(Photo by Dave Kommel)

 

Today, 2017, Al and his son Scott are still active in the sport with their awesome Jet Dragster, called Wicked Sensation!

(Photo by Badrooster Images – Chris Kauffman)

And so it ended much the same way it started 16 years earlier, with a totally packed house who continued cheering for the track until around 3am. It was a sad farewell to those who enjoyed the Nation’s first true Drag Racing Supertrack. (From the Don Gillespie file)

Until Next Time, Be On Time! 

PHOTO EXTRA SLIDESHOW

Today, 2017, Sonny operates the leading billet crankshaft company in Anaheim, CA.

 

When OCIR opened, there were several local teen agers who volunteered to become a part of the spectacular new supertrack. This group included Mike English, Bob McClurg and Tim Marshall!

Mike English, the voice of Bakersfield, full time NHRA National event announcer, and guest announcer at Tucson Dragway Reunion – 2017. (Brad Baker photo)

Tim Marshall and Bob McClurg in 2014. Bob became Editor of Hot Rod magazine and is now doing special work for Super Chevy from his home in Hawaii; Tim became track photographer at the new Las Vegas Motor SpeedwayDragstrip in 2001 and is now a lead Photographer at Drag Racing Online.

 

As time progressed, hundreds of racers became stars and made their careers at OCIR. One noteworthy friend of mine is Al Arriaga a long time racer from Tucson. Al raced a Pro Stock Camaro in ’71 at ‘the County’, then during the mid ‘70s, the Spanish Galleon F/C when they booked 100 cars. Finally, during the early ‘80s he purchased and drove the popular MOB Fuel Altered!

Fifty years later, the same Dick Kreiger, Bracket Terror of OCIR, is now a regular winner in Las Vegas driving his American Dream ’23 T-Bucket Roadster. (Brad Baker photo)

My wife, Sherry, continued to work at the Raceway full time (office and tower) for nine years.

 

My Race Director’s position gave way to becoming Public Relations Director at Bill Thomas Race Cars, the position Mike Jones held prior to OCIR.

(Rare view from inside the OCIR timing tower. Sherry is the lady in white recording times, the couple second from the left, are David and Karen Carpenter ‘The Cartenters’ who loved attending OCIR!)

 

When Pro Stock started in 1970, Howard Harmon and I fielded a Bill Thomas-sponsored Camaro for Day 1. When GM stopped racing I migrated my Pro Stock operation to Dave Smith’s Precisioned Speed Shop, also in Anaheim. Today, 2017, Dave is still very active with Dave Smith Engineering near Exeter, CA.

Due to my involvement with four major Drag Strip operations by the early ‘70s, I helped start and promote the ‘West Coast Pro Stock Association’. Our efforts resulted in Mike Jones featuring Pro Stock along with Top Fuel and Funny Car in the ‘All Pro events at OCIR. That led to the WCPSA sponsoring a Match Race between Butch Leal and Bill Jenkins on a Wednesday night at OCIR. Butch won the two of three with his ’71 Hemi Duster against Jenkin’s new wave small block Chevy Vega.

 

Bill Bagshaw won the 16-car companion race over Anaheim’s Sonny Bryant.

This photo of the Brute Force Funny Car was not from the opening night at OCIR, but it was during the early Mike Jones era. (The score board says Coca-Cola) and the rookie driver needs no further introduction. John Force went on from his beginning in the early ‘70s to become the winningest Funny Car driver in history!

 

Under the direction of Mike Jones and later, Bill Doner and Steve Evans, OCIR became a Mecca for big time Funny Car racing. The Mfg. Championships gave way to a 64-car extravagance and finally 100 Funnies were advertised.

 

Almost immediately after getting started, General Manager Mike Jones saw the benefit of the ‘grassroots’ racers who filled his bracket program each week. He increased their prize money and became the first Southern California track to pay semi-finals too.

Two of the early Bracket Pioneers were Gary Dodd and Larry ‘the leg’ Legowski. Dodd successfully drove his Connell Chevrolet Camaro as a Pro Stock when the class opened in 1970.

