Island) (1976)
Norton Drags (1993)
Rialto Raceway (1995)
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Goleta Airport drag strip. Photographer unknown.

Alameda "Drag Strip"

 
Don Jensen, a DSL reader who first started drag racing in California in 1950, interviewed Jack Hagemann (1916-2009) in 2007 about the early years of drag racing. Jack told him about drag racing that happened in Alameda from 1931-33. Jensen wrote DSL: "A paved road ran west from Webster St. to what became Naval Air Station. The Oakland auto club ran drags there, no timing or classes. They were not bothered by cops as it was private property!"
Did you race here? Tell us about it.
CLICK HERE to see present location on a map

Antelope Valley Drag Strip ​​(Palmdale)

  • Years of Operation: 1959
  • Status:  Exact location unknown
 
In late June 1959, Ira Mahoney won top eliminator in what appears to be an all-cycle drag race. He was racing his fuel-injected blown Triumph A/F bike, turning 10.46 seconds with 121.72 MPH. M. H. Kibbe of Lancaster had top speed of the event with a 123.47 MPH run. This track held NHRA-sanctioned races conducted by the Optimist Club and Antelope Valley Timing Association  on the fourth Sunday.
Did you race here? Tell us about it.

Bakersfield Drag Strip (Famoso)

  • Years of Operation: 1951-present
 
The Bakersfield Smokers Timing Association conducted the first 1/4-mile drag race on September 9, 1951. In the first season, drag races were held 25 miles south of Bakersfield on Highway 99 to Mettler Station, then seven miles west on the Maricopa Cutoff.  This first season's location was southwest of Bakersfield. In the second season, they moved racing to the present location, which was then sixteen miles north of Bakersfield off the Porterville Highway on Famoso Road. In the early years, races were held bi-monthly. The landing strip was especially appealing for drag racing because of its expanse. Among the growing number of drag strips in Southern California, it was reportedly the "widest and cleanest." Early entry fees were 60 cents for spectators and $1-$2 for race vehicles. Race events during the first year of operation regularly attracted 100 racers and over 2,000 spectators. Class winners received trophies and savings bonds. Ernie Hashim was a frequent winner in the early years. In 1953 races were regularly held on the first Sunday of each month. The inaugural March Meet race was first held on March 6-7, 1954. It was called the West Coast Championship Drag Races. Eight thousand spectators watched Tony Waters take the top eliminator prize in his GMC-powered roadster. The Bean Bandits from San Diego sold one of their race cars (less engine) to donate money to benefit the Crippled Children's Fund.  On November 6-7, 1954, another 2-day event was held called the Pacific Coast Drag Race Championships. In 1955, they held the two-day event again, seen by 6,000 spectators, calling it the California Championship. Over the years, five drivers have died in accidents at Bakersfield, the first occurring on December 1, 1957. Howard Stamp was killed when his throttle stuck while trying to slow down from a 157 MPH run. He tried to do a broadside skid, but his car overturned. Another early casualty was Sunnyvale's Jay Cheatham, who was killed in a fatal accident during the first U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships on March 1, 1959. Cheatham had been a frequent winner at Northern California drag strips over the course of several years. Bill Crossley, driving Ernie Hashim's dragster, ripped off a strip-record 170.45 MPH run on August 3, 1958, becoming the "first man in the history of western drag strip racing to reach the 170 mph mark." (Bakersfield Californian, Aug. 4, 1958) Of course, Don Garlits had set a national record in June 1958 at Kissimmee with a clocking of 171.42 MPH, but West Coast racers were dubious. On December 7, 1958, Glen Ward set a world record for gas dragsters in the twin-engined Howard Cam Special, with an aggregate best of 9.10 seconds and 166.06 MPH. Bill Crossley took top eliminator and matched his strip record with a 170.45 MPH run. On January 4, 1959, Art Chrisman set a new track record in the Chrisman-Cannon dragster with a run of 174.41 MPH and 8.77 ET.
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October 7, 1951
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November 1, 1953
Did you race here? Tell us about it.
CLICK HERE to see first location on a map
CLICK HERE to see present location on a map
CLICK HERE to listen to 1977 commercial radio spot for U. S. Fuel and Gas Championships at Bakersfield, pan to the 2 minute mark to listen to Steve Evans
CLICK HERE to see a clip of Al Teague talking with Ed Iskendarian on the occasion of the latter's 95th birthday, part 1
CLICK HERE to see a clip of Al Teague talking with Ed Iskendarian on the occasion of the latter's 95th birthday, part 2
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of the first U. S. Fuel and Gas Championships at Bakersfield in March 1959, 10 minutes, no sound
CLICK HERE to see  video footage of the top fuel finals at 1966  U. S. Fuel and Gas Championships at Bakersfield, 59 seconds
CLICK HERE to see video created by Dean Papadeas and announced by Bobby Doerrer at 1987 U. S. Fuel and Gas Championships at Bakersfield, 51:55 minutes
CLICK HERE to see  8mm video footage of Bakersfield, mid-1960s, starts at 24:55 mark of clip

Bishop Drag Strip

 
NHRA sanctioned drag races in Bishop in 1963.  It was listed as one of 325 U.S. drag strips in 1968 in an issue of the Swedish magazine Start & Strip .  Races, held on second Sundays of the month, were undoubtedly held at the circa 1940 airport located two miles east of Bishop. Jim Dominique, one of the founders of a later iteration of Bishop Drag Strip, dated that beginning as 1974, under NHRA sanction.
Did you race here? Tell us about it.
CLICK HERE to see location on a map

Brotherhood Raceway Park (Terminal Island)

 
Terminal Island was a sand-filled, man-made island in Long Beach Harbor. A civilian air field (called Allen Field) was built on the island in 1927. It soon was taken over by the military and in 1936, was designated as Naval Air Base San Pedro/Reeves Field. With the help of Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, "Big Willie" Robinson (1942-2012) established legal drag racing on the old airfield.  "Big Willie" was an imposing presence at 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds. He organized the Brotherhood of Street Racers, which paid $1,000 a month to use the old airfield. They charged $5 admission. During its history, the track operated as a quarter-mile, 1000-foot, 1/8th-mile, and closed as a quarter-mile track in 1995.  John Snapp recalled, “The Brotherhood Raceway Park actually opened in December 1976.  I used to run my Camaro there. It was run and operated by Big Willie and the Brotherhood of Street Racers. “It was used for drag-racing until 1984. Due to disputes with the property owner they never had a regular schedule, they were only allowed so many race dates per year. Between 1984-93 it was never used for racing. It became a full-time track in late 1993 and closed for good in April 1995.” Alfred Henandez went to the raceway when he was young. He fondly remembered, "Best drag racing atmosphere ever. Open late. ATV's, motorcycles, foot races, lawn mowers, pretty much anything that goes forward. Betting hot dogs in between runs. This place was like something out of a movie. I was very young, but i still remember this place."
Did you race here? Tell us about it.
CLICK HERE to see location on a map
CLICK HERE to see Discovery Channel's ​Amazing America TV program about Big Willie's Brotherhood Raceway Park, 7:44 minutes
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1994 aerial view of Brotherhood Raceway Park drag strip on Terminal Island

Buchanan Field Airport (Concord)

 
On Sunday, November 20, 1949, the MG Car Club held drag races, which they then referred to as acceleration tests, on a perimeter stretch of road at the Contra Costa County Airport, aka Buchanan Field. The drag races were a part of a  rally which also included road races on a 3-mile course set up on a perimeter road around the airport.
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CLICK HERE to see location on a map
 
Located seven miles east of Highway 101 on Palomar Airport Road, this NHRA-sanctioned track opened for racing on November 15, 1964. Danny Ongais beat Dick Lechien to take top fuel eliminator with a 7.62 time at 200.00 MPH. Ongais developed a reputation as the "Terror of Carlsbad Raceway" during its first year of operation as he was a frequent winner. In April 1965, Ongais set the track record with a 209.78 MPH run. J. S. "Sandy" Belond and Larry Grismer were the owners. Jim Nelson was the racing manager. The golden years for Carlsbad were the 1960s, as the strip stopped holding major match races in the early 1970s. The last drag race was held on August 8, 2004, closing a forty year chapter in Southern California drag racing history. Don Prudhomme , who attended the strip's last race, said, ""I think it's one of those places that will never be forgotten. Racers had to go there. And for fans of drag racing and motocross, it became a place of the mind as well as a spot on the map."  Prudhomme reflected on the old days of making the tow to race at Carlsbad:  "It was quite a trip back then. I-5 wasn't finished yet. And Carlsbad wasn't easy to get to or access. It was way out in the boonies. But it was one of the first Southern California drag strips and became sort of a must stop for some of the bigger names of the day. Carlsbad would put up $500 show-up fees and invite drivers for match races. I raced Don Garlits there and Tom McEwen. And Danny Ongais was the track's hometown star." Prudhomme's 2004 visit was nostalgic for the old racer:  "The strip hadn't changed at all,. It was still a classic 1960s drag strip." And therein lay one of the reasons for its demise. It didn't change to meet the times. Capital improvements were not made to meet the challenge of the increasing speeds of the sport. "Back then, safety wasn't a priority, the cars weren't as fast and the crowds weren't as big," said Prudhomme. "As the sport took off on all three fronts, strips like Carlsbad were replaced. I mean, when I looked at Carlsbad, there it was . . . the end of the drag strip went up a hill into a dead end. I think I ran into that a couple of times." The site of the old drag strip is now an industrial and business park.

Carlsbad Raceway

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Advertisement in Drag News, Jan. 12, 1967. Courtesy of Mel Bashore
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Did you race here? Tell us about it.
CLICK HERE to see location on a map
CLICK HERE to listen to old commercial radio spot for Carlsbad Raceway, 45 seconds
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Carlsbad Raceway, 1960s-1970s, 2:13 minutes, no sound/music only
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2002 aerial view of Carlsbad Raceway

Champion Speedway (Brisbane)

 
Jim McLennan built an NHRA-sanctioned 1/8th-mile strip next to his dirt oval track south of Candlestick Park in the Bay Area. It was constructed on the site of an old landfill or dump. Steve Evans was the general manager and announcer. The first drag races were held at least by November 1970.  A grudge drag race, likely the very first drag race at the track, was held on Saturday night, November 7, 1970. A good history of Jim McLennan dates the track's beginnings to 1967, but newspaper articles at the time show that 1970 was when the track opened. The first big race at Champion was scheduled on Saturday, November 28, 1970, with a featured match race between Don Garlits and Don Prudhomme. Unfortunately it was rained out, so it was rescheduled for December 5, 1970. Although the track opened with a big splash, the staple of racing were weekly grudge and bracket racing events. One drawback was the biting  cold temperature and winds by its bay location. One old timer recalled, "It got so cold you would 'chug' an ice cold Coke in hopes it would feel like your throat was burning and you would be warm for about two seconds." It is now an industrial area.
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CLICK HERE to see location on a map

Coachella Valley Drag Strip (Thermal)

 
This NHRA-sanctioned track ran on a runway of the Thermal Airport, now called Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport.
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CLICK HERE to see location on a map

Colton/Morrow Drag Strip

 
Preparation was begun in 1954 to hold quarter-mile drag races at Morrow Field, which was originally built in about 1942. The black-topped airstrip was located about a mile west of Colton, just off old Valley Boulevard. It was 60 feet wide and 3,200 feet long, a single northeast/southwest runway. $12,000 was expended on improvements on the original airstrip to ready it for drag racing. On May 15, 1955, the Southern California Regional Championship Drag Races were held. The event was supervised and sanctioned by NHRA and sponsored by the Argonaut Club Timing Association, operators of the strip. The strip installed elapsed time clocks in about October 1955. On October 15-16, 1955, they held a two-day race to celebrate the first anniversary of the strip. On May 5, 1957, Emery Cook set an unofficial world record of 168.85 MPH in the Cook & Bedwell dragster at the Morrow Drag Strip. On June 15, 1957, they held their first night race. At the 1957 fall championship open fuel and gas meet, Ted Cyr in the Cyr and Hopper dragster turned in the fastest gas clocking with a 134.93 MPH. Twenty-one track records were broken over the Labor Day weekend in 1958. Dallas Martinson took top eliminator in his Chrysler fuel dragster and set a new track record with 8.89 seconds and top speed mark of 164.80 MPH. On September 5-7, 1959, Colton held the fifth annual Labor Day championship drag meet. For the first time anywhere, they staged a 3/16th-mile drag race event. They continued to hold 3/16th-mile races in October 1959. On October 10, 1959, Hayden Proffitt took top gas eliminator in his C/D with a 9.18 ET and 119.20 MPH in the 3/16th mile. The strip was sanctioned by NHRA from at least 1955 through 1960. One old timer recalled running at Colton:  "Colton was a fairly short track. If you ran off the end, you went up a hill and over it, into a cemetary. Happened to me once." The golf course built by airport founder Howard Morrow still exists on the southeast portion of the former airport property, but visible remnants of the runway have been obliterated by development. On June 16, 1963, Mike Snively, driving the Scotty's Muffler fuel dragster, set a new track speed record with a run of 184.04 MPH. A few weeks before he had set the ET record with 8.22 seconds. Snively kept upping the track record in C. W. Scott's car. On September 29, 1963, he ran 186.54 MPH.
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September 5-6, 1954
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Did you race here? Tell us about it.
CLICK HERE to see location on a map
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October 15-16, 1955
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Colton Drag Strip in 1962, 10 minutes, no sound
Colton Drag Strip, ​ 1963 topo map
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Colton Drag Strip, ​​ 1959 aerial photo

Dinuba "Drag Strip"

  • Years of Operation: 1959
  • Status:  Exact location unknown
 
Very little is known about the drag races held at a course in 
Dinuba. There was a race held on Sunday, January 18, 1959.  Carl Rollins won the A Roadster class in his "Tinker Toy" with a 13.86 ET and 109.45 MPH. More research is needed.
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Fontana Airstrip/Airport

 
The Choppers car club of Pomona conducted drag races on this airstrip possibly as early as 1950, but at least by 1951.  They stopped racing there when the Pomona Drag Strip began operation in 1952. High winds were a contirbuting factor in racing ending also. The airstrip was active by at least the early 1930s. It was used as a night training field for Cal Aero Cadets during World War II. It had two very wide, but short, parallel runways. It became known as Gilfillan Airport in the 1950s. There is no trace of the former airport as a housing development is on the site, located southeast of the intersection of South Highland Avenue and Beach Avenue.
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Did you race here? Tell us about it.
CLICK HERE to see location on a map
1951
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1994 aerial view of Gilfillan Airport

