Moving to Arizona

Beeline, AZ, 1966: Dick Harrell hikes the front wheels on his fuel injected Bill Thomas built ’67 Chevy II F/X car.  I cannot remember if he won the event, but he was one of the front runners that brought out a packed crowd!  (Photo by Bill Thomas)

TIME TO MOVE ON… By the fall of 1966, it was apparent that we would not be able to continue operation at Tri State Dragway.  A highway relocation, which would eliminate the shutoff area of the track, had started construction.
During a business trip to the Phoenix Arizona Metro area, I attended a Funny Car event at Beeline Dragway featuring such early names as: Gas Rhonda, ‘Dandy’ Dick Landy, Doug’s Headers, Randy Walls, Dick Harrell, and a host of other stars.  The crowd was SRO and created a traffic jam on Beeline Highway (AZ. 87) all the way back to Mc Dowell Blvd. 

Phoenix, AZ, 1966: There were ¼ mile drag races held at PIR until a California Top Fuel car missed the shutoff area turn and crashed in the rocks, killing the driver.

Boy, was I impressed!

In the next few days, my brother-in-law and I made a deal with Leo Redkey and Bob Huff to operate 1/8-mile drag races at PIR.  (Yes, the same Phoenix International Raceway of NASCAR fame today.)

A few weeks after signing the papers, we returned to Phoenix to find that a summer storm had flooded the Salt and Gila Rivers and washed out the entire asphalt pit area at PIR. With no pit area we had ‘no deal,’ ala Howie Mandel.

As we left PIR, a man driving a blue Cadillac Convertible waved us to stop.  It was Mel Larson.  Mel owned Arizona Raceways and wanted someone to operate it with him.We struck a deal, and were in the Arizona drag racing business by Nov., 1966.

Wittmann, AZ, 2010: This is Mel Larson’s original Arizona Raceway as it appears NOW!  Dubbed Speedworld Dragway by present owner Bernie Longjohn, it is the oldest surviving strip in Arizona. (Photo by Dee Falk) Wittmann, AZ, 1963: Same track shown above!  Mel Larson’s Arizona Raceway with a packed house during the 1963 AHRA Winternationals.