I was General Manager for Doner during this era which meant I was dealing with all of the logistical matters at SIR – security, ticket sellers, concessions, traffic, plus the afore- mentioned media buying and whatever else could be loaded on my shoulders. (I, of course, got to deal with all the aftermath also – Washington State Patrol, Washington Liquor Control Board, King County authorities and several more – ugh!).
There was an excellent group of employees working at SIR back then that were committed to these huge events. But no matter what their experience, dealing with a “10 pound event” in a “five-pound race track” made it nearly impossible to get the crowd in or out of SIR with only one egress/ingress road. It’s only logical to understand that when you sell tickets for about 26 hours straight and then the event comes to an end all those ticket buyers want to go home about the same time. It is gridlock at its very worst.
I did say that we sold tickets for almost 26 hours. We started at 6 p.m. on Friday night.
In those days there were hardly any advance sales, so the sales were accomplished at the gates, one car load at a time. The ticket buyers would then turn into a large parking lot and camp out for the night. Those sales went all through the night until a fresh new staff came on at 6 in the morning. At that point, a huge group of security would arrive to assist the campers with tickets to enter the facility. New ticket buyers would start arriving and the traffic was getting congested and we still had about 12 hours before the first round of funny cars! (Yes, that is 12 hours before the first funny cars run!) We had every ticket booth available going full tilt as the massive audience kept arriving all day long. Actually, the pits were pretty empty for this event because there were just the funny cars and a hundred or so bracket cars.
In the afternoon that day, the already-sold ticket buyers were backed all the way to the ticket booths and we could no longer sell any more tickets. The massive crowd was coming to a complete halt as the vehicles jammed the entrance road. In a bit of a panic,
I jumped on a motorcycle and had some of the race fans cars follow me to the pits with lots of car loads behind them so we could “stack” them in there. I had worked events at SIR since the early ’70s and I had never seen anything even close to this size. The pit area turned into a major parking lot as we attempted to get everyone we could into the race track. It was not easy, (and that’s an understatement) it was awful!
At 6 o’clock the race was finally ready to go with the first nitro cars and the traffic coming in began to slow down a bit. The ticket sales didn’t finish completely until after 8 p.m..
Throughout the evening the funny cars and crews had problems being able to even return to their respective pit areas due to the massive audience. Several perimeter fences were flattened by the overcrowded staging lanes causing a slow-down in the action on the track throughout the evening. No doubt, SIR had never seen such a huge crowd for any events before. As the later rounds of the event came along the fans pushed even closer to be part of the exciting action. The event had to be stopped several times as the crowd pushed forward getting too closed to the action. At times it reminded me of those off road races where the crowd attempts to get out on the racing surface. Security had to work exceptionally hard to keep everything safe that night.
Race fans that evening witnessed an upset in the final nitro round duel when Pat Foster in the Super Shops Arrow beat Beadle, the fan favorite. Foster’s time was 6.19 seconds at 234.98 mph while Beadle’s Blue Max had a 6.34 at 226.12 mph.
Beadle had blown an engine and installed a new bullet prior to the final round or he just might have won this one like he had many, many times before. That Saturday night, August 4, 1979, was history in the making because the crowd was well in excess of 25,000 – and that was larger than the population of the city of Kent back then. Those in the sport of drag racing dubbed that event as “the largest one-day independent drag race of all time!!” It was a historic time, indeed, for a huge crowd that was shoe-horned into SIR for over 5 hours of ground pounding excitement by the most popular cars in the sport of drag racing.
ROCKY’S ROAD: Next edition -“It’s Force, of course.”