Fontana Raceway


More research needs to be done on the early history of this popular drag strip. There are numerous sources (for example, see Inland Valley Daily Bulletin article or various blogs ) that date the first running of this drag strip to 1955 without giving the sources for that date. What is needed is solid historical research  to confirm that early dating. Research for this encyclopedia in old newspapers has only found documentation to races in 1961 and later, not earlier. In early March 1961, the Bayer & Freitas AA/D turned 178.18 MPH. The track was sanctioned by AHRA in 1961. Dean Brown was the president of Fontana. On September 16, Don Garlits ran at Fontana, his only West Coast appearance in 1961. He established the track record with a run of 8.59 seconds and 191.48 MPH. On September 9, ten of the fastest fuelers were invited to determine which racers would get to run against Garlits.  Garlits came out victorious. Don Rackemann was the strip manager in 1963. The track record at that time was 197 MPH. In June 1964, Mickey Thompson bought the strip and renamed it Fontana International Raceway.  One old timer recalled, "I remember that the shutoff was not well lit during night races."
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November 23, 1963
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Drag Racing Magazine, May 1964. Courtesy of Mel Bashore
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Fontana Raceway, ​​​​ 1969 topo map
Fontana Raceway, ​​​​ 1966 aerial photo
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Fontana Raceway in 1962, 10 minutes, no sound
CLICK HERE to see video footage of a field of 64 top fuel cars at Fontana Drag City in 1965, 9:14 minutes
CLICK HERE to see what is on the site of old Fontana Drag City today (2015), 3:57 minutes

Fremont Drag Strip

  • Years of Operation: 1959-88
  • Status:  4
 
In late February 1959, crop duster Roland H. Lawrence and four others made application to the Fremont Planning Commission to buld a drag strip and airport near the Nimitz Freeway between Warm Springs and Irvington. It was on the site of a World War II Navy auxiliary landing strip associated with Moffett Naval Air Station. They proposed spending $400,000 to build a 3,500 foot airport runway and a 3,800 foot drag strip. Lawrence had experience as the owner-operator of an airport. The strip was located off the Grimmer Boulevard turnoff, twelve miles north of San Jose and fifteen miles south of Hayward. In today's terms, it was in the quadrant just south of the intersection of Interstate 880 and Auto Mall Parkway in what is now a retail shopping area. Their application was approved and the strip had its first race on June 21, 1959, with 1,500 people in attendance. At that race, the unblown Chrysler-engined B/D of Gibbs Engineering got top eliminator with a 141 MPH run.  Al Hubbard's C dragster garnered top speed with 157.29 MPH run. The grand opening was held the following week on June 28, 1959. Top eliminator went to the Gareth Bros. of Altadena in a blown Chrysler dragster with a 8.42 ET and 173.48 MPH. On November 22 Chris Karamesines ran 176.81 MPH in his A/FD on his first West Coast appearance. On November 29, Yeiji Toyota, a popular racer, died following a horrible crash in his record-holding B/FD. The racing year ended in 1959 with Bobby Langley bringing his Scorpion A/FD from Texas to a December 6 event. He garnered low ET of the meet. On February 21, 1960, Hank Vincent set a new national record in B/FD in his "Top Banana" dragster with a 171.42 MPH clocking. On March 20, 1960, 12,000 people saw Art Malone, driving Don Garlits's car, copped top eliminator and set a new world top speed mark with a 187.10 MPH run. Running his Speed Sport A/MR, Lyle Fisher set a new national record on April 10, 1960, clocking 175.78 MPH in 8.95 seconds. On October 1, 1961, Don Prudhomme set a world elapsed time mark of 8.22 seconds in his Kent Fuller fuel dragster at the Northern California Fuel and Gas Championships. Glenn Leasher drove Romeo Palimedes's jet dragster to a worlds record of 207.36 MPH in 6.59 seconds on April 29, 1962. In a freak accident, Frances Irene Cabanyog, a ticket taker at the strip, was crushed to death when she fell under the wheels of a race car trailer. In 1965, Ron Lawrence, owner/manager of Fremont Drag Strip, applied to the city of Fremont to convert the 120 acre site to an 18-hole golf course. Fortunately for the fate of the drag strip, the Fremont Planning Commission deemed that the drag strip would have to pay for the cost of building certain needed roads on the property. Because of this decision, Ron Lawrence said, "I guess we'll be in the drag racing business a little longer than we anticipated." But in July 1965, those problems were resolved and the city planning commission issued a permit to Lawrence to build a golf course in place of the drag strip. In early 1969, general manager Ron Miller disappeared, leaving thousands of dollars in unpaid bills and salaries in his wake. Promoters Jim McLennan and Don Smith were left to try to salvage the mess, which they did. In about 1976, the name was changed to Baylands Raceway.   Neil Burkhart reported, "Baylands Raceway closed in 1989. I was at the last drags. Southern Pacific immediately chopped furrows across the strip to keep folks from breaking in and dragging illegally.
You can see them in the aerial photos. The snafu in the business deal for the area was this: the City of Fremont had agreed to put in $3 million toward the redevelopment cost of the new business park.
The Southern Pacific and the developers, after everything had been closed down, did a change-up and wanted the city to pay half the redevelopment costs (more like $9 million). The city backed out, investors backed out - no airport, no drags, no business.
Everybody lost."
 
 
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1959
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March 9-10, 1963
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Fremont Drag Strip in 1962, 3 minutes, no sound
Did you race here? Tell us about it.
CLICK HERE to see location on a map
CLICK HERE to see a clip from a 1979 made-for-TV movie called "Hot Rod" showing racing at Baylands, 4:30 minutes
CLICK HERE to listen to old radio commercial spot for Fremont Drag Strip, 1:04 minutes
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Fremont Raceway, ​ 1960 aerial view
Fremont Raceway, ​​ 1975 topo map

Fresno Dragways (Raisin City)

 
J. C."Jake" Andresen built Fresno Dragways in 1962 on his farm. His son, Don, was the promoter for a short while.  The strip reportedly cost $100,000 to build. Andresen leased the strip to Blackie Gajeian in 1968. He managed and promoted the races until Andresen sold the strip to rancher M. L. Fries in 1974. H. L. "Jake" Jacobs managed the strip for Andresen until 1968. The  California State championship drag races were conducted on June 9-10, 1962, This was an AHRA event.  Over 300 entries were expected to race for $2000 in cash  prizes. The first races were held in April 1962, with trophies awarded to class winners. On September 30, 1962, the West Coast Region Championships were held. A few of the pre-entered cars included  the Warren-Coburn-Warren dragster from Bakersfield and Dragmaster Dart. Earlier in September, the Hylton-Crossley-Williams A/FD set the strip record with a run of 8.38 seconds at 185.18 MPH.  Racer Dave Rocha remembered:  "I went to Rasin City many times and raced an A Altered T-roadster owned by Joey Alves. We used my 23 T-roadster pick-up as a push car. We'd come out of the top end and fire the roadster heading to the line, turn around and make a burn out, then make our timing run or race. The car tirned a 10.56 ET, 158 MPH the first day I drove it in 1965." On April 3, 1966, they held what was called the Winter Race of Champions, drawing fuel dragsters like Mike Sorokin and Jim Davis. That race was first held in 1963. Jim Warren won in 1966, and also in 1973, with a quick run of 6.04 seconds, Tony Waters in 1967, and Jerry Glenn in 1968. On April 16, 1967, Jim Warren, the "Ridge Route Terror,"  set a world record for AA/FD with a run of 230.17 MPH in 7.18 seconds. He was racing against Tony Waters when he broke the record. Some of the big-name racers who raced here included Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwan, and Craig Breedlove. On occasion, Blackie staged drag races with four top fuelers going side-by-side. Once he even staged four jet dragsters racing side-by-side. The strip was located sixteen miles southwest of Fresno on Manning Avenue.
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Did you race here? Tell us about it.
CLICK HERE to see location on a map
Fresno Dragways, ​​ 1962 aerial view
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CLICK HERE to see video footage of what Fresno Dragways looks like today (2010) on a run down the strip and return road, 6 minutes, video taken with permission of land owner
June 9-10, 1962

Gardner Field/Taft Drag Strip

 
The grand opening race at the newly-built strip located seventeen miles southeast of Taft near Gardner Field was held on August 24, 1958. It was sponsored by the Taft Dragsters, Inc., headed by Jake Mason. The strip was 3/4-mile long and 800 feet wide and was sometimes called Gardner Field Dragstrip. To reach it from Bakersfield, contemporary news reports directed people to go south on Highway 33 to Taft, which was 18 miles west of Mettler Station and then 2 miles right at Gardner Field. The site today, at the intersection of Cadet Road and Basic School Road is nothing more than cotton fields. Bill Crossley driving Ernie Hashim's dragster established a strip record on the opening race with 163.48 MPH before 1,500 people. On September 14, 1958, Bill Crossley set a track record of 167.28 MPH and 9.73 ET in the Hashim-Hylton-Crossley blown Chrysler dragster. On December 14, 1958, Jack Chrisman took top eliminator honors in his Sidewinder fueler in beating Tommy Ivo with a 164 MPH and 9.26 ET. C. J. "Pappy" Hart operated the NHRA-sanctioned drag strip in 1959, as Santa Ana had closed and Gardner Field showed promise for the experienced track manager. Strip improvements Hart made included a paved pit area, spectator parking lot, and seating. They ran weekly every Sunday. On January 17, 1960, racers broke eleven track records. In 1960, they ran NHRA-sanctioned races on just the first Saturday of the month. On February 21, 1960, at the annual Gold Cup race, nineteen track records were broken. The Cyr-Hopper blown Chrysler from Escondido took top eliminator with an 8.87 clocking and 173.08 MPH. The Chrisman-Cannon "Hustler" A/FD garnered the meet's top speed with a run of 173.73 MPH. Documentation is sparse between 1960 and 1967.
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June 28, 1959
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Gardner Field, ​ 1957 topo map

Goleta Airport (Santa Barbara)

 
Members of the Motor Monarchs Club, a Ventura car club, along with Santa Barbara engine-builder Bob Joehnck, obtained permission to use an old World War II airport located eleven miles northwest of Santa Barbara for organized drag races.  This has the distinction of being the site of the first organized, scheduled drag races in history. Because no admission fees were charged, Santa Ana Drag Strip is recognized as the first commercial drag strip. Beginning at least in early 1949 (and possibly in late 1948), races were conducted here every other Sunday by the Santa Barbara Acceleration Association after obtaining insurance for the events. The racing strip was on a paved airport service road running east and west on the north side of the airport runway.  Spectators just stood by the side of the half-mile section of road to watch.  Timing was done with stopwatches.  The group paid for winner's trophies by passing the hat among spectators and getting a percentage of profits from a concession stand,. The finish line was on a small, narrow bridge. Spectators could tell who won the race by seeing which car bumped up over the bridge first. Cars had to stop quickly because there was a locked gate just 2/10ths of a mile past the finish. There were only three classes: roadsters, coupes with fenders, and coupes without fenders. The old Goleta Airport is today's Santa Barbara Municipal Airport. There may have been other California drag strips that operated in or before 1954 in or near the towns/cities of Stockton, Palo Alto, Altadena, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Norwalk, Vallejo, North Sacramento, Los Altos, Venice, Redwood City, and Hayward. These were all locales where NHRA national records were set prior to October 13, 1954. The records were probably set at old airfields, but research hasn't confirmed this. There is still much work to do on early California drag strips.
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Golden State Raceway (Santa Maria)

 
The first strip in Santa Maria was located on what is now West Foster Road. In 1969, it was relocated  north and west of there to an unused runway of Santa Maria Airport on about 4000 South Blosser Road (today's address). At that time, the Santa Maria Airport was situated on a much larger portion of the huge World War II military airfield than it occupies today.  When the strip was moved to this new location, it was renamed Golden State Raceway. The length of the strip was listed as 4,000 feet and the width was 300 feet. Golden State Raceway ran monthly on Sunday under NHRA sanction, sponsored by the Santa Maria Valley Jaycees. Racing vehicles permitted included everything but blown fuel cars, but the main focus in the 1970s was on bracket and grudge racing. The first big race at the new location was an NHRA points meet with a $1,000 purse held on April 13, 1969. The race featured an NHRA factory super stock circuit program including such racers as Bob Lambeck, Dick Wood, Ed Terry, Tommy Johnson, Walt Zeishe, Hubert Platt, and Shirley Shahan. On June 22, 1969, Roger Gates of Reseda, driving his AA/D, set a new raceway record with a run of 7.50 at 191.08 MPH to take top eliminator. Dale Pulde set a new track mark for B/FD in his Desoto-powered "Sysperilla Sisters" dragster, turning 7.89 at 178.57 MPH. There were 129 entries at that meet. Generally each September they held a 2-day event featuring junior fuel dragsters, gas dragsters, and pro stock racers. In 1976, the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce withdrew its support which was a precursor to the track's demise. The last race was held in March 1978. Today the site of the old strip is a mobile home park.
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Listing in National Dragster, Dec. 23, 1977. Courtesy of Mel Bashore
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Half Moon Bay Drag Strip

 
The county board of supervisors granted permission to the Tri-County Drag Strip Corporation to conduct drag races on a meet-by-meet basis at the airport at Half Moon Bay, 3.5 miles north of the town. The opening race, scheduled at first for May 3-4, 1957, was moved to May 18-19, but unseasonable rain on that date caused its postponement. The first race actually took place on June 15-16, 1957, drawing 2,000 spectators on Saturday and 5,000 people on Sunday. They saw 350 entries compete in 55 classes. That race was staged by car clubs from San Mateo, Santa Clara, and San Francisco counties. Tony Waters beat Jay Cheatham to win top eliminator with a run of 9.9 seconds and 150 MPH. The county board of supervisors granted them a provisional permit for a 2-day racing event on June 29-30, but only if they made some improvements. They required them to build a fence between the racing strip and the spectators. A. L. Caldwell, the race manager, said he would also put a row of hay bales, a ditch, and plow the ground between the racing strip and the spectators for further protection. It was a 100 feet distance from the spectators to the racing strip. The Tri-County Drag group also agreed to pay salaries for 24 policemen to provide crowd control and pay the county $300 for the use of the airport. Having to obtain permission from the county for each race proved to be an unwieldy arrangement. The board began looking into other options including the granting of a temporary lease license.  They decided to open the drag racing operation to bid. Mario Aquilino of San Francisco, who conducted drag races in Santa Rosa, outbid Tri-County Drag Strip Corp. and was awarded a 1-year contract to conduct for-profit drag races at Half Moon Bay. This decision was controversial and before Aquilino could hold a race, the county board reversed their decision, granting Tri-County a 2-year lease to operate the strip on a non-profit basis. Under a new state law, they did not have to call for bids, but simply awarded the lease to Tri-County. The new contract stipulated that Tri-County would use their net proceeds to pay off the $30,000 debt they had incurred for engineering and grading work. They were to conduct a minimum of 25 meets per year, paying the county $350 per day or 15 percent of the gross receipts, whichever was higher. After the debts were paid off, net proceeds would be placed into a trust fund to be used for general airport improvements. Racing resumed under the new contract on October 6, 1957.  It was an auspicious beginning as George McMurry, a 26-year old high school teacher, was killed when his dragster overturned while making a solo time trial run. It was doubly sad because he had only been married for a month and his wife witnessed the fatal accident. Jay Cheatham took top eliminator at this event with a 128.38 MPH and 10.17 E.T. clocking. On September 14, 1958, Hank Vincent set a new track record of 9.40 seconds in his Chevrolet-powered dragster.  Al Hubbard set a new mark of 158.17 MPH in his class. In late May 1959, Tony Waters ran 8.73 seconds, which strip officials claimed was a new world's record.
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May 23-24, 1964
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CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Half Moon Bay, 10 minutes, music only/no sound

