Jim Baker's Then and Now

A look back at Alton Dragway


There are numerous old and forgotten drag strips across the country, which come to mind when someone posts a photo or blog on the internet. This recently happened with one of my favorite tracks, ALTON DRAGWAY!  My wakeup call came from Mike Storey, son of John Storey the driving force behind the construction, ownership, and promotion of Alton Dragway. Mike has written a beautiful book, titled  Sunday – Sunday – Sunday!  If you or your forefathers ever raced during the ‘50s and ‘60s near the Mississippi River basin, you should obtain and keep this record of the ‘good times’ in drag racing. For those of you born since 1970, it is known as ‘nostalgia’.

This photo is of TV Tommy Ivo’s original single engine Buick-powered dragster taken at Alton Dragway around 1959. The 17-year-old crewman checking the throttle linkage is Don ‘the Snake’ Prudhomme. Yes, things were much simpler back then. Note the tools laid out for use: a screw-driver and a crescent wrench!


This new book allows me to reminisce back to the ‘50s when my career in drag racing first began. I purchased a new 1958 Pontiac Chieftain from a dealer in Douglas, AZ, who had to order it. Part of my family was moving from Willcox, AZ, back to Kahoka, MO.  So I drove the new car, which was intended for racing, 1800 miles prior to hitting the strip in August of ’58. Since it was one of the first Alton races, I had the only ‘A’ engine Pontiac there, and won the trophy. Later I had to battle with Bob Vaughn who had another real Pontiac (black) and won a lot of A/Stock awards according to Mike’s great and informative publication.

Without question, the most famous run by Chris Karamesines at 204 mph, is a highlight of action at Alton Dragway! This photo by Don Elliot captures not only the start, but also the flagman (it was in 1960) high in the air with the green flag. It is Dave Smith of nearby Jerseyville, IL, who as a high school student worked weekends for John Storey. He was part of the linesmen crew governed by manager Garland Tyler. Dave went forward with a lifetime career in drag racing. His kudos are countless, but the highlight was the 1983 AHRA Pro Stock World Championship! Today Dave still builds winning motors and cars at his shop near Exeter, CA, Dave Smith Engineering.

Prior to the historic run, this group conferred near the starting line: L/R Bob Sullivan, Rod Stucky, John Kranenberg, Chris Karamesines, Don Maynard, and Dave Smith (the starter in all white).

A few short years later, when Corvairs were the rage in the rapidly developing Funny Car category, this is Dave Smith’s Corvair F/C advertising his Precisioned Speed Shop.

This Vega, shown at the Bakersfield March Meet in ’74, was totally built by Dave Smith. At a time of turmoil at NHRA, Smith created an unusual car that I enjoyed driving for him. We did not win a National event, but were semi-finalists at the AHRA Nationals in Green Valley, TX, and runner-up in Seattle in 1976.


Caught at the Pro Stock shindig during the 2016 California Hot Rod Reunion are Karen Smith, Jim Baker, and Dave Smith. While the three of us were known for ‘Chevy West’ Pro Stockers in the west, Dave and myself were at Alton Dragway and witnessed the ‘204’ Run. For my part, I totally believe it was the fastest run I had seen, when Chris made his turn after being push started, he came right past me and the exhaust made me sick -- nothing like just nitro. As to the wide rumor that the track used rubber gas station hoses for timers, that is completely false. John Storey had Hal Fosdick clocks which were widely used among Midwest tracks in those days. My ’32 Ford coupe B/A ran within ½ mph of its time at Cordova the week prior. You can find a photo of my Altered at Alton Dragway on page 324 in Mike’s information packed book.

Without question, the biggest star during the early days at Alton Dragway, was “Stan The ManLomelino from Virden, IL. Stan’s accomplishments were so enormous that the State of Illinois erected this billboard on a State Route near Stan’s home. You can find more information about dual engine flat head Ford dragsters etc. on pages 14, 53, 54, 63, 69, and 232 in Mike Storey’s informative book!

I have in my files this photo from a Whitehall Reunion featuring Art Badgely, Paul Fensler, Stan “The Man”, and Joe Hendricks, all of whom were an important part of Alton Dragway and are featured in SUNDAY – SUNDAY – SUNDAY!

While I believe that Dave Smith has the longest winning success story starting at Alton Dragway, that would have been challenged IF Curt Wasson had not met an untimely demise riding a motorcycle on the highway in 1972. Somehow I met Curt in 1959 at Alton and he introduced me to the high lights of St. Louie, Louie. Curt developed a Corvette with a Bill Thomas dual air meter modified fuel injection. Curt raced the car all over the U.S. and when it finally was not the fastest, installed a 6-71 GM blower and just kept on winning. As Funny Cars developed, Curt became famous for his ‘Super Stitious’ series of Chevrolet-powered floppers.

One of Curt’s floppers was this big block Chevy-powered Vega shown here in the pits at Alton. Curt, with his hand on the trailer, is featured on pages; 95, 125, 275, and 277 in the Alton Dragway book.

This poster at Tulsa in 2016 depicts Kurt and his Super Stitious Camaro F/C shortly prior to his death in 1972. Kurt’s nephew Jim Sanders aided Mike Storey in the writing and preparation of his book. Jim also has helped me over the last ten years. An Alton Dragway Reunion is planned for Nov. 3 at Gordon Moore Park, just south on Hwy. 140.

Another mainline star who appears regularly in Mike’s book is Bill Curtis from Canton, IL. During the early years, Bill did battle with track owner John Storey in nearly identical ’34 Ford Roadsters.  Then later in the ‘60s, Bill teamed with Neil Swartzbaugh to run a Top Fuel Dragster with considerable success. As shown by the old ad from Drag News below, the team match raced a lot at Alton Dragway. More on Curtis is on page 277.

Finally, I just had to throw this in. There are many routes to get from Quincy, IL, to Alton Dragway. The shortest, but probably not the quickest, was to take Illinois Route 100 south along the Illinois River to Kampsville. Then it was, “Houston, we have a problem”. How do we cross the river and go straight into Jerseyville then south right to Alton Dragway? Solution: Use the exciting Kampsville Ferry.  It only held three or four cars and took several trips when we went to Alton with a large group. But it was a break and full of adventure for us 20-year olds back then. It still operates today.



In closing, I could not have been more impressed with Mike Storey’s book. Living on site as a young man made the project authentic and informative. The price of this hard bound slick paper 400 page classic is only $30.00 plus about $10 shipping. Mike will try to hand deliver your edition in the Greater St. Louis Metro area, and you may order by mail at Sunday – Sunday – Sunday, P.O. Box 112, Cottage Hills, IL 62018.


Finally, there are numerous defunct drag strips across the country. Most you cannot drive down or even locate. Not so with Alton Dragway!  If you turn into the same place where a lot of us did in 1958, go a short distance and the scene below will present its self. It is a portion of the development John Storey created out of his drag strip. You may drive down the right side and return on the left. When you do, you’ll be on Wonderland Drive, on the same track used by thousands of drag racers from 1958 through 1972!

Until Next Time, Be On Time 



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