Remembering . . .

Arkansas
Drag Strips

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George Fisher's 1961 Chevy 409 A/S, late 1960s, at George Ray's.. Photographer unknown

Benton

  • Benton Drag Strip,  1960s
 
I raced at the Benton strip in the '60s. They had bleachers. I think they gave out time slips. I saw my first AA Fuel dragster there. It had rained and was drying the track off. What a show! We ran a '64 Plymouth convertible. I also ran a '64 GTO convertible. We ran at Carlisle, Paragould, and Stuttgart because they were closer to Helena.
David Mitchell
  • Benton Drag Strip, 1964-65
 
I raced at the old Little Rock [Benton] drag strip in 1964-65. I had a '64 Chevelle Malibu. I was through that area a few months back and it’s grown so much, it’s hard to tell exactly where it was located. It was high on a hill on the Little Rock side overlooking I-30. It was close and on the opposite side to the old Benton Speed Bowl, a 1/4-3/8 mile dirt track as I remember. I feel like I could find it if I had the time. There was a restaurant at the exit, or down a little ways, I can best describe as a kind of “Cracker Barrel.”  Very similar in decor and menu. The pits were dirt and located down the hill almost level with the Interstate. You came up a pretty good hill in front of the tower and turned left toward the starting. You raced toward Benton. This would be the track where at least one participant was killed when he ran off the end of the track. Mike Heim (Heim’s Meat Packing) and O.D. Brasille raced their A/Altered roadsters there regularly. Ray Godman came down pretty often. Eddie Hill and Bobby Langley had several match races with their dragsters there. Charlie (??) in the Cox Brothers Pontiac, from England, Arkansas, was a regular also. All I got right now. I live in Florida now, but I was one of the Camden, Arkansas, boys that made the trip on a regular basis. The hot cars pitted up on the same level as the track and tower.
Ron Crumpler

Carlisle

  • Carlisle Drag Strip,  1957
 
I was there watching my husband, Ray Stancil in 1957. His son has a trophy. I remember he raced the Memphis "fuel burner" and he won. I believe his speed was 126. He was riding a Triumph motorcycle against the Memphis car (fuel burner).
Pat Stancil Downing
  • Carlisle Drag Strip
 
It is agreed that “organized” drag racing in Arkansas originated at Carlisle Drag Strip, a World War II auxiliary airfield about 30 miles east of Little Rock that supported the Stuttgart Army Airfield. . . . And there was even a certain degree of “organization” when anonymous drivers gathered during the 1950’s on Fourche Dam Pike, the narrow two-lane road “behind” Adams Field, the Little Rock Airport before Bill and Hill. The Carlisle airport was built in 1942 with asphalt runways laid out in an “L” shape over what was said to be thousands of loads of crushed stone hauled in from Granite Mountain in Little Rock to support the weight of B-17 and B-24 bombers flown by student pilots based at Stuttgart.  A similar auxiliary airfield was built at Hazen, about 15 miles away, however it was not accessible from Highway 70 so Carlisle was chosen by the Arkansas Timing Association as the site for the state’s first “formal” drag strip.  The ATA was operated by O. D. Brazil, his brother, Charles Brazil, Jim Reynolds, Woodie Taylor and Richard Thompson, all from Little Rock or North Little Rock. It operated under NHRA rules and classes and offered competitors NHRA insurance for the purchase of a pit pass.  At first, you had to be an owner, driver or crew member to get a pit pass.  Some cars had very large crews.  That was true at all NHRA tracks until promoters figured out that there was a small profit to be made on each pit pass, and then anyone could buy one. The first “drag meet,” as they were called in the day, was held in April 1955.  An overflow crowd estimated at 5,000 spectators watched more than 350 cars and motorcycles make runs down the quarter mile.  Like most airport drag strips of that era, spectators simply parked at the edge of the asphalt and either stood in front of their cars or sat in/on them.  Despite the absence of guard rails (Carlisle was and still is an active airport and the Federal Aviation Administration did not permit construction of any permanent facilities for racing), there was only one incident involving a race car going off the strip into the crowd.  There were injuries but no fatalities to racer or spectators. The primary “crew” at Carlisle consisted of O. D. Brazil as promoter and boss; Charles Brazil, Woodie Taylor and, later,  Kenneth Yielding, all drag racers  from North Little Rock, as flag men starters, and Richard Thompson, a Bell Telephone electrical engineer who built the exceptionally accurate timing system.  Becky Brazil (Mrs. O. D.) ran the concession stand and ticket booth, and about a dozen high school friends of O. D.’s son, Barry, did the heavy lifting to set things up for each race.  Tech inspection was handled initially by Taylor, Bill Dedman, Bill Massey, Paul Brower and many other racers over the years.  Various voices were heard on the public address system.  Even Dave McClelland, a disc jockey at a Baton Rouge radio station who later announced all the  NHRA big races, put in an appearance on several occasions.  He was smart, friendly and all-round good guy. The strip was located about two miles north of U. S. Highway 70 that was the main street of Carlisle.   Everyone hated the rocky, rough, dusty trek from the highway to the strip.  It wasn’t until 1964 that I-40 was completed, with an interchange less than a mile from the strip that shortened the dusty, rough, rocky ride. The runway surface was really less than ideal for use as a drag strip.  It was made of high oil content asphalt with fine rock content,  a mixture called macadam.  Recap drag slicks of the day (remember Bruce’s Slicks?) offered only slightly better traction than street tires, but made for some impressive smoke-the-full quarter-mile runs for the hotter dragsters. Sometime in the early 1960s, the geniuses at FAA decided the city needed to apply a “seal coat” to the runways.   It turned out to be an oily mess that completely eliminated any traction.  Ice gave better traction.  It was fun for the stock cars, but the meet that month had to be cancelled.  Fortunately, it weathered away quickly and the old macadam surface re-emerged. 