Hammer Airfield/Fresno Air Terminal

 
The Fresno Motorcycle Club began holding drag races on the airfield in 1951. In 1952, they invited the Rodbenders car club of Fresno to join them in the drag racing. Racing was held on the last Sunday of each month. See Hot Rod Magazine, (June 1952). Beghosian & Webster set an NHRA record here in their '27 T A fuel modified roadster, which was still a record in October 1954. The airfield was opened in 1942 and was used as a training field during World War II. After the war it was returned to civil control except for a section given to the Air National Guard. The airfield was renamed Fresno Air Terminal after the war, but locally still called Hammer Airfield. It is today's Fresno Yosemite International Airport. Bill Crossley was clocked at 170.45 MPH at Fresno in the Hashim-Hylton-Crossley fuel dragster in August 1958.
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High Desert Raceway (Adelanto)

 
This NHRA-sanctioned 1/8th-mile track ran on an old taxiway of Victorville Army Air Field (renamed George Air Force Base in 1950). The base was closed in 1992 and it is now known as Southern California Logistics Airport.  High Desert ran ET bracket races on the old taxiway for six years until 1980, when the track operator went to Los Angeles County Raceway (LACR) in 1980 and stayed there until that track closed in 2007.
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Listing in ​National Dragster, Dec. 23, 1977. Courtesy of Mel Bashore
CLICK HERE to see video footage of High Desert Raceway, circa 1977, 3:27 minutes

Holtville Airstrip

 
During World War II the Navy built an auxiliary air station five miles east of Holtville. It had two concrete runways, both 6,000 feet in length. In 1948, a Carrot Carnival/Festival started in Imperial Valley. It was first just a modest affair held in the park in Holtville. Newspapers reported that in 1962 they began holding GoKart, sports car, and drag races, but Teddy Edwards wrote that "the first rsce was [in] 1955, not NHRA untl some time in 1956. We held one race each month September-April." They were run by the Imperial Valley Timing Association, according to Teddy, from 1962-74 on the east-west runway, generally on the second or third Sunday of the month in those early years. At the Carrot Carnival drag races on April 9, 1972, Jon Giardina, age 30 from Bellflower, was killed while at the wheel of his 1970 Barracuda funny car. In 1980 it was being called Holtville Aerodome Raceway with some races being conducted by the Yuma Drag Racing Association.   Old timers remember that the drag races at some point started being held every weekend (except in the hot summer months), not just during the festival dates. There would be as many as 200 cars at a race event. The track surface was quite rough.
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December 10, 1972
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Listing in ​National Dragster, Dec. 23, 1977. Courtesy of Mel Bashore
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Holtville Drags in 1963, taken by Jerry Hughes, 10 minutes, no sound

Hourglass Field (San Diego)

 
When the Paradise Mesa drag strip closed in 1959, racers in San Diego turned to an old Navy airfield near Miramar Naval Air Station. The Navy did not condone the unsanctioned drag racing taking place, but they did little to halt it. That is, until a drag racing accident on the airfield injured four people on August 6, 1960. Then the Navy stopped all drag racing. Car clubs approached govenrment officials asking for their help to find a place for them to race. The officials weren't sympathetic. A mass protest was organized to take place at 1 A.M. on El Cajon Booulevard on Sunday, August 21, 1960. The street was blocked off for ten blocks and young people began drag racing, while thousands watched. Police reinforcements were called in. They ordered the demonstrators to disperse at about 2 A.M. When they didn't the police lobbed tear gas into the crowds and moved in with riot sticks.  "It was a helluva mess," said one police officer, after order was regained. Over 100 rioters were arrested. Then followed a tense couple of days as sympathizers taunted police on the streets. City officials promised to study the matter, but it was a couple of years before another drag strip was available in San Diego County.
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Indio Drag Strip

 
This NHRA-sanctioned track operated in the late 1960s through the early 1970s. "Old Timer" wrote that the track was located in the vicinity of Avenue 45 and North Jackson.
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Inyokern Drag Strip

 
In early 1954, the China Lake Dust Devils Auto Club raised funds to pay for a drag strip at the Inyokern Airport (Harvey Field). Bernie Partridge was president of the Dust Devils and had worked for two years with the goal of getting a drag strip at the county airport.  Partridge and the Dust Devils were successful and held their first race ever on October 24, 1954. They awarded trophies to 31 class winners. They charged 50 cents admission.  They established a race schedule with races being held on the third Sunday of each month. They obtained insurance from NHRA. Partridge's talents were evident to NHRA; he was appointed chief announcer in that organization's formative years and became a leader in that organization for thirty years. Bud Coons, who headed NHRA's touring "Drag Safari" team, claimed that in 1953, "there were about 150 city-sponsored and police-supervised [drag] strips in the United States." He also stated that in 1954 (the year that Inyokern began operation), "there were 250 such strips." (see "Championship drag races set for weekend," Amarillo Daily News, Sep. 22, 1955, 22)  Research in contemporary newspapers doesn't support those claims. In the early to mid-1950s, NHRA gave their sanction to car clubs as well as drag strips. His figures may apply to the number of car clubs and/or drag strips, not just drag strips. Twelve new national records were established at an NHRA regional meet at Inyokern in May 1960. Research in NHRA records or Hot Rod Magazine  files is warranted.  When the drag strip closed in 2005, it was purportedly the second oldest continuously and regularly operating strip in the nation. It had to close because of new Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Inyokern in 1977, 1 minute
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Irwindale Raceway

 
Jack W. Minnock of West Covina built the raceway on land under lease southwest of Irwindale Avenue. It was only almost three miles from the location of the Old San Gabe strips. The track was 4,500 feet long and 60 feet wide, built on seventy acres. It had seating for 5,000 spectators. There were rock quarries south of the strip. It was projected that they would need the drag strip land in about ten years. The neighboring cities of Duarte and Azusa were upset that they hadn't been informed about a public hearing about the drag strip and opposed it. The track needed good relations with Azusa because they were the closest source of water for the facility. An agreement was reached with Azusa in mid-October to provide water. The strip opened for racing under AHRA sanction on Sunday October 31, 1965. Jim Blake was the track manager, with Steve Gibbs as race coordinator. Mel Reck was the track announcer. At a race on December 19, 1965, John "Zookeeper" Mulligan won top fuel eliminator. Dave Beebe had top speed with a 204.50 MPH run while Steve Carbone had low ET with 7.63 seconds. Bill Scott of San Bernardino set a world record in gas dragsters with an 8.03 ET. In February 1966, the track hosted the AHRA Winternationals. The race was marreed when Lefty Mudersbach was killed while making a single pass during qualifying. Irwindale was the site of several big United Drag Racer Association events in 1966-67. The track was sanctioned by NHRA in September 1967. A big event in 1974 was the two-day Grand Premiere on January 5-6, in which eight top fuelers of the Cragar Five-Second Club were invited. They included only dragsters that had clocked times in under six seconds. Invited were Don Garlits, Don Moody, James Warren, Dan Richins, Larry Dixon, Tommy Ivo, and John Stewart. The track put on NHRA sanctioned races from 1971 through 1974. In December 1972, Irwindale was bought by International Raceway Parks, a Seattle-based corporation that also owned three drag strips in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle, Portland, and Puyallup). Steve Evans, who had been general manager of Lions Drag Strip, was named the new general manager of Irwindale. Glenn Menard, who had been the track manager, was retained, but not as the manager. The track closed when it was bought by the city of Irwindale, which "sold" it to the Miller Brewing Company. The final race was held on October 1, 1977. It featured a 32-car funny car extravaganza and a match race between Don Garlits and Shirley Muldowney, with the former winning in two straight. A fitting ending to a twelve year track run.
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Advertisement in ​Drag News, June 12, 1967. Courtesy of Mel Bashore
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CLICK HERE to listen to old commercial KRLA radio spot for Irwindale Raceway, go to 15 second mark, 1:04 minutes
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Irwindale Raceway, 5 minutes, circa 1968, music only/no sound
1966 AHRA Winternationals, Irwindale Raceway, Souvenir Program. Courtesy of Mel Bashore

Kingdon Drag Strip (Lodi)

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  • Years of Operation: 1951-ca. 1977, 1995-present

Billy Hunefeld, from Stockton, signed a 3-year lease to open this drag strip to be conducted and sanctioned by the Valley Timing Association.  It was very briefly called the Franklin Drag Strip. Newspaper directions in the first year of operation said the drag strip was located on an airstrip near Lodi, nine miles north of Stockton, just off Thornton Road, identified by a large row of silos paralleling the strip. The first drag race was held on Memorial Day, 1951, according to Don Jensen's interview with Bob Cress, who managed the races there for over twenty years. On November 11, 1951, another race drew 96 entries and 900 spectators. Drag races were generally conducted on the second and fourth Sunday of each month. During winter months, the race track provided bonfires for the comfort of the fans. The Torquers Auto Club of Sacramento assisted in conducting drag races in 1952. For early photos, see Hot Rod Magazine, (Mar. 1952): 40-41 and (Aug. 1953): 54. On November 7, 1954, the drag strip began timing racers in both elapsed time and speed. In July 1956 they shut down the drag strip in mid-July because of extreme hot weather. On June 1, 1958, Hank Vincent set a world record for Chevy-powered dragsters with a run of 161.87 MPH at the Northern California Drag Championships. The November 15, 1959 race was run on new asphalt paving. At the Northern California Championships in 1964, Don Garlits lowered the NHRA elapsed time mark to 7.67 seconds. However, in doing so he hurt his back. "The end of the strip at Kingdon is extremely bumpy," he said, "and on one run, the jerk of deceleration caused by the parachute bursting open and the bumps crushed three vertebrae."   Read Don Jensen's recollections of his twin-engined dragster crashing at Kingdon in 1957 in the Memories (California) page of DSL .
November 11, 1951
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CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of drag racing at Lodi in 1956, 4 minutes, music only/no sound

Little Bonneville Drag Strip (San Jose)

 
The Santa Clara Timing Association sponsored and began conducting bi-weekly drag races on a half-mile asphalt track located east of the San Jose Municipal Airport. It was sanctioned by NHRA and managed by Frank Wright. Located at 821 N. King Road in San Jose, it held its first race on March 13, 1955. They expected 300 entries at that first race, awarding trophies to nineteen class winners and top eliminator. (An article in an old 1954 issue of Hot Rod Magazine stated that there was a new drag strip in San Jose that was scheduled to have its opening meet on March 14, 1954. That meet was to be sponsored by the Santa Clara Timing Association. The article did not give a name for the strip, nor is it certain what drag strip they were referring to.) On April 14, 1957, Pete Ogden of Concord set the track record with a speed of 133.12 MPH in his Chrysler-powered roadster. That mark was shortly eclipsed by Jay Cheatham of Sunnyvale, with a speed of 133.15 MPH. On July 20, 1958, Cheatham upped his old track record with a run of 141.50 MPH.
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CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of drag racing at San Jose in the 1950s, 8 minutes, no sound

Long Beach Associated/Lions Drag Strip

 
The beginnings of this celebrated historical drag strip were fraught with challenges. After two years of talking, planning, collaboration, wrangling for permits, and a myriad of other trials, the Lions Drag Strip finally opened on October 9, 1955. Eleven Long Beach-area Lions Clubs banded together, raising $45,000, to build the 60-foot wide, 3,500 foot long track.  But the $45,000 didn't cover costs, so the staff went ahead to complete the project on credit (paid off in the first two years of operation). Built on land leased from the Los Angeles Harbor Department, the drag strip was formally dedicated on September 15, 1955. Located in the district of Wilmington, the entrance to the drag strip was 1000 feet east of Alameda Street on 223rd Street. Opening day crowds exceeded all expectations as more than 10,000 people crowded in to watch over 400 racers. In fact there were so many racers that some had to be turned away. They had thirty classes with racers being charged $1.25 entry fee and spectators paid 75 cents for admission.  Eddie Losinski was clocked at 151.26 MPH for the opener's top speed. Lloyd Scott in his Bustle Bomb two-engined dragster had earlier run a world record 152.02 MPH at San Fernando that same day, was clocked at 145.39 MPH. Later in the year (November 13), Losinski set a world top speed mark for single engine dragsters in his Chrysler-engined racer of 151.51 MPH. In the ensuing years, many other national records would be broken at Lions Drag Strip during its storied heyday. All the legends of drag racing raced here--Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwan, Tommy Ivo, Doug "Cookie" Cook, Big John Mazmanian, Jumpin' Jeep Hampshire, Romeo Palimedes, Art Malone, Art Chrisman, Chris Karamasines, etc.  Lions was renowned for its dense sea level air, good traction, and legendary competition. Mickey Thompson managed the track for ten years. He was an innovator, installing lights for night racing in 1956 (on July 7) and being the first drag strip to employ a "Christmas tree" starting light system. Crowds and race cars flocked to the strip. At one Saturday night race in August 1958, 315 cars swelled the race card. Strip officials had to turn away an estimated 2,000 people for lack of room after 6,000 people had entered the gates. C. J. "Pappy" Hart, who had run racing at the Santa Ana Drag Strip, replaced Mickey at Lions in 1965. He promoted races well for a few years, but began to butt heads with the Lions Club board of directors and the Harbor Commission in the late 1960s. They were opposed to him running more of the great top fuel shows that were so successful. Hart finally decided to retire in 1971, handing over the reins to Steve Evans. He completely renovated the drag strip facility and enjoyed an extremely profitable year, donating $70,000 from that year's profits (in addition to over $300,000 already donated during the track's years of operation) to the Lion's Club's charity fund. But as the area surrounding the track increased in population, complaints to government officials brought a measure of public unpopularity. Increasingly efforts were made to deny the track operators continued use of the race facility.  The noise complaints (dating back to as early as 1956) forced the issue to a head. Following the final race on December 23, 1972, the Los Angeles Harbor Commission, revoked the track's permit and disallowed any further racing. It sat unused for a long time until the Harbor Commission tore up the old track and built a huge facility to warehouse large overseas shipping containers. Thirteen drivers lost their lives at Lions while racing, more than were killed at any other drag strip in the country. The first who suffered a fatal accident was Dave Gendian, and others included Boyd Pennington, Leonard Harris, and Joe "The Jet" Jackson.
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1956
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Ad in Drag Sport Illustrated, Sep. 27, 1965. Courtesy of Mel Bashore
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CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of drag racing at Lions Drag Strip in 1959, from Don Ewald, 2:54 minutes, no sound
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of drag racing at Lions Drag Strip in 1960, from Junji Nakamura, 26:16 minutes, no sound
CLICK HERE to see video footage of  Lions Drag Strip in 1971, 3:11 minutes, no sound

