64 FUNNY CARS: Seattle’s icon in the early days of the sport of drag racing
Back in the 70’s, race tracks all over the country were famous for some sort of a big independent event that was an annual tradition. Track promoters would have to be creative and design an event that would fit their facilities, market size and physical layout of their respective race tracks. At Seattle International Raceway the independent event that turned into a huge annual happening was called 64 FUNNY CARS….an event that was the brainchild of Bill Doner, and was almost genius in design.
As President of International Raceway Parks, Inc., Doner was the ultimate drag racing promoter of his time. He knew that he had to deal with whatever was going on in the Seattle marketplace and assemble something that the media would cover, and that could upstage the Seafair unlimited hydroplane events that took place each year on the first weekend in August. At the time, the hydros drew huge crowds from all over the Northwest. Running head-to-head against them would not be smart, but how about producing a funny car event for the Saturday night before the hydros that would tap into the crowd already in town for their event? It proved to be a great and hugely successful idea.
Seattle is located a long way from anywhere (some call it south Alaska) and it would be
really tough to get cars to travel all that way each summer. Sure there is plenty of local talent in the area, but you need big names to swing through the Northwest to really make it work. So, the Seafair Funny Car Championships were off and running in the early 70’s and the first one turned out to be a grand success.
So by the time 1972 rolled around, Bill was getting a little bolder and he could see that the cars were available, especially if he could get additional race dates for them throughout the Northwest. With the thought that “if some is good, more is better” Bill came up with a format to fit in a Saturday night so it would be the “most popular” cars in the sport of drag racing in “ground pounding” action for almost five hours. Most major drag races take three days or more to complete. And we had to deal with all the slower cars running throughout the weekend.
“Let’s give them pure, thundering funny cars for the whole evening and they will come,” Bill said. And so, in 1972, a legend in the sport of drag racing was born: 64 FUNNY CARS. It was the event that was Northwest-born and put Seattle on the map. It will forever be part of the early years of the sport.
As the years rolled by, if you won Seattle’s 64 Funny Cars you had won one of the biggest there was…the event was that special in the eyes of the racing community. The format for 64 Funny Cars was pretty simple. There would be about 24 nitro cars and
32 alcohol cars plus a few jet funny cars, a wheel stander or two and some local e.t. bracket funny cars. The cars would be randomly paired up for two side-by-side runs
with the two quickest cars coming back for the final late in the evening. It would take about two hours per round and 30 minutes plus the exhibition vehicles for the final.
Start them at 6 p.m. and run until near 11 p.m. ….perfect.
We’d include a 100 or so e.t bracket cars throughout the day so there would be some action for the early arrival race fans to see. Late in the afternoon we booked in a local rock band to play for a few hours on a stage located next to the timing tower. That would allow the SIR staff time to organize all those funny cars. We’d line them up in two rows on the drag strip.