Drag Racing Online: The Magazine

Volume VIII, Issue 5, Page

  Anything besides a lot of rain that you remember from the first U.S. Nationals?

PARKS: Well, I remember a lot of things about it, especially contestants, the fact that Mickey Thompson was there with the first streamlined sling shot with the sport on the thing and the fact that the old “Bustle Bomb,' the twin engine thing, was the fastest car, turned 151 mph. And the fact that John Vandermeer Sr. brought the first 18 wheeler in there and rolled his Chevy out the back of the thing with the blower stickin' out of the hood with a '54 Chevy sedan.  Lots of instrumental things like that.

Vandermeer brought an 18 wheeler?

PARKS: Yep, rolled in from Denver. We've (National Dragster) got pictures of that.  It's interesting about him; it's too bad something wasn't done before he died.  He was going to recreate the old '54 Chevy he had with the blower stickin' out of the hood, but John Jr. still has the old GMC pickup that was his push car, his tow car from back then.  He had all that good stuff.

What kind of spectator turnout did you get?

PARKS: We don't know because what happened on that thing was that they showed up out there and it started raining so the highway patrol told us that we had to get them off the road and the only thing we could think to do was to let them all in and charge them to get out. And so we did. 

  I want to talk about the later U.S. Nationals and how NHRA ended up at Indianapolis. What led you to decide to build the track in Indianapolis?

PARKS: The first U.S. Nationals we had was at Great Bend, Kansas, which we just talked about. And the second one was in Kansas City. We decided to move into a bigger place because there were more accommodations for people to stay overnight.  The track wasn’t there.  This group, under the leadership of Major Pawn, who was the chief of detectives there and an active racer himself were building this new track and so when we got there, the track wasn’t finished and it wasn’t going to be finished because nobody gave

them any money.  Well, we committed ourselves to pay for the paving job on the thing.  So they went ahead and finished doing it and we produced the race with a pretty good attendance.  There was only one road into the place. We had to make a special deal with a farmer to let them come across his field and get in to get some people in there.  So, we produced the event and when it was over why I think there might have been a $10,000 profit, which was just exactly what the paving bill had been, so we paid for the paving bill and left there. 

The next two we did at Oklahoma City on the state fairgrounds there and the second one of those was the biggest crowd that we had for years and years, even bigger than Indy.  And then we went to Detroit because we wanted to introduce drag racing to the automotive industry.  We weren’t going to get them to come see us, so, let's go into their backyard.  We went into Detroit Dragway, which was a brand new facility in 1959 and '60 and then 1960 was disappointing because the place looked just like we had left it in '59.  It really wasn’t a completed facility or well maintained facility, so during the second race in Detroit, Tom Binford, who is the chief steward of the Indy 500, had a meeting with me under a tree out in the pits in the far end. He outlined to me what this group in Indianapolis that he was a part of were planning to do in a big cornfield they just bought.  They were going to put a big oval in the place and were going to put a straightaway down there, and they would like for us to move our Nationals there.  So, I told him that I can’t commit to move the Nationals there, but I can tell you this.  If you do build the kind of facility that you are talking about, we’ll come in one way or another and help produce a major drag racing event.  We shook hands and that was the start of that thing. 

So, then we went there in 1961 and as it turned out at that place the dragstrip was an orphan when they built it, but the first year it was the only thing that made any money and then the second year it was the only thing that made any money, so as far as they were concerned it became the sustaining factor in the place and ultimately why it was the only thing that was in continuous operation. There was concern it would become a housing project.  We decided to purchase it and renovate it. For the first couple of years we went in there, the improvements were invisible, all the tiling and draining systems and everything like that, but I think its one of the best moves we’ve made. 

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