Madera Airport


The first drag race was held on June 13, 1954. On October 10, 1954, the California Championship Drag Races, sanctioned by NHRA, were held in Madera at the Madera Municipal Airport. The races were conducted by the Madera Clutchers car club. The two-way average system of timing, an innovation only used in drag racing in California to date, was employed.  Madera held a two-day event on September 8-9, 1956. Races were held on the second Sunday in 1959. The Clutcher shortened the racing to 1/8th-mile in 1959 because faster cars were having trouble stopping within the short distance of the shutdown area. A powder puff race proved popular in 1964. One highlight of the 1964 season was a best-of-three match race between Gas Ronda and Lee Barnes on May 17.   It was listed as one of 325 U.S. drag strips in 1968 in an issue of the Swedish magazine Start & Strip .  More research is needed. 
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July 18, 1954
CLICK HERE to see brief 8mm video footage of drag races at Madera Airport, 1950s, produced by James Amos, go to 0:47 minute mark, through 1:19 minute mark

Manzanar Drag Strip ​(Lone Pine)


This strip ran under NHRA sanction in 1972. Racing may have started as early as 1970, but that hasn't been confirmed. Races were held on a runway of the Manzanar Airport, located east of the historic Manzanar Internment Camp and Highway 395, about nine miles north of Lone Pine. "Old Timer" wrote that they only ran street-legal cars because of the rough track surface. Jim Dominique wrote DSL that Manzanar was closed in 1973.
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Marchbanks Speedway (Hanford)


In its listing of NHRA-sanctioned drag strips, the March 1962 issue of Hot Rod noted that drag races would start being held at this speedway on January 21, 1962, and every third Sunday thereafter. Logan Molen has written an excellent, detailed history of Marchbanks Speedway. Farmer B. L. "Bircha" Marchbanks built the track circa 1949-51 about five miles southeast of Hanford. Molen wrote, "Marchbanks Speedway was a lot of things in its two-decade life: dirt and asphalt half-mile oval, 1.4-mile paved tri-oval with two smaller infield ovals, road course, even a spot where dragboats found room to race on its infield." Nothing remains of the old speedway today on the northeast corner of Idaho and 8th Avenue. The site of the old speedway is today nothing more than flat farm land.   John Toledo wrote, "I own the piece of ground where the track once stood. As a kid I remember it well. We farmed all our lives in the area and my dad was at most of the races. We still find pieces of asphalt in that field to this day. It is called our race track ranch field # R1."   John L. Capps, Sr ., wrote: "I won my first drag racing trophy at Hanford California's 'Marchbanks Speedway.' They ran the 1/4 mile race backwards on the front straight."
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March 18, 1962
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of stock car racing at Marchbanks Speedway, 1961, no sound. Courtesy of Richard Trivette

Maricopa "Drag Strip"

  • Years of Operation: 1950
  • Status:  Exact location unknown

DSL reader Don Jensen stated that the "Bakersfield coupe and roadster club ran a race New Years weekend [in January] 1950 west of town." He said that he has seen a newspaper clipping telling about it and that the race was held at Maricopa. Aerial views show likely locations for the race both just southwest  and northwesterly from the town. The southwest location is more probable as it looks like an old airfield.
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Marysville Drag Strip ​(Yuba City)

  • Years of Operation: 1968
  • Status:  Exact location unknown

It was listed as one of 325 U.S. drag strips in 1968 in an issue of the Swedish magazine Start & Strip . Races may have been held on a runway at Beale Air Force Base east of Marysville, but that hasn't been confirmed. Research hasn't found any other information.
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Minter Field Air Base (Bakersfield)

 
A big top fuel meet put on by the Smokers was held in 1955. Read Don Jensen's interesting recollections of this meet in Memories (California) in DSL . A two-day drag race event was held on the Minter Field (now called Shafter Airport) runway on May 12-13, 1956. It was located about ten miles northwest of Bakersfield. It was billed by promoter Glen Howe as the fifth annual national title championships, being held for the first time in California. This claim of being the fifth annual national championship is confusing as news reports said that the previous year's champion was Calvin Rice. He was NHRA's first national champion in 1955. So who were the national champions in 1952, 1953, and 1954, and where were those national title races held and what organization sanctioned them? It seems that this claim is a bit of advertising hyperbole. Although this publicity claim is patently inaccurate, their claim as also being the first night drag race held in California is correct. Minter Field ran their race on Saturday night, pre-dating Lions Drag Strip's first night drags by a few months. They awarded trophies in 48 classes. Spectators were charged $1.25 for admission and bleacher seating was provided. It was sponsored by the San Joaquin Timing Association and reportedly sanctioned by NHRA, Southern California Timing Association, Drag Racers Inc., and the Rosetta Timing Association. Pre-race publicity stated that the pre-entry list numbered over 700 entries from states as distant as Alabama and Louisiana. While newspapers hyped the race impressively before the event, research could find only a few brief reports of what happened. It appears to have been a bust on all counts.  Local racers from the Smokers car club dominated the event. Ernie Hashim clocked the top speed of the meet with 148 MPH while Tony Waters turned 129 MPH in his modified roadster. With this great disparity in reporting before and after the event, it is difficult not to conclude that there may have been a measure of misleading pre-race publicity about the event. More research is needed.
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May 12-13, 1956
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Mojave Airport

 
The Palmdale Optimist Club and the Antelope Valley Timing Association made application in September 1960 to Kern County for the use of a runway on the Mojave Airport (also called Kern County Airport No. 7) to hold drag races. They proposed racing on the fourth Sunday of each month. If approved, they wanted to hold their first meet on September 25. They planned on awarding trophies in 47 classes. They received approval and conducted NHRA-sanctioned races.
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Norton Drags


This 1/8th-mile strip ran under NHRA sanction on a runway at the old Norton Air Force Base. That base had been de-activated and was renamed San Bernardino International Airport in about 1993-94. On September 10 and September 17, 1994, drag races were held at the airport in conjunction with San Bernardino's Route 66 Rendezvous. No top fuel or alcohol racers were permitted. Registration for racers was $15 to enter and $5 for spectators.
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Oakland Stadium Speedway (San Leandro)


Don Jensen, a DSL reader who first started drag racing in California in 1950, wrote DSL about drag races that were held at Oakland Stadium, a high-banked 5/8th-mile oval track in Oakland that operated between 1946 and 1955. Jensen said that they ran drag races on the oval in 1951 and 1952. Jensen said that "timing was 1/4 mile around the east turn and down the north straight. Races  were 1/8 mile on the north straightaway. Ran a number of times with roadsters topping 100 mph." A shopping center now occupies the site of the old oval.
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Did you race here? Tell us about it.
April 20, 1952
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Ontario Motor Speedway


Referred to as "The Big O," this racing venue was the most expensive and grandest racing venue of its time. It was the first and only racing complex built to host major races sanctioned by the four biggest auto racing sanctioning organizations: NASCAR, NHRA, USAC, and FIA for Formula One. It was located on 800 acres of land adjacent to and northeast of the Ontario International Airport. Construction took 22 months at a cost of $22.5 million. The track was designed to be a replica of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but with various enhancements to accomodate additional types of racing. The first racing event was an Indy-style California 500 held on September 6, 1970. It attracted 178,000 spectators and grossed $3.3 million. The second event was the Mattel Hot Wheels Supernationals on November 20-22, 1970.  It drew a crowd for drag racing second only to the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. A crowd of 42,000 watched Sunday's final eliminations where top fuel was taken by Rick Ramsey, Gene Snow won funny car, and Ronnie Sox garnered pro stock eliminator. In 1974, Ontario began hosting the NHRA World Finals.The track suffered from mismanagement, changes of ownership, and competition for the entertainment dollar in the marketplace.  They tried everything to keep it going including big rock concerts, but it was living on borrowed time. One of the last big races before the speedway was sold was the 1980 World Finals. Chevron Land Company took advantage of the speedway's failing fortunes and gobbled up the site for a paltry $10 million (the estimated commercial real estate value was $120 million). The track was demolished in 1981. The site sat vacant for several years before slowly being developed with hotels, businesses, condominiums, etc. 
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November 20-22, 1970
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of OMS NHRA Supernationals, November 1972,  including Mike Snively's 5.97 record blast, filmed by Doug Gordon, 19:58 minutes, no sound

Orange County International Raceway (Irvine)