Some of the early racers and their cars were:

O. D. Brazil

O. D. Brazil was first involved in drag racing with a Triumph motorcycle with Ray Stancil up.  In 1958, Brazil sold the bike and finished a purple Dodge-powered ’34 Ford coupe that was classified as an altered coupe due to its lack of fenders.  Its weight was against it and the small-ish (239 cubic inch) Dodge engine was a weak player.  It was replaced in 1959 with a 392-cubic-inch ’57 Chrysler 300 engine that formerly was in a ’57 Dodge raced by Jim Reynolds and Howard Strickland, a garage owner in Little Rock. Tragically, while towing the Dodge to the Carlisle races on old Highway 70, Reynolds lost control in a brief rain storm and crashed both cars, fatally injuring his wife.  Strickland salvaged the engine and sold it to Brazil, who put it in his coupe. The coupe evolved into an unsprung-rear AA/Altered with a 6-71 supercharger, but it was not very competitive against lighter cars in  the class.  He later teamed up with Paul Brower and they ran that stock-displacement and another bored and stroked (472-cubic-inches) Chrysler in a series of  AA/Altered roadsters and finally in a T/F dragster.  Today that engine is in a reproduction of the Brazil & Brower dragster that is owned by Allen Bridges of Russellville, the Simpson Race Products rep who travels to all the NHRA drag races with a semi-trailer display and showroom.

Woodie Taylor

Taylor, a Missouri Pacific railroad engineer, operated Twin City Speed Shop out of his garage in North Little Rock.  His first hot rod was a Studebaker V8-powered ’48 Chevrolet pickup.  Yes, Studebaker.  It was basically the same as a ’49 Cadillac engine.  He later built a ’35 Pontiac coupe and used a 331-cubic-inch Chrysler for power.   After a couple of years in B/Gas class, Taylor moved up to a Scotty Fenn Chassis Research K-88 chassis, which was state of the art for weld-it-yourselfers at that time.  He and Jim “Smokey” Stover as driver were regulars for several years with that car.  It ran as a B/Dragster in the 120-mph 11-second range--not  bad for a very short 95-inch-short chassis.  More about the car later.

