“We won’t be able to run a final here in Eugene? . . . eeek!”
In the mid-1970s our plan was to rent the Balboa Drag Strip in Eugene, Oregon and run an event there on Friday night before the 64 funny car event in Seattle, which was the next evening. The event in Eugene would allow for better quality of touring racers for the Seattle International Raceway (SIR) event.
The former concessionaire at SIR, Rod Ormsby made a deal with the track and then would run the concessions there that evening. Ormsby had produced events at Balboa in the past years. Bill Doner, President of International Raceway Parks, Inc. had Balboa with the assurance to run until 10pm and I was to organize the required event details to pull it all off. Doner would get the cars, make the hyped-up radio ads, take care of the tickets and do the announcing on race day. I would organize a crew from Portland, take the necessary timing equipment, buy the media and get an ambulance along with the security that was needed for the evening in Eugene.
As Manager of Drag Racing at Portland International Raceway (PIR), I had all the timing equipment, trick traction compound, grease sweep, fire extinguishers and other related items that we would need. I filled up a van with all the equipment and a group of us headed off Friday morning to Balboa Drag Strip, a little over an hour south of Portland.
Balboa was a small eighth-mile facility with a few thousand seats and very little parking, and around this time, was about to go away completely as the expanding of businesses in the area were getting closer and closer. It was a slick and bumpy race track that was the worse for wear. This is the same place I had crashed my AA/GS Anglia in 1971, so I was a little taken aback by even just going there. The pit space is very small and we all knew this many funny cars would be jammed into this little, crowded race track. With any size of crowd at all, it would be “stuffed to the gills” and hard to even run the event. As it all turned out, that is exactly what happened... and worse.
The funny car count was somewhere in the 16 or so and that literally made it impossible to move the cars back and forth to the racing surface. It was something the locals in Eugene had never seen because the funny car events there were always eight-car programs with local cars. This monster event arrived and the crowd knew it. Boy, did they respond.
Doner flew to Eugene in a small plane so that he could head back that evening for the big event at SIR. A small airstrip was just a few minutes from the race track. The show that evening was “Chicago-style” drag racing where the cars are paired up, then make two runs and the quickest two cars come back for the final. Doner certainly had a way of building that up into a crescendo throughout the evening as the racing wore on. The excitement for the final was well anticipated by the crowd. Doner planted that thought in their minds throughout the evening. The hype was building.
There had to be four-to-five thousand people crammed into little ‘ole Balboa Drag Strip that evening and there was literally zero parking anywhere. The cars were lined up on both sides of the highway for as far as the eye could see. It was a traffic nightmare.
The racing was terrific. Ed “the Ace” McCulloch, the Hawaiian, Pisano, the Blue Max, Jungle Jim and even Danny Ongais were just a few of the quality cars that made up the largest field Eugene had ever seen. It was a big-league lineup for Eugene, Oregon.
With the initial two rounds completed, Doner had the fans hyped up awaiting the final as the racers prepared their cars. At some time, well before 10pm, I was on the starting line watching over the timing equipment when a police office in a suit came to me and said,
"You have exactly 10 minutes to complete this event. There have been lots of neighbor complaints and this event is done!”