Years of Operation:   1967-83
 
Phil Burgess wrote an excellent history of OCIR in Dragster Insider in 2008 :  " Orange County Int'l Raceway has been gone 25 years, eight years longer than it was in business from 1967 through 1983, but it's still fondly remembered by those who worked, raced, and played there.
When it was built, it billed it as 'the Super Track,' and when it opened its doors to the public Aug. 5, 1967, it was crystal clear that it was not simply marketing hype. Much as today's racers and fans are wowed by the opulence of Bruton Smith's new zMax Dragway, such was the case 41 years earlier when OCIR was born. It was that good and that far ahead of its time. OCIR actually grew out of a partnership brokered by longtime NHRA Vice President Bernie Partridge, uniting the efforts of two dynamic duos: Larry Vaughn and Bill White, who had grown up on the 80,000-acre Irvine Ranch and knew that the vast area would be a great open spot for a new facility, and Mike Jones, a former designer and draftsman (but then employed as a racing engine designer) and a former competitor in drag racing, dry lakes, and road racing, and his financial backer, newspaper publisher and auto dealer Mike McKenna.
Jones actually had initially been trying to put together a drag racing program for Anaheim and its new ballpark for the Major League Baseball Angels. The city had lost its bid for an NFL team and was looking for another way to generate revenue for the new stadium, but it quickly became apparent that the ballpark would not be compatible with drag racing. The Irvine Co., meanwhile, held the lease on the land and had long-term plans to build housing and entertainment for Orange County's expected housing boom. Looking for a way to entertain the masses, representatives were open to the idea of a racetrack but had already turned down a similar bid from Carroll Shelby and Jim Hall and one from White. White (who was to be the track's president), Vaughn (secretary/treasurer), and Jones (vice president and general manager), however, promised to build a facility not just with a quarter-mile track and pits but one of unprecedented style and grace, complete with all the creature comforts a fan could expect, surrounded by lush landscaping and a striking architectural design. They enticed five Orange County residents -- Carroll Cone, owner of Cone Chevrolet; investment banker David Brant; Raymond Martin, owner of amusement facilities at O'Neill Park and Irvine Park and a former midget auto racing track owner in Orange County; and Irvine Co. stockholders Mrs. Myford Irvine and Mrs. David Brant – as investors to supply the capital for a project that initially was budgeted at $80,000 and resubmitted the plan to the board of directors. The Irvine Co. granted them a 55-year lease to build the track in east Irvine, in the middle of a giant Y formed where the great GoldenState and San Diego freeways meet. Jones did the actual design work and plot plan of the facility, mixing his ideas with guidance from NHRA officials and the best ideas from other tracks around the country. In what amounted to an OCIR mission statement, Jones wrote in the opening-season program, 'If there were one basic premise on which Orange County International Raceway was founded, it is that, if the sport of auto racing is to enjoy continued growth and success, facilities must be provided that are commensurate with the professional status of the men and cars competing there. We set out to create an atmosphere, an atmosphere of professionalism, of excitement, yet one of comfort.'
Permanent restrooms and concession stands, now all but taken for granted; underground utilities; a restaurant; a speed shop; a children's playground; a distinctive 40-foot high, three-story tower that housed the administration offices, timing and announcing deck, and a top-floor suite; and a starting-line-based scoreboard were but a few of the features that made 'the County' a major step up from previous facilities.  Jones was especially dedicated to creating a safe facility. The track was 75 feet wide and, at 4,200 feet, plenty long. A 300-foot sand trap capped by water-filled plastic barriers was beyond that. He hired Marines from the adjacent airbase at El Toro who were experienced in crash and fire rescue procedures and were familiar with protective clothing necessary to extricate drivers from flaming Funny Cars. The safety trucks were equipped with state-of-the-art gear, and emergency plans involving ambulances, hospitals, doctors, and insurance companies were established in advance 'to allow the fastest possible reaction to an emergency.' Jones and his team spent months analyzing patterns of other facilities and running mock races on various track layouts to determine the most functional configuration. Indeed, at one time, the design of the track was configured to run in the opposite direction. 'Spectator comfort has been the most often overlooked aspect of auto racing facilities,' Jones wrote in his manifesto. 'The Orange County spectator, by contrast, will enjoy the permanency and consequent cleanliness of spacious restrooms and concessions. Drinking fountains are located throughout the track. An abundance of refuse containers should keep litter to a minimum. Spectators enter the track through turnstiles which eliminates traffic delays and congestion. Arcades afford the concession customer or window shopper protection from pit traffic. Reserved seats with backs are offered in select areas to insure seat retention during those times when the spectators wishes to leave his seat to visit other areas of the track. Row spacing has been extended to give ample leg room.' The Orange County Planning Commission granted its approval Nov. 9, 1966, and a joint press conference with NHRA and the Irvine Co. was held the following day at the Irvine Information Center.Ground was broken Feb. 15, 1967, grading began March 13, and the first racing surface was poured Monday, July 10. The total cost to build the quarter-mile Taj Mahal was nearly $750,000. Opening day was less than a month later, Aug. 5, 1967, and future National DRAGSTER Editor Bill Holland, who at the time fielded a Top Fueler with John Guedel, remembers it well.  'As one of many local Top Fuel racers in SoCal, we had heard about the plans for OCIR and were anxiously awaiting to see if they were 'for real,' ' he recalled. 'When we arrived at the grand opening, we were duly impressed by the facility and its management. The rumor was that they'd taken some cues from  that noted OrangeCounty icon, Disneyland, and sure enough, they did. There were 'usherettes' there to help spectators to their seats, and the crowd control was excellent. There were rollers in the pits so cars could warm up prior to competition. Needless to say, the tower was an impressive sight to behold. The track had scoreboards and reaction timers -- which were new to the sport. Needless to say, the track itself was superb, and many racers (ourselves included) were clocking personal bests.'  No less a hero than Tom 'the Mongoose' McEwen was at the wheel of the Guedel & Holland/National Automotive Specialties dragster for the opener. He set low e.t at 7.02 and reached the final but red-lighted to Bobby Tapia in Larry Stellings' entry. (Guedel set the track speed record at 223.88 mph at the Division 7 points meet held later that year.) Competition in the early years was stiff from fabled Lions Dragstrip, which was just less than a half hour up the 405 Freeway in Wilmington and Irwindale, just about the same distance to the northwest, but Jones worked hard to develop a Funny Car-heavy formula that worked, and when Lions closed at the end of the 1972 season, business at the gate definitely improved, but the track still struggled. It was Jones who developed the idea to bring together all of the nation's touring Funny Cars for the first Manufacturers Meet and dreamed up the idea of Funny Cars lining the track prior to eliminations, seeing it as a great photo op to help sell the sport and the events.  Early on, Jones understood the challenges of selling drag racing to a public whose images of the sport were not in tune with its growing professionalism, and he saw the media as the key to unlocking that door. He built a then state-of-art air-conditioned pressroom complete with 'duplicating machines,' telephones, telex equipment, and a snack bar.  'Sports editors, although they are not familiar with drag racing, do know about competition. They know what is and what isn't. They cannot be sold circus acts or 'booked in' races to the extent of having them regarded as major events,' he told Drag News in 1969. 'We are going to have to pay quite a bit of attention to the public. I think that beyond this it is just a matter of hard work on the part of strip operators. Those racers who become prominent in the sport, to present a good appearance, to be well-spoken when they are around these people, and, most of all, to be honest with them. They aren't familiar with the sport. They are very hesitant to cover it. They would rather not cover it at all, as to make a mistake in coverage. If they are led astray unintentionally or intentionally by racers or strip management, they can set drag racing promotion back a long ways.' Little did Jones know that there would be other, harder hurdles to clear. In the first two and a half years of operation, property taxes climbed by 400 percent, insurance premiums by 15 percent in 1968 and 21 percent in 1969, and even trash-collection fees doubled in the same period. Racers also sought higher purses to offset their rising costs. The worst was still to come.  Although the track opened under NHRA sanction, following Jones' July 1973 departure, the track signed a five-year pact with AHRA. AHRA President Jim Tice brought in Lions and Santa Ana mainstay C.J. 'Pappy' Hart as general manager for what amounted to a very short stay that was highlighted by OCIR's first national event and clashes between Hart and Tice's team that led to Hart's resignation. Tice walked away during the 1974 season – new track manager Blaine Laux remained – and millionaire businessman, Pro Stock driver, and Funny Car owner Larry Huff took over June 1, 1974, yet kept the track under AHRA sanction.  Huff, who also had assumed ownership of the Tice-owned Fremont Raceway, lasted even less time than Tice, dropping first Fremont and, in March 1975, OCIR.
Motocross and speedway tracks and a defensive-driving school had been built, and plans were drawn up to use some of the excess racetrack land for commercial use to increase revenue in the face of rising property taxes and other costs, but the Irvine Co. balked at this idea. The long-term lease that could have kept the track open through 2022 eventually returned to the Irvine Co., which was eager to use the now-expensive land for its intended commercial and residential purposes. Vaughn, the last remaining holdout of the original four founders, however, struck a five-year deal to continue leasing the land.
The famed West Coast duo of Bill Doner and Steve Evans brought their International Raceway Parks savvy to the game, and with Doner's never-shy way of promoting events and Evans' steady hand on the tiller and a return to the NHRA fold, things began to look good at 'the County' for a short while, but before long, things got out of hand. Drunkenness and rowdy fans – in the most notorious incident, a 24-year-old man died after being hit in the head with a beer bottle -- were no doubt spurred on by events such as rock concerts staged in tandem with the races and events such as the annual Fox Hunt, which allowed women in bathing-suit attire free entry. As Evans growled on the radio, 'Foxes, bring your bikinis!'  Longtme OCIR starter Larry Sutton remembered, 'The Doner and Evans regime always had a spectacle, and there were always way too many people and not enough security. There was one race that I ran, and I saw legs all the way down the racetrack with people sitting on the guardrail.' By 1980, Doner, who was in a constant battle with city and county officials about a number of items, had had enough and was eager to get out of the business and retire to Mexico to go sport fishing. Again, NHRA's Partridge helped keep the California dream alive, enticing former Funny Car racer Charlie Allen, whose All-American Boy floppers had prowled the OCIR quarter-mile in days gone by – he was part of the opening-day program -- to take over the struggling ship. Allen had been trying to build a track in Fontana but was running into stiff opposition; Partridge put the two together. Recalled Allen, 'I knew Bill and had raced for him over the years, and we were able to strike a deal to buy all of his assets and the rights to the property. Although I was a pretty good businessman, there definitely were things I didn't know about running a racetrack and mistakes I made, but I wanted to return the track to more of a family atmosphere. We spent $300,000 to $400,000 on a quasi-facelift and applied what I thought was good business policy to it, and off we went.'
The next three seasons were some of 'the County's' best. Families and fans returned in droves, and Allen, general manager Lynn Rose, and veteran track manager Kenny Green annually staged eight to 10 major events a year, including the Manufacturers Meet, 64 Funny Cars, and Summer Showdown, but Allen knew that he had inherited a lame duck, set to be roasted at the end of the 1982 season.  'I knew the track only had a little over two years left on its lease, so in early 1982, I started trying to negotiate with the Irvine Co. for extra time,' Allen told me last week. 'I found out that the company president responded to any letter ever written to him, so I got all of the TV and radio stations and the Orange County Register to do stories about how terrible it would be if the track went away and that the fans and racers should all write letters to the company. At one point, he was getting 300 to 500 letters a day. I went from not being able to talk to him to having him call me for a meeting, and one of the first things he said was, 'Can you stop this thing?' and I did and made them the good guys for letting us stay another year.' OCIR announcer Mike McClelland remembered, 'As 1982 ended, the specter of OCIR closing was always on everybody’s mind. You had one group that figured 'They’ll never close it' and another group that just kind of laughed at that thought. Early in 1983, construction was started on the first road other than Moulton Parkway (Irvine Center Drive) across the strawberry fields that lay across I-5 from the track. The Alton Parkway bridge over I-5 started rising up from the fields. That’s when I knew it was over. They weren’t building roads across the area without any plans to build on it.'That final year, as documented here Monday, was a rousing success that included the popular back-to-back staging of two 64 Funny Cars races, which Allen, showing a bit of Doner-like savvy, played to the hilt, making it seem as if it were a spur-of-the-moment decision to 'do it all over again next weekend.' In fact, he had already bought the airtime and made the radio commercials. 'We even shut the gates early,' he recalled. 'We probably would have put a few hundred cars in, but we wanted to be able to say we couldn’t get everyone in and turned away people so we were going to do it again. Doner loved it when I told him that.' Even as the clock was ticking in those final years, Allen considered rebuilding the track elsewhere close. 'We looked for property, but most of it was so hilly that I would have had to spend 4 or 5 million dollars in grading alone, and I didn’t have enough experience to realize that ultimately it might pay for itself,' he said. 'They finally started developing their industrial park, which had been in the works even prior to me buying the track. They were even putting in huge water lines in the parking lot those last few years, and we had to barricade those areas off during events. My agreement was that I wouldn’t do anything to slow down their development of the property.'
In return for his cooperation, the Irvine Co. allowed Allen, who had begun construction on Firebird Int'l Raceway outside of Phoenix in 1983, to take with him anything he could salvage from the track, and Allen briefly even considered moving the trademark tower to Phoenix. 'I got bids on moving the tower, but it was way ridiculous,' he said, 'but it would have been cool from a nostalgic point of view. 'I think I was very lucky to have the success we had there in the track's final couple of years,' he said. 'That success made me realize that I wanted to keep doing this, which is why I built Firebird Int'l Raceway.' In a weird coincidence, the size of Firebird Lake at the new track, 113 acres, is exactly the size of the former OCIR parcel. Kenny Bernstein, who won the Last Drag Race and whose shop was nearby, mourned the loss of OCIR for a number of reasons. 'With it being so close to our shop, we did a lot of testing there,' he recalled. 'It was such a nice facility and convenient for us. OCIR had such a history of great Funny Car races there, and it was one of the great places to race and, really, the last one standing. Seeing them all go reminds me of the pro football program here. They all left town, and they're still gone. But, to this day, every single time I drive by the Sand Canyon exit on the 5 [freeway], I look over there to where it used to be.'The iconic tower stood for more than a year as work went on around it before it, too, finally was felled. Don Gillespie and fellow drag racing photographer Mickey McIver shot a couple of memorable photos of the forlorn tower, its windows broken by vandals and a sad plywood sign replacing the tower's front doors that read: 'Yes, we are closed. It's all over.'"
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1983
Advertisement in Drag News, Jan. 12, 1967. Courtesy of Mel Bashore
CLICK HERE to see video footage of OCIR, 1975, 5:24 minutes
CLICK HERE to see video footage of Mike Dunn in Roland Leong's "Kings Hawaiian Bread" AA/FC at OCIR, 1981, 5:11 minutes
CLICK HERE to see video footage of Raymond Beadle in the "Blue Max" AA/FC at OCIR, 1981, 3:08 minutes
CLICK HERE to see video footage of John Force in the "Mountain Dew" AA/FC at OCIR, 1981, 2:16 minutes
CLICK HERE to see video footage of Johnny West in the "Sheep Herder" AA/FA at OCIR, 1981, 2:16 minutes
CLICK HERE to see video footage of Rod Hynes in the "Black Magic" AA/FA at OCIR, 1981, 2:16 minutes
CLICK HERE to see video footage of Les Shockley's "Shockwave" vs. Tommy Ivo "Rislone" jet dragsters at OCIR, 1980, 2:10 minutes
CLICK HERE to see video footage of Dale Pulde in the "Warrior" AA/FC at OCIR, 1982, 2:16 minutes
CLICK HERE to see video footage of Tim Grose driving the "Spirit" AA/FC at OCIR, 1980, 2:15 minutes
CLICK HERE to see video footage of John Lombardo in the "Lil John Lombardo" AA/FC at OCIR, 1982, 2:10 minutes
CLICK HERE to see video footage of Tripp Shumake in the Pisano AA/FC at OCIR, 1983, 2:41 minutes
CLICK HERE to see video footage of Dale Armstrong in Kenny Bernstein's "Budweiser King" AA/FC at OCIR, 1983, 2:49 minutes
CLICK HERE to see video footage of Billy Meyer in the "Chief Auto Parts/7-11" AA/FC at OCIR, 1983, 2:25 minutes
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CLICK HERE to listen to old commercial radio spot for OCIR, 59 seconds

Oroville Drag Strip


Research hasn't yet uncovered when the Oroville Drags first started, but newspapers reported races being held at the Municipal Airport at least as early as 1960.  The Oroville Clutchers conducted NHRA-sanctioned races on the second and fourth Sunday of each month on a runway at the airport. The Clutchers car club dated back to at least 1955. At a race held in late August 1961, the Dunn & Dunn dragster from Eureka turned 129 MPH in 10.23 seconds at that race. At a race on September 9, 1962, trophies were awarded to class winners. In the early 1960s the strip was called the Oro Dam Drag Strip. It was called Ophir Coachmen Drag Strip in a list of 325 U.S. drag strips in 1968 published in an issue of the Swedish magazine Start & Strip. During the war, the Army Air Force leased the city airport from Oroville.  Newspaper accounts of the races are spotty, sometimes just brief mentions, e.g., a race was held on Sunday, July 11, 1976. They held what they called the Earthquake Nationals in August 1976.
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Listing in National Dragster, Dec. 23, 1977. Courtesy of Mel Bashore

Oxnard Air Force Base (Camarillo)


Military use of the Oxnard Airport (today's Camarillo Airport) ended in 1970, opening the way for an opportunity to hold drag races on the tarmac. There had been discussions for several years by interested parties who wanted to bring organized drag racing to the area. Ventura County regained control of the airport after the military relinquished it and granted permission to hold a drag race on Sunday, July 11, 1971, at the airport. Called the Ventura County Drags, it was sponsored by the Ventura County Timing Association. It was more than successful, causing massive traffic jams and complaints from citizens. With seating for only three thousand people, no one expected such a huge turnout. Fifteen thousand people were admitted to the races and an estimated five thousand people were turned away at the gate. There were more than 450 race entries. Gary Glenn in the Schutz & Glenn AA/FD took top fuel eliminator with a 6.72 ET at 205 MPH run. Dave Beebe won funny car. A second race was held on Sunday, January 9, 1972. Although a wind storm caused heavy damage at the airport several days before the event, the scheduled event was able to be held. They obtained NHRA sanction for the race. Charlie Gartman was the track manager. Eight thousand people turned out on a nippy day to see 425 racers compete. Ken Veney won in funny car competition in his Vega while Don Enriquez won the combo eliminator with a 7.37 ET at 196.9 MPH. With the success of this second race, it was apparent that there was an appetite for drag racing in Ventura County. Four racing events were approved to be held on Sundays in February and March. On Sunday, April 23, 1972, the Timing Association scheduled a really big drag program. They constructed more bleachers, enough to seat eight thousand. They offered an even bigger purse to the California Pro Fuel Circuit, which attracted over thirty AA fuel dragsters. Among the entries included such racers as James Warren, Carl Olson, Walt Rhoades, Randy Allison, Jeb Allen, Dwight Salisbury, and Bill Tidwell. The final race was held at the airport on June 4, 1972, as the Timing Association's lease expired and the city of Camarillo and the General Services Administration refused to renew it. The racers continued in their efforts to try to persuade officials to change their minds. In November 1972, police had to break up a protest demonstration staged by the Timing Associaiton at Camarillo city hall. Members of the association had blocked the street in front of city hall with their cars. They were disappointed at what they felt was non-interest in their plight by city officials. However this illegal protest did nothing to further their request to stage drag races at the airport. In fact, it seems to have been the final nail in the coffin and the racers knew it.
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1972
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Palmdale International Raceway


