Timing Towers Part 1

Irvine, Ca, early ‘70s: Marvin Graham prepares to launch from the Orange County International Raceway starting line with starter Jerry Stroner at the switch.  This is directly in front of what this writer considers the most unusual, functional, and frequently photographed timing tower in the sport of drag racing, the Champion Spark Plug Tower at OCIR! (Photo from the OCIR collection)

During my extensive travels around the world of drag racing, many interesting and totally different types of ‘timing towers’ have presented themselves over the last 66 years; so here in four parts are several which are certainly unique! Even in the beginning of drag racing, officials found they needed an elevated place to sort out the details of each race. Since this was also a ‘safe place’ to keep the timing equipment, the name ‘timing tower’ became a drag racing term which has survived the ‘test of time’.

Pictured above is my choice for the most outstanding tower ever produced to operate a drag strip! The OCIR tower served as much more than a race day operating platform. On the ground floor were the main offices of the track. On the mezzanine level (where the Champion Spark Plug signs are) was a cat walk around the entire circumference. This is where the clocks were read, qualifying was tabulated, and announcements were made. The third floor was solid and contained a ‘wet’ bar with viewing for VIPs and Sponsors of the day. The stairway continued to the open top, which afforded an outstanding view of the facility and all the sounds etc. that drag racing provides. When christened in 1967, it was truly the finest structure of its kind anywhere.

Orange County Int. Raceway, early 1967: The Champion Spark Plug Tower approximately ½ completed in the spring of ’67. This photo is from the rear of the edifice looking across Interstate 5, across what would become the ‘staging’ area and into the El Toro Marine Corp Air Base. (Photo from the Ron Ogilvie collection)

While Mike Jones and company strove for perfection in all facets of OCIR, the Tower had an engineering flaw which reared its ugly head right from the start. Some-how the tower was positioned about six feet closer to the track than intended. Since the road directly in front of the pit side grand stand was also used for starting dragsters etc., a retaining wall was built to keep cars from crashing into the tower. Alas, on opening day, a driver, unfamiliar with the track, crashed into the retaining wall.