Story continues below this advertisement
Mickey Bryant is the author of Don Garlits' Rear Engine Dragster and Three Weeks in March. The veteran writer has a new book out on the Cook & Bedwell car. Check it out atwww.backinthedaystore.com.
The day was finally here. It was October 9, 1955, a Saturday, and it was opening day at our very own big time drag strip in Long Beach, California. They are calling it Lions Associated Drag Strip but that's okay with us, call it anything you want to, just open the gate. Oh, there were other drag strips in the area, but this was our hometown. Top level drag racing was in our backyard.
Up to now our favorite place to line up and race someone was on Cherry Avenue on about any Wednesday or Friday night. It was as clandestine as we could muster - hook up at Grissinger's Drive-in, then head down San Antonio Drive about a mile to Cherry, hoping this was the time you beat Tom McEwen and his '55 Chevy.
The four of us ganged up and headed out at noon in Ted's car. Ted drove because he was the only guy with a back seat. About a week later, or so it seemed, we were near the corner of 223rd and Alameda, a mere mile from the track. That was as close as we could get. Apparently 20,000 people had the same idea. No big deal; we stuffed Ted's '54 Ford in a dirt patch on the side of the road and headed out on foot. A little walk certainly didnâ€™t bother us.
When we entered the gate and headed for the track area we were struck as to how sparse the grounds were. I guess we expected massive structures and blinking lights since this would be our second home, but it wasn't there. Nor was it necessary.
Opening day Lions Drag Strip (photo by Doyle Hatfield)
We followed the crowd across what was the pit area loaded with every go-fast configuration of the day you could imagine. More '55 Chevys than I thought existed. Normal-looking sedans plastered with a garage sponsor on the side, and stripped down midget-style cars with huge motors from four cylinders with carburetors to OHV with eight cylinders and injectors.
Trackside it was standing room only. Literally. There were no grandstands to speak of. A fence line started just before the starting line and wound out and down the right side the full length of the quarter mile. You had this wonderful choice of noise and hot oil at the starting line or watching the cars at the top end at full song hitting speeds you only read about.
It was a dream day. When the event was over it probably took us two hours to get back to the car. We reminisced, laughed, and back-slapped the entire way. From now on each Saturday night was accounted for.