A forerunner to this drag strip was Antelope Valley Raceway (see above). The Palmdale Raceway drag strip held its first race in October 1964. The track, renamed Antelope Valley Raceway in 1973, was owned by Mike Santino.  In 1980 it became Los Angeles County Raceway (LACR). Granite Construction, a mining company, shut down LACR, which held its final race on July 29, 2007. The mining company, which had leased the property to LACR, wanted to mine the property. Within a short three months after the strip's closing, all the buildings had been demolished and not a vestige of asphalt remained.
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September 25, 1965
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Ad in Drag Sport Illustrated, Sep. 27, 1965. Courtesy of Mel Bashore
CLICK HERE to see video footage of LACR, 2005, 3:03 minutes
1995 aerial view of Los Angeles County Raceway

Paradise Mesa Drag Strip (San Diego)


The first drag strip in the San Diego area was located on the Sweetwater Dam Naval Outlying Field, an old airfield used for carrier landing practice in World War II.  Built in late 1944, the single asphalt east/west asphalt runway was located east of National City and south of Encanto. There was little supervision or safety in the early years, with as many as eight cars racing side-by-side. The celebrated Bean Bandits ran their cars on the old airfield even before weekly races were conducted.  Races were conducted (at least by 1953) by the San Diego Timing Association, with sanctioning by NHRA.  On June 10, 1956, twelve people were injured (none fatally) when a car broke an axle and swerved into the crowd near the starting line. Four thousand people witnessed the accident according to Don Menard, track manager. Paradise Mesa was an active airfield until sometime in the mid- to late-1950s, but was closed to planes on weekends because of the drag races.  Quarter-mile races were conducted on the 3,000-foot runway. There are no remnants of the old airfield, as the site was completely developed with residential housing in the late 1960s and 1970s. Occasional articles were published in Hot Rod Magazine including (June 1952): 54-55, 59; (Apr. 1952): 14-15; and (Feb. 1953): 27.  The strip closed in 1959 when the site was sold to developers who wanted to build houses. Racing in the county then moved to Hour Glass Field (see entry) near Miramar Naval Air Station.
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Paradise Mesa Drag Strip, ​​​​​​​​ 1955 topo map
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Paradise Mesa Drag Strip, ​ 1953 aerial photo
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Paradise Mesa, 1 minute, music only/no sound

Pomona Drag Strip

  • Years of Operation: 1952-present

The Choppers of Pomona car club, with the help of several in the Pomona Police Department and the city government of Pomona, were able to lease the parking lot of the Los Angeles County Fair to hold drag races in 1952. The parking lot was just gravel, but with donated funds, they were able to pave the lot. At some time in the latter half of 1952, they began holding weekly drag races on the quarter-mile strip. On April 11-12, the Southern California Drag Championships were held at Pomona. It was the first such drag race of its kind, i.e., a multi-day event. It was envisioned that they would hold it every six months.  Thereafter weekly drag races were conducted under the auspices of the Pomona Valley Timing Association. Photographs of some of those early events can be found in Hot Rod Magazine, (Dec. 1952): 14-17 and (June 1953): 24-27. Due to a problem dip in the track surface, they shut down the drag strip for a few months in 1956 to correct the problem and repave the problem section. Although NHRA had instituted a fuel ban that affected most California drag strips, Pomona ran a fuel program on March 9, 1958, under the auspices of the SCTA and Rusetta Timing Association. Bob Brissette garnered top fuel eliminator with a run of 137.49 MPH. Tommy Ivo took top gas eliminator with 136 MPH and a meet-best ET of 9.88 seconds. In 1961, NHRA held its first Winternationals at Pomona. Dubbed Big Go West, Jack Chrisman took top eliminator in the Howard Cam twin-engined AA/D by beating Tom McEwen. 67,000 people attended the three-day meet, including the compiler of this encyclopedia. Don Garlits beat Art Malone in the 1963 Winternationals, clocking 8.26 seconds and 186.32 MPH in the win. The 1971 Winternationals was marred by two fatal accidents: "Sneaky" Pete Robinson and Kathy Marie Russell, the wife of a fuel dragster driver who was killed when hit by a race car warming up in the pit area.
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1953
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CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Pomona Drags, ca. 1963, 32 minutes, no sound
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Winternationals at Pomona in 1965, filmed by Mike Tyler,  9:45 minutes, no sound
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Pomona Drags, mid-1960s, 2:12 minutes, no sound/music only

Porterville Municipal Airport


In December 1967, the Porterville city council gave permission for drag races to be held on the shorter secondary east-west runway of the airport beginning in 1968. Races were conducted by the Porterville Drag Racing Association and were sanctioned by NHRA. The condition of the asphalt was poor. The city council stipulated that only cars capable of running no more than 140 MPH would be permitted.  There were no plans to install bleachers and everything associated with the races had to be portable for easy removal after the races. At a race on Sunday, March 9, 1969, the first race of the season attracted one hundred entries. Bill Looney of Visalia won competition eliminator with his Ford T-roadster with a time of 10.67 at 129.31 MPH. He won a trophy and $75. In 1969, it was being considered for inclusion in a racing circuit of other California drag strips that would comprise Santa Maria, Porterville, Salinas, and Inyokern. The airport dates back to a 1942 opening as Porterville Army Airfield. After the war the airport was turned over to Porterville for civilian use.
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Ramona Drag Strip/San Diego Raceway


Paul and Bob Darrough leased land on the south side of the Ramona Airport to build a drag strip, Lou Castenagna and Ray Richards also came in as managing partners on the project. Ramona was  thirty miles northeast of San Diego. The track was remote and had to pay tow money to get the name cars to appear. That was necessary to bring in spectators, but its remoteness and the high cost of attracting name racers doomed the track after just a few short years. John Wenderski died at this strip on February 23, 1964, when his "Black Beauty" AA/FD was buffeted by a gust of wind as it approached the finish timing lights at a speed between 160-70 MPH.  It began to drift to the left side of the track.  It got off onto the side of the race track, hit an embankment, soared twenty feet through the air, and flipped before landing on rocky ground and disintegrating. At one meet, Art Arfons in his "Green Monster" jet dragster, blew the fence behind the staging area down onto some cars.  At least by 1967, if not before, it ran every Saturday night under NHRA sanction. It was listed as one of 325 U.S. drag strips in 1968 in an issue of the Swedish magazine Start & Strip
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Ramona Drag Strip, ​​​​​​ 1964 aerial photo
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of San Diego Raceway in the mid-1960s, 6 minutes, no sound

Redding Dragstrip

  • Years of Operation: 1955-present
 
Redding Dragstrip purportedly became an NHRA-sanctioned drag strip in fall 1955. Newspaper research uncovered evidence of a drag race, conducted by the Redding Timing Association, being held as early as June 5, 1955. Slim Jokela, racing a motorcycle, recorded the fastest time at that event. More research is needed on the early years of racing at Redding Dragstrip. The drag strip's website implies that drag racing began possibly as early as 1948. It is one of the oldest continuously-operating drag strips with a regular race program in the country. It is adjacent to and just east of Redding Municipal Airport. On May 18, 1958, Bob Watts of Reno set the B/D national record with a run of 144 MPH. On June 28-29, 1958, the fourth annual Northern California drag races were held at Redding. In 1959 through 1961 (and probably thereafter), the Shasta Roadsters conducted NHRA-sanctioned races every third Sunday.  In a May 1960 race, there were a record 196 competitors and 1,464 spectators. An annual event, run on Sunday and Monday, was the Labor Day drag race. In 1968, the Northern California Drag Racers Association held a points race at the Labor Day race. Don Argee took top eliminator with a 7.57 second run over Jim Hubert whose engine caught fire on the line. Argee had sped to top speed of the meet during time trials with a 230 MPH run. Dennis Hollingsworth set low ET of the meet with a 7.42 time.
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CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage taken by Larry Sparman of Redding Drag Strip, circa 1962-63, 6 minutes, music only/no sound

Rialto Raceway


A runway at this still-active airport was used for NHRA-sanctioned 1/8th-mile racing. When it first started, the racing was limited to Jr. dragsters, but then later opened it up for bracket racing for cars.
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Riverside International Motor Raceway

 
The 1.1 mile long backstretch of this road race course in Riverside was where drag races were held. The race course was located one mile east of the junction of Highways 60 and 395. Calvin Rice set the track record on October 6, 1957, with a speed of 161 MPH on a half-mile timed run. Later in the year he upped the record to 167 MPH.  In 1957, Riverside was the only drag racing venue in California that had half-mile racing. 200 racers were turned away on October 13 due to wet conditions from rains. Bud Coons was the drag strip manager in 1957. There were reportedly 90 NHRA sanctioned drag strips in the U.S. in 1957. ("Safety on highway rates first with drag racers," Salt Lake Tribune, July 7, 1957) On December 20, 1959, Art Malone drove Don Garlits's fuel dragster to a speed of 181.45 MPH in 8.50 seconds. In 1961, C. J. Hart took over as manager of Riverside's drag race operation. They held races on the second and fourth Sunday of each month. As of 1961, the strip record was 171 MPH. The Hot Rod Magazine Championship Drag Races were staged at Riverside from 1964 through 1969, attracting large field of big-name cars because of the big money purses. From 1968-70, races were held on a once-a-month basis.
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December 20, 1964
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CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of drag racing at Riverside Raceway, circa 1965-66, 12 minutes, music only/no sound

Sacramento Raceway Park

  • Years of Operation: 1964-present
 
Vastine "Ves" Smith built the drag strip in 1964, laying the original asphalt and building timing tower. He also built two sets of grandstands, which held about fifty spectators.  On September 18, 1965, Ed Gonzales of San Leandro took top fuel eliminator with 8.84 ET and 179 MPH in his injected Chevy dragster. On May 21-22, 1966, Sacramento hosted a 2-day NHRA divisional points meet that attracted 300 competitors. Ves Smith ran the track for a few years before turning management over to Betty Clark in 1967. She named it Eldorado Raceway, because of its nearness to the El Dorado Hills. In late 1967, the 198-acre race site was bought by Western Oil Development. They restored the original name: Sacramento Raceway. They also spent $50,000 in upgrades to the property. Unable to make it financially viable, they searched for a buyer who would lease and retain the property as a racetrack. Dave Smith and his family, the current owners, leased Sacramento Raceway in early 1968 , They operated the track under NHRA sanction, and still do to this day. In 1971, they bought the race complex including the drag strip outright.
 
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February 27, 1977
CLICK HERE to see home movie video footage of Sacramento Raceway, circa 1972-73, filmed by Dennis Heppner, 4 minutes, no sound

Salinas Municipal Airport


DSL reader Don Jensen, whose memory goes back to the earliest days in drag racing, recalled: "Salinas ran on main runway at least three times [in]1949."  On September 21, 1952, the Northern California Timing Association sponsored and conducted a drag race at the Salinas Municipal Airport. It was a benefit race for the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund.  There is some evidence that drag racing may have begun as early as 1951 (see "Hot Rod Notes," Hayward Daily Review, May 16, 1952)  Langdon Evans set the NHRA B fuel modified roadster record at this track in his '29 Ford powered by a '40 Merc. That record was listed as still official as of October 13, 1954.  It was listed as one of 325 U.S. drag strips in 1968 in an issue of the Swedish magazine Start & Strip .  In 1969, it was being considered for inclusion in a racing circuit of other California drag strips that would comprise Santa Maria, Porterville, Salinas, and Inyokern.
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Samoa Airport ​(Eureka)

  • Years of Operation: 1952-57, 1959-present
 
The Blockbusters Car Club initiated their first drag race at Eureka's airport on October 26, 1952. Cars were timed in a measured quarter mile using stopwatches. The track had a quarter-mile shut down area.  The Blockbusters had help in conducting the race by members of Road Knights and Saints car clubs. In 1953, these car clubs combined to form the Humboldt Timing Association to conduct the races in a uniform manner, obtain electric timing equipment, and pay for insurance. On November 21, 1954, the first NHRA-sanctioned event was held. In 1955, they began holding what was called the Redwood Championship drag race. The second annual Redwood Championships were held on September 23, 1956. About 500 people attended the event. Norma Anderton, Miss Humboldt of 1956, awarded trophies to the winners. Sixty cars and eight motorcycles competed. A top speed of the event was turned in by the Shafters car club's roadster of 129 MPH. That broke their old track record. Races were held bi-monthly in 1957. Two drag racers tied with the fastest clockings in 1957. Both Dave Lindstrom and Gene Calanchini had been clocked at 112.50 MPH. The third annual Redwood championships were held on September 22, 1957. In researching this, it was puzzling that drag races seem to have been suspended at the airport in 1958. A Humboldt Standard article in April 1959 made it clear. The city of Eureka was building a drag strip near the airport and racing was suspended at the airport until the new strip was completed. On August 23, 1959, drag racing resumed after a two-year hiatus.  They ran on the airport runway because the auxiliary air strip was not yet finished. The meet was sanctioned by NHRA and open only to cars that had brakes on all four wheels. In the 1960 season, they ran on the auxiliary landing strip. In August 1960, the timing association asked the city for a $900 loan from its airport fund to build a return road. The city attorney nixed the request and advised them to seek a proper bank loan. In 1981, the strip was officially renamed "The Orvil Wilson Memorial Park for Off Street Vehicles." Wilson played an important role in the construction of the drag strip in 1967.  It operates today as an NHRA-sanctioned quarter-mile drag strip.
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August 5-6, 1961
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CLICK HERE to see video footage of Samoa Drag Strip, 2008, 3:12 minutes
In this Google Earth image, the orginal drag strip that was used from 1952-57 is seen to the left of the current drag strip (identified as Airport Landing Strip) that opened for racing in 1959.  Courtesy of Leon Warmu;th

