VOLUME XX,  NUMBER 2 - FEBRUARY,  2018

Jim Baker's Then and Now

Albuquerque Keeps on Rollin’

Some seven years before the gates of the present Albuquerque Drag Strip opened on May 3, 1964, the racing crowd gathered on marked off Eubank Ave. for early drag racing.

 

A team of business minded racing enthusiasts headed by Dale Shafer and Paul Greenberg started the long process of getting permits, acquiring land, and financing the needed improvements.  By 1964 they were able to open the new Albuquerque Dragway right where it still is today.

 

Drag racing pioneer Dale Shafer has written a book about the creation of Albuquerque Dragway which is very informative about the details of construction and racing through 1975. After selling his interest in the track, Dale became a permanent member of the NHRA Safety Safari, manning the fuel check at NHRA National events for 53 years.

 

(If you are interested in obtaining a copy, contact Dale at 505-296-5180.)

Back in ’52-53, drag races were started on Sundays using the truck by-pass route which was closed by officials. On the left above, you can see the ‘box’ which served as the original tower by the New Mexico Timing Association.

 

Reading through Dale’s awesome book brought back many similar memories to me about my time at Tri State Dragway.  ABQ and TSD bought their insurance from the Gold Agency in Chicago. Both of us presented our racers with trophies from American Dragway Trophy Company. Then the book mentions how the young Albuquerque hot rodders spent time at Davalos’ Chevron ordering Hurst shifters from ‘Honest Charlies’ catalog in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Kahoka Auto Supply bought a lot of parts from HC.

 

To determine the winners for the crowd in those early days, two 4x4 plywood sheets were painted black with a yellow spot light in the center. These crude win lights were then mounted on poles on each side of the track. A person on the finish line flipped a switch to indicate which car won. At TSD we did the same thing, but built a mini tower for the ‘judge’.

One of the early organizers was Paul Greenberg shown driving his ’68 Corvette with several sponsors.

 

In 1975 Paul turned over the driver’s seat to his young son, Lyle. The rookie immediately won the Police Athletic League called “King of Albuquerque”, a high school race held at the track. With his Fuel Altered roadster, Lyle stated, “I have won races at Albuquerque Dragway for six decades.”

During modern times, Lyle Greenberg, son of Paul, has been a huge presence at the track and beyond. During the 2015 season, Lyle drove the ‘Cone Mangler’ AA/FA to the Western Fuel Altered season Championship. At the 2017 Firecracker Nationals, Lyle had retired the roadster but was there expediting the pit area for the present management. He plans to return to action in 2018 with a new AA/FC Nostalgia Funny Car.

Lyle Byrum, owner of El Paso Motorplex, was #1 qualifier at the Firecracker Nationals but had motor problems in round one.

 

Many well-known national and local racers have graced the quarter-mile, high-altitude facility which is located on top of a ‘mesa’ in the outlands of south Albuquerque. This writer has been there three times over a 40-year period; twice as a Pro Stock racer, and again in 2017 as a writer for Drag Racing Online. On May 19, 1974, the track hosted ‘The West Coast Pro Stock Association, which I created and managed during the ‘70s. Rain ended the racing with Kevin Rotty and I left for the final. The large crowd wanted to see the final and would not leave, so Kevin and I agreed to race in the rain. We agreed to just go slow and side by side. By default my win light came on, but we were right together.

The car I was driving that weekend was owned by Larry Johnson with sponsorship from Dave Smith’s Precisioned Speed.

The above excerpt from Dale Shafer’s book, gives light to some of the tribulations which racers, crew, and track personnel went through ‘back in the day’. Of course, included on this page is the date of May 19 when I brought the ‘West Coast Pro Stock Association’ to the facility. My memory of that day was a winding dirt road to get up to the track, and Beverley Johnson’s pancakes flying all over their motor home.

A primary local sponsor is Ben’s Automotive in Albuquerque. Pictured above is Art Cordova with the Ben’s Super Gas car of the ‘90s. Below is the same Art and Ben combo winning the featured Outlaw Door Slammers title at the 2017 Firecracker National race.

I always thought our exploits in the construction of Tri State Dragway in Kahoka, MO. were unique and fortunate. After reading Dale’s book, we did not hold a candle to the efforts of several young men, our age, which made Albuquerque Drag Way a reality.

 

An example was when a track in Kansas ceased operation and gave them equipment including their timing tower. It arrived by rail on a flat car and was unloaded standing up.

 

Since it was still a long way to the strip, the racers jacked it up and installed wheels so it could be towed.

 

All went well until they came to the dirt road up to the top of the mesa. The truck towing the tower slowly began spinning its wheels on the up-hill road. Dave LaNear (Headers by LaNear) got behind the tower and pushed with his truck. With tires spinning and little damage they finally made it to the top.

The present day version of the timing tower is built solidly of cement block and although it looks brand new, it has served the track for several years. The present track manager is Jim Riedel, his phone number is 505-804-1483. The 2018 schedule is available at www.abqdragway.com.

At the recent Firecracker event we were impressed with Angelo and Bill Sanchez’s very unusual ’56 Ford Fairlane. The car looks like it is still 1956 and is in the dealer’s showroom. Underneath however is a full tube chassis and an awesome power plant. It was the most unique car we noticed during our last visit.

In 1969, two NHRA SS/E Super Stocks, Tom Shelton in “Uncle Sam” and the Ford Drag Team did battle at Albuquerque.  Ed Terry’s Cobra Jet claimed the day. Four years ago, my January  issue of ‘Then & Now’ featured Ed and his many exploits.

Derrol Hubbard is driving his 2016 Cobra Jet Mustang at the recent SCSN event in Las Vegas. Hubbard was a great looking competitor at the Firecracker Nationals and makes the trip to Albuquerque Dragway frequently from his home in Ruidoso, New Mexico.

 

Another interesting capture from Dale’s book was: “March 17, 1967. The season started with a Grudge Race. Admission was $1.00, run your car, $1.00. Prices like this brought the crowd to the drags.”

To close the show as the Sun set at the Firecracker Nationals were two awesome Jet Cars including the ‘Beast’. Action like this in front of a packed house of fans, should keep Albuquerque Dragway going strong for many more years!  The 2018 Season Opener is March 7 for the Yearwood ‘Take it to the track’ and March 22 for the first Official Season Opener and Bracket Race.

 

Until next time, Be on Time! 

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