The helmet padding smelled all James Deansy. You know… Brylcreem and 10w30 with a little WD40. He’d let me ride back from the finish line in the Chevy II, and I’d put that helmet on for fun. For just a few moments, the rumble of the engine changed the pace of my heartbeat, and for the next 50 years his influence has enhanced the beat of my life.
Drag racing was a way of life when I was little. Whether it was a ’63 Corvette or a ’66 Chevy II, the race car in the garage, on that now rubbled south St. Louis street, was also the family car.
That was so long ago, and the trophies are gone as well, but when a 340 hp engine sets the rhythm of your life when you’re six years old, it becomes a huge part of who you are.
Recently, I began to wonder about the history and longevity of racetracks; particularly 1/8 mile drag strips and those here in Missouri.
Here’s what I found: There are possibly 5 remaining strips in Missouri. Mo-Kan Dragway located in Asbury, is the oldest, operating since 1962. Others are Ozark Raceway Park (1977 Rogersville), U.S. 36 Raceway (1990 Osborn), Jeffers Motorsports Park (1969 Sikeston), and Thunder Valley (1966 Bethany).
Going to individual websites of each track, I found that drag racing remains a family friendly outing. IHRA and NHRA sanction their operations.
Historically, interesting car names included Green Monster, Hemi Hoss, Mothers Mistake, and Shakers Rat. Opinion: it seems sponsor decals overshadow the once popular and clever car nicknames.
Because of his accomplishments, technology innovations, and contribution to the sport, racer “Big Daddy” Don Garlits (still kicking at age 86) was a common thread. He is considered #1 on a list of top 50 racers. He retired in 1992.
Accutime II has replaced the traditional Christmas Tree, and fuel such as Purple 110 Octane is available on site.
In my high school days, I was able to go to a track located in Pevely. Flooding, poor attendance, and the success of an adjacent oval track prompted the closing of its 1/8 mile option in 1993.
Information about drag strips is certainly abundant. After all, it is a sport where records are meant to be broken, and technology plays an important role. I suppose my occasional stoplight antics might seem juvenile to some. I view it as a reflection into my past, my heritage. I’d love to go back and tell my dad thanks for the influence, thanks for teaching me to live fully, one eighth mile at a time. Cars are cool!
“I just loved it,” Garlits said of why he drag raced. “I liked the idea of two cars lined up side by side, not bumping into one another. It was one person against one person, one machine against one machine. There was a winner and a loser. It was real simple.”
Website shout outs: dragstriplist.com, racingin.com, motorsports.com