San Fernando Drag Strip/Raceway

 
This popular drag strip, affectionately called "The Pond,"  was built adjacent to the northwest side of the runway at San Fernando Airport in 1955. The old airport was first established in about 1939. The drag strip ran in a southwest to northeast direction, in the vicinity of what is today Arroyo Street. The drag strip's opening came after a nine-month battle by San Fernando Valley hot rodders to get a drag strip.  The San Fernando Airport Development Company owned and built the drag strip at a cost of $70,000. Builder and developer Fritz B. Burns spearheaded the project. It boasted 3,200 feet of paved straightaway with an additional shutoff area that was oiled and graded. Frank Huszar, president of the Throttle Merchants car club of Tarzana, was the strip manager. The Valley Timing Federation sponsored the strip. They held a full dress rehearsal on August 7, 1955, a week prior to the strip's grand opening. Nine hundred people watched 150 vehicles at the dress rehearsal. At the grand opening on August 14, the track was fenced and they had a paved pit area. They drew 2,000 spectators to the grand opening. Cal Rice got top eliminator in his dragster and set the track record with a 139.75 MPH run. On September 25, 1955, a then-record crowd of 5,000 people watched the racing. Drag races were held weekly. In 1956, they started making extensive improvements including doubling the parking area, widening entrances, and adding additional seating. On March 2, 1958, Mickey Brown of Venice, California, set a new world's record of 152.28 MPH in his A/GD. 3,000 people saw him set the record. Two weeks later he broke his own record for gas dragsters with a run of 157.61 MPH. On June 22, 1958, Ronnie Hier of Palmdale won the California Drag Championships before a record crowd of 5,000 people. There were 328 entries in the event. Hier drove his injected dragster in 10.8 seconds at a speed of 141.06 MPH. On November 30, 1958, Tommy Ivo ran his fastest-ever time in his 420 cubic-inch Buick dragster, clocking 9.52 seconds and 147.78 MPH. On December 21, 1958, professional tennis star Pancho Gonzales was clocked at 151.51 MPH in his blown Cadillac race car, the second fastest speed at the strip that year. On February 15, 1959, Tommy Ivo set a world speed record for unblown gas dragsters with a 154.36 MPH run. A week later he broke the world time mark with a 9.21 second run. On May 10, 1959, Joe Mailliard set a new gas dragster e.t. world record with a 9.03 run. Harold Nicholson, 35-year-old brother of "Dyno" Don Nicholson, was killed on November 22, 1959 when his right front wheel spun loose at the finish line and he overturned several times.  The site of the drag strip is north of the intersection of Dronfield Avenue and Aviation Place. It is densely developed with no trace of the old drag strip remaining today. On December 27, 1959, Don Prudhomme set a new track record with a run of 161.57 MPH. On October 9, 1960, Bob Brissette posted the valley's top time with a 169.81 MPH clocking in 9.48 seconds in his twin-engined Chevy-powered dragster. On January 1, 1961, Tommy Ivo clocked a new track top speed mark with a 174.09 MPH run. Kenny Safford in the Safford-Gaide-Ratican A/FD was the first driver to top 190 MPH at San Fernando, clocking 190.26 MPH. One old timer recalled:  "San Fernando opened around '56, was right next to the San Fernando airport. The shutoff ran under a bridge that Foothill Boulevard ran over, several fatalities when guys hit the bridge abutment. [There were] houses right next to the track, so competition cars could only run between 12-3:00 PM. Finally the noise complaints closed the track. Harry Hibler ran it, and was one of the good managers, always slipped you a few bucks if he knew you were broke."
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1956
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San Fernando Drag Strip, ​ 1967 topo map
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of San Fernando, June 9, 1968, featuring George Hutcheson driving US Turbine 1 exhibition dragster, 9 minutes, no sound
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CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of San Fernando, circa 1968-70, 2:41 minutes

San Gabriel Valley Drag Strip/Dragway (Baldwin Park)

 
On May 6, 1956, the first drag strip in San Gabriel Valley held its opening race. 4,250 spectators turned out to see Art Chrisman set a track record for dragsters, clocking 142.73 MPH. Another racer at that opening race was pro tennis champion Pancho Gonzales, whose Cad-powered '34 coupe won its class with a 107.52 run. Located in Baldwin Park, just east of Temple City, it was situated at the head of the San Gabriel River. $30,000 was spent to build a 3,500 foot long strip, of which 3,000 feet was paved. The 40-acre site was located on Rivergrade Road, one-half mile below Arrow Highway. Robert E. Lee was the track director and Berk Kellogg and Bob Sohus were the co-owners. NHRA held a West Coast regional drag championships on May 26-27, 1956, only weeks after the opener. Kenny Arnold won that event with a run of 137.40 MPH and 10.69 E.T.  On July 4, 1956, the West Covina Jaycees sponsored a "Dragorama." Nearly 4,000 people watched 222 entries compete. The Armstrong-Richer dragster from El Monte set a track record with a speed of 148.02 MPH. Four days later, Richer upped the track record to 150 MPH.  In an unfortunate accident, Roger Stinson lost control of his 1937 English Austin while going an estimated 110 MPH. He was hurled from the car when it overturned and died from his injuries on December 23, 1956.  There were two fatal accidents at the drag strip in 1958 within eight days of each other. These accidents and editorial criticism in newspapers prompted the drag strip to institute a policy permitting only street cars, stock cars, and roadsters to race. Dragsters and other fast cars would not be allowed to run on the track, cutting the speeds down considerably. The strip was forced to move when the nearby riverbed was made into a flood channel. Thus there were two San Gabriel Drag Strips:  the first in Baldwin Park, the other built in Irwindale. Eskimo Gudger wrote about the Old San Gabe in Drag Sport Illustrated (Sep. 27, 1965):  "There really wasn't much to the old place, it was short, narrow and simple. The strip itself was the only part that was paved and at times the place was so dusty you could lose your race car if you weren't careful. It was a place to race however and right from the very beginning it was swarming with activity."
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San Gabriel Drag Strip (Irwindale)

 
The old (or first) San Gabriel Valley Drag Strip, located in Baldwin Park, had to be moved a little west to a site on Live Oak and Rivergrade Road in Irwindale. In fact, a portion of the old strip was incorporated into the pit area of the new strip. Although the old strip, due to fatal accidents, had to  restrict dragsters and other fast cars from running to appease public pressure, this new track, owned by ace promoters Jack and Will Tice and partner Jack Minnock, was built for speed. At a race in November 1961, Gordon Collett set a new national record for single-engine AA/GD with a clocking of 178.5 MPH in 8.62 seconds. The track booked many big-name racers including Lefty Mudersbach, Tommy Ivo, Chris Karamesines, Vance Hunt, Don Garlits, E. J. "Parachute" Potter, Archie Liederbrand's "Untouchable" jet dragster, etc. Part of its success was due to the fact they permitted fuel cars to run during the time of the NHRA fuel ban. The track installed lights for night racing in 1962. The final race was a 2-day event held on August 10-11, 1963. Close to 30,000 people turned out to watch more than twenty top fuelers compete. In addition to a match race between Tommy Ivo and Kenny Safford, other racers competing included Don Prudhomme, Masters-Richter, Mike Snively, Glen Stokey, Bob Sidebotham, and Mike Danylo in the Airline Auto Special. The track was sold by the Tice brothers after their lease expired, leaving what is today an expanse of open gravel and a large electric power substation.
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December 10, 1961
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San Jose Reid-Hillview Airport

 
Drag races were held on a runway of this airport located in the eastern part of San Jose in the mid-1950s. The racers had to clear the runway if a plane needed to land.
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CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of drag racing at this San Jose airport, mid-1950s, filmed by Jack Santos,, 8:31 minutes, no sound

San Luis Obispo "Drag Strip"

 
The San Luis Obispo County Timing Association conducted NHRA-sanctioned drag races on the third Sunday of every month in 1959 and 1960. They held races on the fourth Sunday in 1961. Races were held at the San Luis Obispo Airport, a county-owned field. The listing in the September 1961 issue of Car Craft magazine called it the "Pride of the Pacific Drag Strip."
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Santa Ana Blimp Base (Tustin)

 
With the encouragement and support of the California Highway Patrol, the first documented quarter-mile timed, supervised drag races in history were first held at the Santa Ana Naval Blimp Base in Southern California. Although the airport runway stretched for 5400 feet, the racing took place on just an 8/10 mile portion of that expanse. Vehicles were timed in the final 132 feet of the quarter mile. Promoters collected admission and entry fees and gave out trophies to winners in various racing categories. In the first year of operation, they held regular weekly races, probably begun about June 1950. On July 16, 1950, the Southern California Timing Association held a special event, termed the Gold Cup, which they anticipated would become an annual event. At this race, they anticipated thousands of spectators would attend to see 60 cars and motorcycles racing in four different classes and special match races.  Some of the Class B entries (cars from 183 to 250 cubic inches) included Thomas Cobbs, James Hawley, Ed Beeching, Bob Anderson-Jim Woods, George Wheatcraft, Allen Cheney-Tom Eiden, Al Craig, Eugene Hewitt, and Carl Kaylor. Drag racing moved to the Orange County Airport, four miles away, by the end of the year.
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July 16, 1950
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Santa Ana Drag Strip

 
Drag races, which first were held in mid-1950 at the Santa Ana Naval Blimp Base in Tustin, moved south about four miles to the Orange County Airport in late 1950. It was an auspicious beginning as organized drag racing's first fatal accident occurred at Santa Ana on December 10, 1950 when Richard Gilbert was killed. His race car overturned as he neared the finish line. He was the first of over 450 drag racers who have died while racing. The Orange County Timing Association conducted the races, sponsored by the California Highway Patrol. The strip was founded by C.J. "Pappy" Hart, Creighton Hunter, and Frank Stillwell on $1,000 start-up money. Racing classifications in 1954 included such interesting classes as open gas, heavy gas, light gas, and postwar gas, strip gas, gas rail, fourbanger, and heavy, strip, and modified coupe. The Howard Cam Special was a regular winner in 1954 in the postwar gas overhead class. In June 1955, Lloyd Scott set a new national record in his "Bustle Bomb" with a run of 147 MPH. At a race on July 10, 1955, spectator Drew Williams was killed by a piece of metal hurled into his chest from a transmission exploding on Otto Ryssman's car. He had been watching the race seated in bleachers forty feet away. On Sunday, August 12, 1956, the Red Henslee-Emory Cook rear-motored roadster from San Diego set a new drag racing speed mark with a 157.15 MPH run. That eclipsed the record run they had made just the night before at Lions Drag Strip. The Gold Cup, a race first staged in 1950 at the Santa Ana Blimp Base, was continued as an annual race, generally held in April, at the Orange County Airport each year. The Gold Cup race in 1957 was held on April 28. Racing reportedly ended at the airport in July 1959, due to increased airport traffic. The airport strip had been a regular racing venue for such drag racing pioneers as Art Chrisman, Don Yates, Calvin Rice, and Joaquin Arnett. The old strip was located just east of what is now the main runway at John Wayne Airport.
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CLICK HERE to see historic 8mm video footage of Santa Ana Drags, 7 minutes,  no sound
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Santa Maria Dragway/Golden State Raceway

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The Dragons Car Club was given permission by Santa Maria city officials to use an abandoned taxiway at Santa Maria Army Air Field to hold drag races. Steve Evans, the late great drag racing announcer, ran the race track. No trace of the drag strip remains, but it ran just parallel to today's West Foster Road, due south of today's Santa Maria Public Airport. DSL reader, Don Jensen, helped in the strip's construction in 1953. Read his recollections in the Memories (California) page. The 1954 season opened on April 4 and ran on the first Sunday of each month. They hosted the Central Coast NHRA Regional Championship Drags on June 12-13, 1954. The NHRA-sanctioned races were held on the first Sunday in 1959 and 1960, but changed to the second Sunday in 1961. In 1969, the track was moved further west, using an unused runway on the north end of what is today's South Blosser Road. At the time of the relocation, the track's name was changed to Golden State Raceway (see entry).
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Ad in Drag Sport Illustrated, Nov. 1, 1965. Courtesy of Mel Bashore
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CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Santa Maria taken by Cody Rieck about 1962, 8:46 minutes, music & no sound
Santa Maria Dragway, located southeast of Santa Maria Airport,​​​​​ 1960 topo map

Santa Rosa/Cotati Drag Strip

 
Sponsored by the city of Santa Rosa, the drag strip was located 7.6 miles south of the city on a runway of the Cotati Naval Outer Landing Field just to the west of U. S. Highway 101. The strip, which ran toward the northwest, was 250 feet wide by 4,800 feet long, with a large pit area on the other runway to the west. The first race was held on October 7, 1956. Only two months after the strip opened, Joseph Mahoney was killed in a fatal race accident on December 16, 1956. On February 21, 1960, Jim McLennan drove the Gotelli-Champion dragster to top eliminator clocking 168.28 MPH. On July 17, 1960, McLennan set a strip record with a clocking of 176.42 MPH in 8.62 seconds. One of the final events (if not the final race) at Cotati Raceway (known by that name in 1964) was the NHRA Fall Championship Drag Race held on November 14, 1964. By the mid-1970s, parts of the old strip had begun to be developed, first into a large mobile home park and then into a large commercial retail development. All traces of the former air field/drag strip were gone by 1993.
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1965 aerial view of Cotati Drag Strip

Santa Ynez Airport

 
A YouTube video   shows a drag race, called the Buellton Drags, being held at the Santa Ynez Airport, circa early 1960s. The original filming was done by Joe Silva. This is the only evidence research has found of drag racing at this airport.
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CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Buellton Drags at Santa Ynez Airport, circa 1960s, go to the 2:08 minute mark, music & no sound

Saugus Field ​(Newhall)

 
There was a drag stip operating at Saugus Field (also known as Newhall Airport). It was a single northwest/southeast unpaved runway. There is no trace of the old airfield today as the site is highly developed. The site of the airport is east of the intersection of McBean Parkway and Del Monte Drive.  Newspapers reported that 1955 NHRA champion Calvin Rice clocked 149.29 MPH on the Saugus dirt strip on March 11, 1956. For much of 1956, races were held weekly. On December 16, 1956, Emory Cook in the Cook-Bedwell dragster took top eliminator clocking 153.64 MPH--on a dirt strip! One old timer recalled:  "Saugus was one of the first strips to hold night drags, with a giant searchlight pointing down the track. Lou Baney ran Saugus, and a lot of lakes' guys stopped off to run it on their way home from El Mirage." It closed to racing when the owner of the airport sold the airfield.
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Sears Point International Raceway/Sonoma Raceway

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  • Years of Operation:  1969-70, 1973, 1976-77
  • Status:  5
 
