Jim Rockstad

We’re bringing back an old DRO feature with people in the industry telling about what got them hooked on drag racing.

Jim Rockstad was a driver and promoter in the Pacific Northwest. He was the former track operator of the old Seattle International Raceway. He has written for us before, penning a few articles on the old 64-car Funny Car shows at www.dragracingonline.com/columns/rocky/x_2-1.html, www.dragracingonline.com/columns/rocky/x_3-1.htmland www.dragracingonline.com/columns/rocky/x_4-1.html.

Back when I was in grade school in Portland, Oregon, I was getting really hooked on hot rods and drag racing. I had never even attended a drag racing event, only read about them, until an opportunity came along in 1956. I was in the 7th grade at the time and with my friend "Crazy Hays" (named that by my own father) was planning a trip to the drag races. I was so pumped!

We headed out of Oregon with some other older friends to take in the drag races at Shelton, Washington. My eyes were wide open when we entered this facility by the airport in Shelton. I couldn't believe all the hot rod machinery that was spread out throughout this makeshift drag strip. There wasn't a hay bale, fence or guardrail anywhere, it was just a wide-open field with a long strip of asphalt. Dragsters, roadsters, altereds, gassers...just about anything I could imagine was located somewhere out in this massive field.

I had brought along my trusty Brownie camera and sat with “Crazy” just behind the starting line in the grass field. I was clicking off photos as fast as I could. To me this whole day was unbelievable. Of course, I came away with a sunburn in no time at all, but I didn't care a bit. Click, click, click ... I was going to show anyone and everyone the photos I took that day as a huge spark had taken place in my passion for the sport of drag racing.

Later that day a tragic accident took place. One of the altered cars, a beautiful orange and white '36 Ford coupe, left the starting line in the left lane accelerating hard towards the finish line. Shortly before the end of the quarter mile a huge explosion took place. The explosion was really loud with a huge column of smoke billowing out of the cab of the machine. The driver brought the wounded racecar to a quick and sliding stop on the edge of the track, just past the finish line.

The pit area was located around the starting area so there was just about no one at the far end in the shut-off area. Fortunately, there was one person: a lone security guard came hustling to the rescue to assist in any way he could.

The driver was Dick Martin of Exhaust Specialties in Portland. A supercharged Buick V-8 with automatic transmission was powering Martin's clean little car. The car had center steering, with Martin straddling the transmission, as most altereds did back in those days. The transmission had exploded with shrapnel that blew holes throughout the car, punching large and small holes everywhere. The shrapnel had chopped off the lower end of Martin's leg at the knee.

The security guard really took on hero status as he instantly had control of the accident. He used an old t-shirt for a tourniquet to stop the massive bleeding that was taking place, literally saving Martin’s life. If it weren't for the security guard and his fast moves to assist Martin a different story certainly could have happened. Without a doubt, it was a life and death situation that took place there in Shelton, Washington, that day.