Back to the Drags After 35 Years
By Jon Price
Went to my last race in 1965. Went to the first day of the Winternationals this past weekend. Things have changed! I practically lived at Lions from 1958 through 1961. I have not kept up with drag racing, so this is all new to me. I got my driver's license in late 1958, and shortly thereafter, I started going to the drags at Lions, which was about 20 minutes from my house. It did not take long before I wanted to do more than just watch, so without my Dad's knowledge, I had a cutout put on his old '47 Plymouth Coupe with a flat six, and I went racing!
Don't remember exactly what class it was, but it was one of the lower stock classes of that time. I spent virtually every weekend and during the summer, Wednesday night grudge racing at Lions. In late 1959, I bought a '59 Plymouth Sport Fury with a 383 cu. in. Mopar. I drove this car every day, so other than the mandatory exhaust cutouts and some tuning tweaks, the car was stock. I believe I ran in E/SA, with times in the 13 - 14 sec range and speeds in the high 80s. I took a trophy here and there, but could not display them at home or my secret would be out.
My folks knew that I went to the drags all the time, but did not know that I was racing (I think!). It really felt good to beat the Fords and Chevys, 'cause remember that this was a couple of years before Mopars really got into racing big time with the 413 and 426 Hemis. Of course, a lot of the top cars were running the older model Hemi as a basis for some really high performance machines.
During these years, I remember watching and meeting people like Big Daddy Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwen, and Mickey Thompson (who ran Lions). I remember "TV" Tommy Ivo with his twin engine Buick rail and his four engine, 4wd machine. The "Showboat" made a lot of noise and smoked all four tires, but turned mostly poor times. Saw Mickey Thompson run all kinds of Pontiac rails, and even his Land Speed Record car, "Challenger." If memory serves, at that time AA/FDs were running low 8s and getting close to 200 mph on the top end.
Fast forward to Feb. 1, 2001. In a word, Awesome! The fuel cars are still my favorites. There is nothing like standing at the start line and FEELING the power in those machines! I resisted putting in the earplugs through most of the classes, but they became absolutely mandatory for the fuelers and the alcohol cars. Overall, I would have to say that the sport has improved tremendously over the years.
The cars no longer have to be push started for one thing. Makes things run a lot faster. I had a tough time leaving the stands 'cause I didn't want to miss anything. The pits were very impressive. Looked like a big truck stop. I mean, it looked like all the big dogs had their own rolling full machine shops, complete with awnings for shade and hospitality areas for guests. Made the pits at Lions look like something out of the "Flintstones."
Walking through the staging lanes brought back a flood of memories for me. I could recall what it was like being there, waiting for your lane to be called. I remember the feeling of pulling your car into the staging lights like it was yesterday. I also remember the thrill of seeing yourself pull away from the guy in the other lane, being first through the lights, and then picking up your time slip on the return road and finding out that you had just set a new personal record! I imagine that those kind of feelings are the same for the drivers today.
Bottom line, will I be going to more races? Hell yes, a lot more. Already looking forward to night racing at Pomona in July. Hope to catch some of the Nostalgia meets also.
See you at the Drags!