Construction on this 736-acre road course and drag strip complex was completed and ready for racing in December 1968. It was built by Robert Marshall, Jr. and Jim Coleman. Jack Cameron was the drag strip manager when the track held its first drag race. It opened with NHRA's $15,000 National Open Drag Race on March 8-9, 1969. The race attracted 321 entries and a two-day attendance of over 17,000 spectators. Don Garlits was the top qualifier at 6.99 seconds at 215.84 MPH. Garlits won top fuel and Danny Ongais took funny car honors. Jim Davis turned the fastest speed in his AA/FD with a 218.92 MPH run. That same year, they held a Super Stock Drag Meet on April 20. It only drew 3,500 people due to poor publicity. In May 1969, a notice in newspapers reported that all drag racing was "suspended indefinitely" until improvements could be made. But only a few weeks after that announcement, Filmways Corporation purchased the racing complex. They primarily focused on sports car, stock car, and motorcycle racing prior to closing the track in May 1970 because of revenue losses and using it for a tax shelter. On November 2, 1969, they did put on a big funny car event, promoting it as a Northern vs. Southern California match. Ten thousand people saw the South outpoint the North and Gas Ronda won the event. Larry Reyes had the fastest clocking in "The Hawaiian" with a 7.56 ET at 198.76 MPH. The event attracted such racers as Don Schumacher, Jim Liberman, Connie Kalitta, Dick Harrell, Paula Murphy, Kelly Chadwick, and Gene Snow. One other big event was held on March 14-15, 1970, prior to the track's closure. Fewer than 200 entries competed in what was billed as the San Francisco National Open Championships. John Wiebe set a track record of 6.794 seconds at 222.77 MPH in qualifying. Jerry Ruth took top fuel, Mike Snively won funny car, and Dick Landy won pro stock. The track held an NHRA divisional race on September 22-23, 1973, Paula Murphy crashed her rocket-powered dragster during an exhibition run at the event, but escaped with only minor injuries. Ron Atterbury beat James Warren to take top fuel eliminator. On June 20, 1976, the track held a California E.T. Bracket Championships with some funny car exhibitions. Seven thousand people watched the Funny Car Classic on October 30, 1977. Shirley Muldowney beat Dennis Baca in a match race. Baca was so sure he would beat her that he said he'd carpet the whole quarter mile (he was in the carpet wholesale business) if she won. She said he could make good on his boast and carpet it pink. Tommy Ivo beat Don Prudhomme in the funny car fianls. From 2002 to 2012, it was called Infineon Raceway, thereafter being called Sonoma Raceway.
November 2, 1969
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September 22-23, 1973
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1976
CLICK HERE to see video footage of Infineon Raceway, 2009, filmed by Jeff Kindt, 3:25 minutes

Sky Park Airport (Scott's Valley)

 
DSL reader Don Jensen, who first drag raced in California in 1950 , recalled: "Scott's valley (Santa Cruz) [ran] at least twice [in] 1949." Scott's Valley was between San Jose and Santa Cruz, but closer to the latter. Races were held on Sky Park Airport, a private airfield built in 1947.  Jensen wrote, "Sky Park airport [was] run by Santa Cruz Slopokes and Cam Snappers with support from Cal Neva Timing [Manny Clinnick]. ETs only, best 14.69." He obtained this infomation from Spencer Simon and the Rod Dust newsletter #4, Nov. 1, 1950, printed in Berkeley. Rod Dust was writen by Ken Fuhrmann, a racer and photographer.
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1991 aerial view of Sky Park Airport

Tidelands Circuit ​(San Carlos)

 
In July 1952, the San Francisco Junior Chamber of Commerce was successful in starting a drag race program at a new paved asphalt road race course located at Holly and Bayshore Highway in San Carlos, south of Belmont.  Newspapers called the race course Tidelands Circuit, but Don Jensen said all the drag racers called it Belmont. He also said that one of the old timers that he interviewd called it San Carlos Raceway. It was near the San Carlos Airport. Drag races were held on a 1/5th mile section of the 2,000-foot straight-away on the road course. The Peninsula Timing Association played a part in building, and financing the race course. The first drag race was held on July 20.  Six hundred spectators watched 96 racers. Photos of that first race can be found in Hot Rod Magazine, (Oct. 1952): 36-37. The Redwood Timing Association conducted the races. In that first year of operation, they held weekly drag races almost every Sunday, except when the race track was used for other road racing events. They suspended racing for winter in September. They had an electronic timer and gave out trophies for class winners.
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Tracy "Drag Strip"

 
The Valley Timing Association (VTA) conducted weekly 1/4-mile drag races at the New Jerusalem Air Field seven miles southeast of Tracy.  It was an old World War II auxiliary airfield. Their first race was held on December 24, 1950. In order to appease disgruntled farmers who owned land adjoining the air field, the VTA only permitted their members to race on the strip.  The VTA discontinued racing at Tracy in October 1951 in anticipation of a new drag strip (Kingdon) being started near Lodi. Read Don Jensen's recollections of racing at Tracy in 1950 in the Memories (California) page of DSL .
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Vaca Valley Raceway (Vacaville)

 
$500,000 was spent to build the new multi-purpose motor raceway. It featured a drag strip, 1.25 mile oval track, and a 2.1 mile road race course. Contemporary newspapers reported it was three miles east of the Nut Tree Restaurant off Highway 40 near Vacaville. It was located on vacant land on the northwest corner of Lewis and Weber Road, just south of what was then Highway 40. It was the second track in Northern California built for sports car racing and the first in the country to incorporate facilities for the three kinds of racing. There was parking for 15,000, but the quality of paving was poor from the very start. The race track closed when the racing surface deteriorated to the point of being unusable. The outline of the track can still be seen on aerial photos, but few sections of tarmac remain to be seen on the site.  On December 17, 1958, 1,700 people watched 250 drag race vehicles race. Paul Sutherland of Walnut Creek took top eliminator with a run of 159 MPH. On May 24, 1959, Art Chrisman set a new strip record with a run of 176.43 MPH. At that same race, Red Case broke his neck after shooting over the end-of-track embankment. He died several days later from the multiple injuries. On November 22, 1959, Bud Butler set a new national record for Chevrolet-powered dragster in the Glass Slipper with a run of 170.43 MPH. Art Chrisman won the top fuel competition at the two-day West Coast Championship Drag Races on April 23-24, 1960. He averaged 171.7 MPH during competition. In 1960, the raceway began holding night drag races. On August 5, 1961, Romeo Palamides turned 180 MPH in his "California Kid" jet dragster. The next week the track put down some new asphalt.
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May 15-16, 1965
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2005 aerial view of Vaca Valley Raceway

Vacaville Drag Strip

 
The race strip was built near the Vacaville airport, three miles east of Vacaville. Racers ran from north to south. When built, allowance was not made for the land settling. As a result, it was quite rough at the top end. At the first race, there were only cars in the slower classes competing, so the rough surface in the shut down area was not a problem. But at the second race, a racer who set the top speed mark said that the strip was too rough for cars going over 115 MPH. So after that second race, they tried to repave that top-end section, but it only made it worse than before. It was the opinion of other racers that it was this rough section of strip on the top-end that was the primary cause of the death of Louis Casaurang on September 30, 1956. He was clocked at 134 MPH, the top speed of the meet, driving his roadster, when he swerved after crossing the finish line to miss the timing tower. He tried to correct it, but the car went into a long skid, shot fifty feet through the air and landed on its top, crushing him. 3,000 spectators, including his wife, witnessed this tragic accident. Newspaper reports mentioned that the rough paving in the shut down area may have been a factor in him being unable to wrest the car back from the skid and causing his death. Despite this, a race was held only weeks later on October 14, 1956. The strip was completely repaved prior to the beginning of the 1957 racing season. Oakland's Leo Saunders made a run of 123.90 MPH on August 11, 1957. Two weeks later (August 25), Ed Cortopassi drove the Glass Slipper streamlined fiberglass dragster to a new track record of 142 MPH. A week later, Hank Vincent upped the top speed mark to 145.10 MPH. On October 26-27, 1957, two racers, Emory Cook in the Isky-U-Fab Special and Pete Ogden, upped the mark to 159 MPH in a two-day championship event. Gene's Brake Shop Special set a new world record for flathead engines on pump gas with 137.08 MPH run. On May 11, 1958, Chet Davis set a new world record for B/GD with a speed of 152.33 in his Cad-engined dragster. Pete Ogden also set a new track record in his "Romeo" dragster with a speed of 162 MPH.
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Ventura "Drag Strip"

  • Years of Operation: 1955
  • Status:  5
 
The Ventura City Council approved the operation of a 1,400-yard drag strip on a portion of Pierpont Boulevard for a period of seven months. Races would be held the first Sunday of every other month. They stipulated that while races were being held, the city dump would be closed and Pierpont Boulevard would be closed south of Arundel Barranca. The Ventura Jaycees sponsored the drag racing. The city council retained the right to revoke the racing agreement at any time. The agreement did not permit cars to race side by side, only single runs to be timed by the clock.  More research is needed.
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Vernalis Speedway

 
Drag races were held on one of the two long runways of the old Vernalis Naval Auxiliary Airfield, which dated back to a 1943 beginning. It is now called New Jerusalem Airport.  It was located fourteen miles west of Modesto.   ​ Richard Hector recalled, "In the early 1970's the runway became the site of a drag strip & some real excitement. It started informally on weekends at first, but at some point there was a formal business & a real track established that, while never attracting the big NHRA type dragsters, was nevertheless quite a draw in the valley. Every Sunday, Gaffery Road saw hundreds of hot rods and trucks towing dragsters towards the air base. But by 1980 even this shut down and the agriculture-based businesses took over. They were spreading hundreds of truck loads of cannery by-products on the strip and letting nature do its thing; the smell and the flies were unbearable if you were within a couple of miles of the place." On August 16, 1970, Alan Monahan was killed while racing his Henry J D/G car. Unsafe track conditions were deemed to be one of the factors in the fatal accident, so racing was halted so improvements could be made.  It was called Vernalis Speedway in newspaper lisitings of auto racing. One news article (Hayward Daily Review, June 16, 1971) said that Vernalis Drag Strip was "world famous." That's probably stretching things a bit too far. Racing may have begun earlier than 1970, but research in the track's early history is needed.
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1993 aerial view of Vernalis Speedway. From this, it is evident from the black starting line surface that the easternmost airstrip was the one used for racing.

Vina Raceway

 
Drag races were held on an abandoned World War II auxiliary landing field located eighteen miles northwest of Chico, thrre miles east of the little hamlet of Vina. Incorporation papers were filed for Vina Raceway on March 2, 1966. The old airfield was actually a paved rectangular landing mat. As one wag said, "It's the fastest parking lot around." ("Vina Raceway, Next On Agenda," Hayward Daily Review, May 22, 1968)     David Anderson recalled, “I have been on the actual surface of Chico Auxiliary #3 many times,  as a portion of it was utilized as a dragstrip during the time period 1963-66. Bob Foor obtained permission to operate a drag strip which was called Vina Raceway from either the owner of the land or the County Board of Supervisors. Mike Pelak ran the operation. The asphalt surface was deteriorating, as no maintenance had been done since it was built apparently during WWII, but portions of it were good enough to use for racing purposes. Metal guard rails were installed like you would find at the side of roads back in the 1970s. They were probably removed as part of the demise of the track operation. The strip utilized an area about in the middle of the expanse of asphalt, running North to South.” A sports car six-turn road course was set up on the landing mat for a $3,000 purse SCCA race held on June 2, 1968. On Sunday, October 13, 1968, the Chico Jaycees put on a drag race at Vina Raceway with money prizes for winners. One man recalled the widespread marketing the strip did for the drag races:  " I just obtained an old 1968 issue of Super Stock drag racing magazine, which had a feature article about this Vina Raceway dragstrip, which was in operation from 1963 to 1968. I was not able to attend any races there, but I remembered seeing the advertisement posters posted on phone poles all over downtown, for an upcoming Sunday afternoon drag race at Vina Raceway in either 1965 or 1966, while I was still in high school in Southern Oregon. Some of my friends went down to the race, and told me that there was a very good turnout from our town, which was probably a four or five hour drive away. The big turnout was probably due to all the advance advertising that had been done in various Southern Oregon/Northern California towns."
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Visalia Airport

 
Races were held as early as 1954 at this airport. Darrell Wineman set a NHRA national record  in the B gas coupe and sedan class in his '39 Ford, a record that was in force as late as October 13, 1954. Beginning in 1955, drag races were held annually in May at the Visalia Airport with proceeds going to benefit different charities. The 1959 race, sanctioned by NHRA, was held on May 24. The Vapor Trailers car club sponsored the races. Other races in 1959 were held on July 26 and September 27. In 1960-61, races were held on the fourth Sunday of each month.
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May 24, 1959

Willow Springs Race Course

 
The Merced Racing Association conducted drag races on a long straight-away on this historic desert road race course located just west of Rosamond. Willow Springs is the oldest permanent road course in the United States. Racing events started there in late 1953. In late 1954, they held weekly drag races there every Sunday. Research was unable to uncover anything about drag racing at Willow Springs until 1963, but it probably occurred.  On December 15, 1963, the Willow Springs Dragway held the Antelope Valley championship drags. A purse of $500 was up for grabs between stock cars and competition cars. Top eliminator was limited to C, D, and E dragsters, modified coupes, and roadsters.
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1954

Winters Airstrip

 
The Cal-Neva Timing Association operated a drag strip on the airstrip at Winters for four months in 1954. Despite being 65 miles east of the Bay Area, they generally fielded about 50 cars and drew 1000 spectators at each weekly event. The first race was held on March 7, 1954. All races were timed on 1/2 mile portion of the runway, not a quarter mile. NHRA sanctioned a 2-day event held on July 10-11. John Bozzie was a frequent entry, running his two-engined motorcycle regularly at speeds over 144 miles per hour. After the conclusion of the 1954 season, prospects for racing at Winters in 1955 didn't seem favorable. For photographs and information, see Hot Rod Magazine, (Oct. 1954): 26-29. The north/south asphalt/concrete 6,000-foot runway had been built by the U. S. Army Air Force in about 1941. It was turned over to the local government after World War II. It continues operation today as the Yolo County Airport, about six miles northeast of Winters. The Yolo County board of supervisors gave permission for the Yolo County March of Dimes to hold a one-time benefit drag race at the Yolo County Airport on Sunday, March 26, 1972. Although the FAA was less than enthusiastic about it, they did not prevent it and closed the airport to commercial aircraft for that day. It was a rousing success and several hundred racers participated in the 1/8th-mile drags. Over $1,300 was raised in the benefit race.
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1954
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