Tales from the Old West
A Little Drag Racing History Lesson

By Don Prieto

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 large turnout.

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.


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