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In 1960, NASCAR founder Bill France and NHRA founder Wally Parks put their heads together for a joint production at an old airport in Flagler Beach, Florida. It seemed that the good ole boys who attended the big to-do at NASCAR's Daytona Beach gallop, had a tendency to let their exuberance spill over into the streets with the predictable disastrous results.

France, in so many words, asked friend Parks, 'How about throwing a drag race during the Daytona 500 and allow these guys to let some steam off?' And that's what happened. The first, as Parks would like it referred, "Winter Nationals" was hosted in near pitch dark with racers like Lewis Carden, Don & Ed Garlits, Ollie Olsen and others taking part. A year later, Parks and his fledgling NHRA hosted the first true Winternationals at Pomona Dragstrip in 1961.

And for awhile that was it for NASCAR and drag racing. However, in early- to mid-1965, word rumbled that there was to be a big NASCAR Nationals drag race at Dragway 42 in West Salem, Ohio on Sept. 10-12 with most of the sport's big superstars taking part. NASCAR, which by 1965 had quite a reputation, what with the successes of the Richard Pettys, "Fireball" Roberts', Fred Lorenzens, Joe Weatherlys, Curtis Turners, Tiny Lunds and all the rest, did throw a race at West Salem and it proved to be a dandy.

Don Westerdale drove the Ramchargers Top Fuel dragster to that eliminator title when he took a 7.70/205.46 to 7.59/203.16 final-round win over Don Prudhomme in Roland Leong's "Hawaiian". An abbreviated points chase followed and the NASCAR Top Fuel champion for 1965 proved to be Tommy Raley of Bladensburg, Md., in Ronnie Vito's Champion Automotive dragster.

The 1966 season was NASCAR's first full-on year of drag racing and it was this one that we will focus on. They also ran a full points season in 1967, but at the end of that season the plug was pulled and NASCAR disappeared from drag racing altogether.

Why 1966?

Well, the fact is that this was NASCAR's first full year of drag racing involvement, and, to this author, best represented their efforts in drag racing. The 1966 season was a fabulous year for drag racing. John "the Zookeeper" Mulligan ran the first Top Fuel six-second run in Gene Adams and Jack Wayre's dragster, Don Nicholson's Eliminator I Mercury Comet logged the first seven-second lap for Funny Car, and NHRA, AHRA, NATAC, and UDRA were in full swing. Every weekend of the year, from California to Florida, there was some professional racing going on.

For an organization like NASCAR, officially the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, to get involved in a gene pool like this was a bold move to say the least. After all, they had a good thing going, why create more work for yourself and get involved in a burgeoning enterprise like drag racing?

There were good reasons, though, according to former NHRA Northeast Division 1 Director Greg Xakellis.

"You have to keep in mind that the Northeast probably had many more circle and oval tracks than dragstrips in 1965 when NASCAR entered into drag racing," he said. "NASCAR was a known quantity in the East, while NHRA was considered a kind of West Coast phenom. The only hardcore full-on NHRA track in the Northeast was York U.S. 30 in Pennsylvania. NHRA standbys like Raceway Park in New Jersey were still on the drawing board or just beginning operation. It just seemed a natural move for NASCAR to look at the young drag racing scene here and plant some roots."

According to Dan Weis, the operator of Richmond Dragway and the original vice-president of NASCAR's drag racing operation, it was Bill France Jr., at the Daytona Beach NASCAR headquarters who wanted to get into the sport. He saw that the straight-line sport had a future and that the Northeast would be a good place. In fact, France's position paralleled Xakellis' observations.


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