Drag Racing Story of the Day!
Why I Loved Puyallup
by Phil R. Elliott
Funny car action at Puyallup. Photo from the Flyin' Phil Archives
A while back, a guy named Ralph sent me several pix from Puyallup. He didn't shoot them. Somebody gave them to him, and he sent them to me. I apologize to Ralph and the shooter for not providing proper credit. This is one of them.
Those of you that have read my stuff over the years know I have very fond memories of some obscure place called Puyallup Dragway in western Washington. This was one of those dragstrips that was too narrow, too dark, too short with horrid food and smelly wooden out buildings and beyond that was just flat incredible.
The promoter -- one 6-foot-eight-inch Clark Marshall - knew early on that to grab attention one must book-in attention grabbers. That is where the big shows were. If you wanted a nice Sunday afternoon at the drag races, you went to Pacific Raceway over in Kent. If you wanted to see flame-throwing match-races between jets and fuelers, you headed for Puyallup on Saturday. Of course, you could do both - many of us did.
That's where I saw Don Garlits, learned to pronounce (and spell) Chris Karamesines, heard the Surfers, experienced the Little Red Wagon (along with about 8000 others), and smelled nitro fumes so heavy they almost knocked me out.
You see, Pacific was a multi-use facility, with a 2.2-mile road course and nearly 400-acres to spread out. When you went through the front gate, it seemed like you still drove a couple miles to the action. At Puyallup, you barely got pulled off the highway before your senses went to full overload. Pacific was picturesque and pristine. Puyallup was carved out of the trees and barely paved. Gawd was it cool.
Certainly, there were dozens (hundreds) of others like her in every nook and cranny of the country. Dragstrips that in retrospect were just a tad spooky to be hurtling down in nitro-hungry, 200mph monsters.
They all came to Puyallup. Touring pros like TV Tommy Ivo dazzled me with his metalflake Caddy and showpiece AA/FDs. The new fangled funny cars came in 1965, including Dick Landy, Sox & Martin, Malcolm Durham, Dave Strickler and a dozen others. Many A/GS coupes roared down the slender black ribbon, including Shores & Hess and Kohler Bros., Jack Coonrod, Mike Mitchell, in front of my impressed young eyes. It was Puyallup that introduced me to fuel altereds - it was the place where I watched in awe as Willie Borsch literally thumped his peers which included Sush
Matsubara, Leon Fitzgerald and Leroy Chadderton that night. It was the place that caused me to sneak out of the house, beg rides, then sneak in through the woods to see some of the craziest cars and shows conceivable. It was there that I took up lifelong friendships with folk like Jerry Ruth, Jim Green, Mike Miller, Jim Warter, Fred Vosk, Richard Schroeder and many others.
The picture in just a small way tells the story of why I loved it so much. It is from 1970 and the place is so short coupled that the infamous, all conquering, Whipple & McCulloch Duster is all-but obscured by spectator heads. I used to sit on the bottom grandstand tread path, letting my feet hang over the front. I was scarcely five feet above the header flames. Can you understand how and why I was hooked from a very young age?
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