Getting their start during those early days were these three folks; Roger Brown, Doug Caves, and Lee Hunter. Roger, who became the leading Bracket Winner at OCIR when the Fiat Coup was painted and lettered ‘Wild Fire,’ is now retired and still resides in OC. Sadly both Caves (it is his motor in pic) and Lee Hunter have passed.

Another Day One winner was the ‘Freight Train’ of John Peters in Top Gas Eliminator. The car was driven by Bob Muravez, who masqueraded as ‘Floyd Lippencott Jr.’ back then.

In Super Stock action on Day 1, Wiley Cossey drove the SS/B Hemi Barracuda from Hooker Headers to a final round finish. Later in 1970 when Pro Stock started, Jim Clark raced the car as the ‘Hemi Express’ out of Engine Dynamics in Monrovia, CA. Today in 2017, Clark is still active in the sport and now features two original ’68 – 69 Hemi cars in the Nostalgia A/FX class.

At the recent Muscle Cars At The Strip presented by Painter Motor Company at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Jim Clark’s vintage Dodge still wears the Hemi Express livery which Jim made famous at OCIR in 1970. (Brad Baker photo)

In 1971, the Dunn & Reath rear engine Funny Car was the scourge of Southern California drag racing including OCIR!

Today, 2017, 46 years later, the same Jim Dunn fields this 7 Eleven sponsored FC at all 24 NHRA National events.

Jim Baker's Then and Now

ORANGE COUNTY REVISITED

About all that is left of the physical track at Orange County International Raceway is this center line sign from the track’s last few years. It was captured and kept at the NHRA Museum on the LA County Fairgrounds. The dates in red, tell the story; 1967 – 1983.

 

My adventure with OCIR started in Phoenix, AZ, in June of 1967. Bernie Partridge took us to breakfast and spent most of the day with us. He presented an invitation to come to Orange County, CA, and interview for a job at the ‘yet to be opened’ Raceway. The opportunity seemed too good to pass up. We met with Mike Jones in Costa Mesa with no direct result.

 

Next we traveled to Kahoka, MO, to check on Tri State Dragway during its final days in ’67. On July 30, we got a call from Mike telling me I was hired as the track’s Race Director; and they were doing a ‘dress rehearsal ’ Aug. 3, be there.

 

August 5, 1967, the gates swung open and the 16-year history of America’s first purpose-built drag drag racing supertrack started.

The Grand Opening race found 800 race cars jamming the inadequate pits. All NHRA Eliminator categories were contested (just like an NHRA national event) and the spectators were turned back when available parking was full.  The two cars pictured above were a big part of the OCIR Top Fuel scene during the 16 years.

 

James Warren was TF runner-up Aug. 5, then returned on Aug. 12 and won Top Fuel. The ‘Ridge Route Terrors’ were certainly prominent at OCIR. Shirley Muldowney had some of her biggest wins at OCIR. While all three of the WCM team have passed, Shirley is still a part of the current drag racing scene with her Shirley’s Kids charity.

Aug. 5th was the first time I met Bob Lambeck. We have since become great friends and a lot of that friendship came from OCIR. Shown above, Bob won Stock Eliminator that opening night, around 3 a.m. Three years later in 1970, Lambeck won the NHRA Division 7 Pro Stock crown. At the 2016 NHRA Winternationals and again at LODRS in Las Vegas, Bob and his son Doug won Competition Eliminator!

When you see Bob at the line today, 2017, with his son Doug, you might notice a slight limp. It occurred at OCIR in ’72 when he drove his new Plymouth Duster in Pro Stock. The car careened off the track on the big end. Bob stayed away from the drainage ditch, but his car did not clear two sapling trees. He slid to a stop between the trees and was uninjured except for damage to the car.

 

Then a fork lift was used to get the car from the trees so Bob could get out. The lift driver stuck the tangs through Bob’s acid-dipped car body and into his leg that was back under the seat to keep him from using the clutch when the new Lenco transmission arrived. OUCH!

VOLUME XIX,  NUMBER 8 - AUGUST   2017

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