With the approaching U.S Nationals
at Indianapolis Raceway Park and all of its recurrent publicity
buildup as THE event of the NHRA tour, many think that this is
the latest in a succession of Nationals that began with the first
event at Great Bend Kansas in 1955. This is factual. But there
were drag racing championships held before that first National,
and one was even sanctioned by the NHRA (their first). The newly
formed organization called the National Hot Rod Association with
its slogan "Dedicated to Safety" brought together the
Pomona Valley Timing Association, (the event co-sponsor), the
San Diego Timing Association (for technical support), timing
by Otto Crocker (father of the legendary Chrondex Timers) and
the AMA (American Motorcycle Association) to sanction the motorcycles
at this event.
This event was run over a measured
quarter-mile, from a standing start with the finish line in the
middle of a 132 foot speed trap. This particular layout was to
accommodate the AMA record run rules. It stuck. It remained the
standard layout for a drag strip anywhere in the world until
the NHRA moved the speed trap inside the measured quarter mile
a couple of years ago.
Held on April 11 and 12 of 1953,
it was the first time many of the Southern California hot dogs
had come together to race under similar rules. (Rolling starts,
questionable timing devices, downhill strips were just some of
the variables that were present during drag racing's formative
years.) Fast guys from Santa Ana, Paradise Mesa, Saugus, and
Pomona gathered to find out who was fastest. Art Chrisman, Dawson
Hadley, Joachin Arnett/Carlos Ramirez (Bean Bandits), Jake Smith,
Dode Martin---all on common ground--would run from a stand still
through a full quarter and be measured on some reliable timing
equipment. In fact, some 375 entries and a guestimated 15,000
spectators witnessed the first Championship Drag Race. An unexpectedly
Coverage by the magazines of
the time was heavy. Motor World, (a bi-weekly), Hop Up and Hot
Rod each carried a story on the historic event and each was particularly
taken aback by the number of people that turned out to watch.
Hot Rod Magazine coverage spent lots of space on the contributions
NHRA had made to this event. No mention of the AMA.
The other magazines however gave
little or no space to the fledgling association, but instead
gave credit to the timing associations that pitched in. Each
made special mention of starter Paul Wallace of the San Diego
Timing Association and his performance as flagman/starter. He
later became the starter of the first NHRA Nationals that were
held at Great Bend Kansas and subsequently finishing in Phoenix
Arizona due to the rain out.
The results were reported very
differently as well. Hot Rod Magazine credited the Bean Bandits
with winning the meet and capturing the NHRA donated "Fastest
Eliminating Car" trophy. Both Motor World and Hop Up listed
the team of Dawson Hadley and Fred "Spade" Carillo
with winning the meet having put the Bean Bandits away in the
first heat, though the Bandits did have fast time of 132 miles
per hour. Quickest elapsed time of the meet was set by Lloyd
Krant on his 80 cubic inch Harley Davidson dubbed the "Brute".
This Pomona drag race event was
"...the scene of NHRA's First Officially Sanctioned Meet".
The coverage in Hot Rod had different results than others covering
the meet and the space and credit given to the organization was
equal to if not greater than the actual race results.
Fast forward to September 19,
1955 and the Top Eliminator runoff of the rained out Great Bend
Nationals. In Hot Rod Magazine writer Jack Baldwin had the final
between Cal Rice in the J.E. Riley dragster on fuel against Fritz
Voigt in the Voigt Automotive Special on gasoline. Each made
a one jump start. on the third start both jumped and Rice blew
the Gearbox. The NHRA gave Rice 30 minutes to fix it. Thirty
Two minutes and lots of flying wrenches later, Rice beat Voigt
to become the first National Drag Racing Champion.
In a separate article in the
same issue of Hot Rod, writer Bob Pendergast had Voigt making
two jump starts and Rice blowing the transmission on the second
start. Again 30 minutes was given as the length of time to fix
the broken gearbox.
"Since the starter had already
raised the red flag signifying 'no go', Pendergast reported,
Voigt could not be awarded the trophy by default. Thirty two
minutes later, the Riley crew had replaced the entire transmission".
Rice won the third and final
runoff. Feeling that he was treated unfairly, Fritz Voigt never
raced at an NHRA event again.