The Story Behind Lions Drag Strip
Author Unknown from a 1965 issue of Drag Scoop

 

The story behind Lions Drag Strip is typical of the dynamic nature of this truly ali-American sport.

Lions Drag Strip officially opened in October, 1955, but the story really began almost two years prior to this date.
At the time, street racing dominated. Drag racers found themselves surrounded by a cliraate of distrust. From there it's been a long, hard battle for the sport to reach it's present zenith. Much of the credit for founding the Lions 223rd and Alameda speed plant (and thus declaring war on Street racing) goes to a noted Long Beach Judge, Fred Miller, judge Miller became alarmed with the overpowering incidence of street racing and the accompanying grim headlines, so he took it upon himself to contact service clubs to help form a drag strip.

A subsequent meeting to discuss the possibility of obtaining a supervised place to drag race brought together such dignitaries as the then Mayor Norris Poulson, Councilman Gibson, newscaster George Putnam, and John Chadwick.

Mr. Chadwick had just resigned as President of the Los Angeles Harbor Commission, and his efforts were largely responsible for the group's success in obtaining a commission-owned former railroad classification yard which was destined to become the Lions Drag Strip.

Of all the service clubs contacted, only the Lions Clubs volunteered their services to help raise the needed $45,000. A group of harbor area Lions Clubs consisting of the Wilmington, San Pedro, Torrance, Lakewood, Signal Hill, North, East, West and Downtown Long Beach Lions organized a Corporation known as Lions Associated Drag Strip (now Harbor Area Drag Strip), borrowed $45,000 on their good name alone, and they were off and runningl By the time the track reached completion, it was apparent that the job could have used twice the $45,000 they started with, but they still managed to open the gates on the appointed date of October 9, 1955.

Lions operated on a weekly basts every Sunday for approximately two years. Estimated attendance opening day was 15,000 people; a figure which unfortunately, didn't repeat. Indeed, the going was rough for the next three years.

Then strip manager at the time, Mickey Thompson came up with a master plan for Saturday night racing. This idea proved the salvation of the strip. The young fans who make up the majority of the Lions spectators really took to Lions Saturday night/date night schedule.

Attendance zoomed to the extent that within two years all outstanding notes were completely paid off. Dividends to the nine harbor area clubs started to pour in.

All profits from the drag strip's operation are directed to worthy charities. Helping the blind, boy's clubs, Community Chest, RedCross, Exceptional Children's Foundation, both the YWCA and the UMCA and the City of Hope have shared in some $250,000 distributed by participating Lions Clubs.

The strip's motto is "Drive the highways -- race at Lions." Yes, current Manager C, j. Hart brought big league racing to Wilmington, but be likewise took steps to give the "little guy" a chance to race. C. J.'s policy of Saturday and Sunday racing is without parallel in the country.

Upwards of 250 all-out competition cars vie for the the money on Saturday night (where professionals go fast); then 400 or more stockers compete for trophies on Sunday, satisfying that urge to race whnch was the original reason for building the strip. Wednesday night grudge racing, a recent addition to Lions scheduling, settles those drive-in challenges on the strip, not on the Street. Lions is at times a pulsing, eardrum-bursting place. But, as one little blind girl said (escorted trips are often made for handicapped youngsters and other youth groups to visit the racing plant): "I like tire sound of the drag strip. It's music".

 

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