arl Weisinger is the reigning King of Street Racing promoters. His track Orlando Dragway annually hosts the World Street Finals for “Street Legal” cars and has for 13 consecutive years. For “Street Legal” racers the annual trek to compete in the World Street Nationals is their U.S. Nationals. Indy 500 or Daytona 500 it is the one race that all “Street Legal” competitors want to win. There are other races that pay certain classes more and have slightly different rules, but all other events use Weisinger’s event as their benchmark.
In addition to being a very successful drag strip promoter, Carl Weisinger is a hopelessly addicted drag racer. When he isn’t putting on a race at Orlando he and his buddies can be found dragging their Super Stock Camaro around to NHRA/IHRA division races, competing in the Super Stock division. Recently Carl Weisinger and DRO editor Jeff Burk took some time to sit down and do an interview about the present and future of "Street Legal" racing and the World Street Nationals.
By Jeff Burk
Photos by Ron Lewis
Give me a history on you and the race itself. When did it start and why?
WEISINGER: Since I have more past than future at age 60, my history would take too long to write. I can tell you I first went to a drag race in 1959 at the old Kissimmee, Florida airport strip. I actually raced first at the old Geneva drag strip outside of Sanford, Florida in June of 1961. I got beat by a guy in a VW beetle. I should perhaps have just quit then. But, nooooooooo. I tuned the old '40 Plymouth Coupe up real good, went back at the next race and kicked me some VW butt. That was my first trophy and I was hooked. There was a time in the early 1970's that I would pay to get into the Orlando track, then called Central Florida Dragway, and then work on the crew. I loved running the lanes. I just couldn't believe that I could tell these guys when they were going to run, who they were going to run and what lane they would run in and they actually followed my instructions. What a power trip! And, I was involved.
I was a suitcase promoter for a time in the mid-1970s, putting on a series of "big money" bracket races. Big money back then was $1,000 to win. In 1977 I worked for Rod Heinman, who had leased the Orlando track from Billy Herndon. I got fired. In 1978 I worked for Dave Dawson who had leased the track from Billy Herndon. I got fired. Beginning in 1979 Billy Herndon took the track back and I worked for him. Billy didn't fire me this time (he had fired me a few times before, though). In early 1981 I moved to Oregon to operate the Jackson County Sports Park. That is a county owned track. In 1986 I returned to work for the late Dick Moroso at the West Palm and Miami/Hollywood tracks. I'm not sure whether I got fired there or I quit. But, in any event, I came back to Orlando and went to work for Billy Herndon again. Billy sold the entire facility on June 17, 1987 and I leased the drag strip portion from the new owner on June 18, 1987. Been here ever since. At least I can't get fired this time.
The first "World" street event here was in 1993 and was called the World Street Finals. The idea for the first race here in Orlando came from Kjell Gustafson of Sweden. He got about 12 cars here from Europe and I provided the racetrack. The profit at the first event was very slim. But, I could feel the magic of the heads up racing. Kjell bailed out of the Orlando event after 1995 and we continued on. I can tell you, though, the 1996 event saw almost a doubling of the crowd and car count and we were on our way. We have been blessed with larger crowds and car count every year since then.
When you did the first World Street Nationals did you have any idea that it would develop into the premier event it is today?
CW: No, except for the fact that there was an "energy" at that first event that I hadn't seen in years. EVERYONE stayed in their seats until the finals in all classes were over. That gave me cause for optimism about the event.