Drag Racing Online: The Magazine

Volume VIII, Issue 2, Page

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Here we go again, back home to Pomona


Over the winter I thought there’d be some time to decompress from the busy 2005 drag racing season, but soon after the Pomona Finals it was time to ready for SEMA and the PRI shows - a time for me to switch hats. As I mentioned last month, changes were coming -- the rebirth of the Internet now that advertisers and media see it as a delivery tool for everything from “Desperate Housewives” episodes to news clips and music videos to the latest drag news.

I’m sitting with my wireless laptop (yes, it’s a Mac) at Bob Hope Airport headed to The Strip at Las Vegas, now my second favorite dragstrip for the Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown. A couple of weeks ago the Grand National Roadster show came to town at the Fairplex and as I drove into the parking lot past Parker Avenue many of those old memories of the past 40-plus years came back as we return to the Winternationals one more time.

(DRO file photo)

When I came to Pomona Raceway as a teenager I had the fortune of being on the starting line for the 1964 Big Go West, having pulled every string I could find for a coveted Press Photog armband (where are those negs from that event?). Remember when there was a huge Winternationals banner hanging above the starting line? That year I found and closely followed Jack Williams one of my heroes, driver of the Crossley, Williams & Swan digger. Williams won the AA/FD class on Saturday and towed all the way back to his Bakersfield home to replace an engine, then hauled ass to get back over the Grapevine and ended up winning the Top Eliminator crown on Sunday against “TV” Tommy Ivo. This was the day of a kiss from the cute trophy girl, new car giveaways and toolboxes to the winners.

Those were the days when you could run at three or four dragstrips a week and maybe earn enough winnings to buy a set of pistons and a new crank for the following week. I saw plenty of shows at Pomona before the City of La Verne got so uppity about the noise we hear as music from a nitro dragster. Legend has it that still today NHRA pays millions of dollars to the La Verne government and there are paid luxury vacations for old residents of La Verne Founders whenever there’s a national event. I’m sure I’ll hear from somebody denying any such graft, but I don’t care what it takes, we still have the Pomona dragstrip.

All those memories of the palace that was and is Pomona -- sorry it’s not the Fairplex and not the Automobile Club of Southern California Raceway at Pomona to me. And the addition of luxury boxes will not erase the memory of the old pump house and the tall cypress trees that clearly defined the potential off-track hazard to oil-soaked dragster pilots of the era. When cars would leave the line the cattle grazing across the street of what is now Fairplex Drive would be startled and occasionally dart away from the loud sounds. By the end of an event they may have been so deafened that the final round of Top Gas or Top Fuel just didn’t matter to them.

It’s funny though, there were so many more classes of competition then, yet so easy for me as a teenager to understand what an AA/ designation meant or what Modified Eliminator was all about. As I read concerns for the future of drag racing from fans and pundits who want to dumb down our sport, why was it so simple for me to figure our why the winner of A/FX was as important as Jack Williams winning Top Eliminator? I got it.

In following years at Pomona my brother and I would trade off sleeping in my station wagon or saving seats in the grandstand at the 1,000-foot mark wrapped in a sleeping bag to have a great vantage point for Sunday’s finals before reserved seats were a factor. On Saturday night late we’d gather at the main gate to the parking lot at the south end of the dragstrip and wait for the gates to open with other rabid drag racing fans. Then promptly at 2:00 a.m. we’d all race across the gravel parking lot to park as near to 1,000 feet as we could be.

Thanks to Sky Wallace, I also remember the grandstands behind the starting line where the tower now sits. I’m sure I still have one of the T-shirts he’d printed one year with the Pomona Sub-Zero foot club in blue across the front.

I also remember the time when I had been smoking some herb in the Porta-john, when the Andy Gump employee who was trying to do his job; keeping the stench down on a hot afternoon. He ripped open the door and a cloud of smoke rolled out. He then dove at me with the head of the sucking hose yelling, “What are you doing in here, get the hell OUT!”

Pomona is my home. Pomona is just one of those magical places for me.


View from the Left Coast [1/9/06]
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