Dick Beard

A salvage yard operator in North Little Rock, Richard E. “Dick” Beard, had raced boats as a teenager and young man.  As an active member of the Little Rock Dragsters Car Club, he was there at the start of racing at Carlisle with a 303-cubic-inch Oldsmobile-powered chopped and channeled ’34 Ford Coupe.  It looked fairly smooth on the outside, reflecting Dick’s bodyman skills, however it was a different story on the inside—welds reflected the owner’s inexperience and shortcuts that were taken when required to “git ‘er done” with little regard for looks…or safety.   Consider:  A piece of 1” x 2” square tubing intended to be the rear crossmember somehow ended up about 3/4-inch too short.  “Git ‘er Done” solution:  A flathead Ford head stud laid along the short edge, stuck to the frame rail by a clenched-fist-size weld made with a red Lincoln “buzz box” arc welder that reportedly was War Surplus—First World War.  Consider:  The roll bar was fabricated, if that’s the right term, from black water pipe with nifty threaded elbows at the upper corners.  As streamlining came into vogue, Dick installed a slanted windshield and solid panel in the ’32 Ford grille, as was the practice at the time.  Swoopy it wasn’t.  Looking for more power, the three Stromberg 97 carburetors were joined by three more on an Isky U-fab (weld it yourself) log manifold.   When that didn’t satisfy the need for speed, he and driver Gerald Binns, an International truck salesman in Little Rock, decided that nitromethane fuel was the next logical step.  Using instructions supplied by his West Coast buddy, Dean Moon of Moon Equipment Company in Santa Fe Springs, CA, Dick drilled out the jets in the carbs and began using a 75% nitro- 25% methanol mix.  The Olds, having been flogged for two years, finally gave its all at Carlisle.  In all fairness, it should be pointed out that it did start an incredibly strong, smoky pass, then went prematurely, but  permanently silent when the stock crankshaft broke. Dick went on to build a ponderous Chrysler-powered C/Dragster with steel belly tank nose, two Ford torque tubes end-to-end on each side  for chassis main rails and (again) genuine seamless black pipe of the water variety for the roll bar.  Binns and later Jim “Smokey” Stover had the courage to drive the Chrysler-powered behemoth  for two years, eventually getting it down the strip in 11 seconds and topping 125 mph, which wasn’t too shabby for the times. After seeing the “big boys” (namely, the Texas and California guys) run at the first NHRA Nationals at Great Bend, KS, and the second edition a year later in Kansas City, Beard designed a more conventional dragster.  Wisely, he hired Best Welding Service, which used to be on West Seventh Street just off Broadway, to professionally stick it together.  It was lightweight, using three-inch thin-wall “muffler  moly” (mild steel)  tubing as the main rails.  The 331-cubic-inch Chrysler from the earlier dragster supplied the power.  It was only mildly successful before other problems in his personal life resulted in him drifting away from drag racing.  He sold the salvage yard on Highway 70 east of Protho Junction in North Little Rock to the Clifton family (Kenny was a highly regarded super modified and sprint car driver and later promoter of the Benton Speed Bowl) and relocated to an old red roll-brick garage/body shop building on West Fourth Street, around the corner from the MoPac Shops in North Little Rock.  After a few years, Dick took his innovative approach to race car design to local dirt tracks, having some success with a Hudson-powered car that introduced the Indy roadster-type ladder-frame construction to the area.  At one point, he and Stover also started construction of a ’39 Chevrolet coupe modified stock car to race at the new NASCAR track at Daytona, but it was never completed.  His personal problems multiplied and he soon was gone from the scene.

Mike Heim

Little Rock meat packer Mike Heim, already a legend (see below) among both early Midsouth aircraft pilots and inboard boat racers, bought a ’29 Ford roadster powered by a full-house flathead Ford that a California pilot brought with him to Little Rock Air Force Base when it opened in 1955.  Mike and his sidekick, Carl (Sonny) Urbani, massaged the roadster, painted it dark maroon and took it to Carlisle with Gene “Duke” Finan as driver.  It ran B/Street Roadster and was the first of a long line of exceptionally well turned out winners owned by Heim. Just before WWII broke out, Mike and his younger brother, Bill, having accumulated the necessary $1,700 each to buy two Aeronca Champ two-place high-wing (think Piper Cub) airplanes at the factory in Ohio and flew them to Little Rock.  They sold one and together flew the other for several years out of Adams Field.  Their experience led to Bill becoming a WWII B-17 navigator until a back injury in a crash caused his discharge from the Army Air Corps, ending his flying career.  Mike had damaged both hands in a machine accident in the family’s meat packing business and thus was 4F.  Wanting to serve his country, he was among of group of pilots from the Little Rock area who volunteered as Civil Air Patrol pilots spotting German submarines in the Gulf of Mexico based at Grande Isle, Louisiana.  Flying his own plane and others that were commandeered into CAP service, he flew thousands of such missions in l942 and l943, hundreds of miles out into the Gulf until this duty was taken over by the Army Air Corps.  After the war, both Mike and Bill became well-known barnstormers in Arkansas and surrounding states. When the FAA clamped down on pilots’ behavior, eliminating flying under bridges over the Arkansas River at Little Rock or making S-turns between the power poles in cotton fields south of town, Mike gave up flying and with his brother-in-law, Charlie Scott, built a series of inboard race boats.  First was a race-winning SK class boat powered by a highly-modified Oldsmobile engine.  The most famous was Gracie Mae, a 24-foot two-cockpit hull they built and powered with the modified Oldsmobile engine.  With that boat, they held the record for the New Orleans to St. Louis run on the Mississippi River, covering the 1,039 miles in slightly more than 28 hours for an average speed of more than 37 mph. Owning a race car is not an easy life.  Heim Brothers Packing Company had a fleet of about 25 delivery trucks, including several with the radical new-for-1955 Chevrolet V-8 engine.  One of these developed a water leak in the lifter oil gallery and the engine was replaced under warranty.  Heim bought the engine and simply inserted a brass tube to plug the water leak and built the first Chevy-powered hot rod in the area.  It was a huge performance leap forward over the flathead Ford.  While preparing it for the NHRA Nationals at Kansas City, the car caught fire in Heim’s garage.  An electric fuel pump was the proximate cause, aided by a very cluttered shop that kept the fire extinguisher out of immediate sight.  Undaunted, in only five days they repainted it, freshened the engine, replaced all the wiring and interior and made it to Kansas City in time to win their class against some impressive names that would dominate the class in the future.  Having made incremental improvements in performance over the four years they ran the car, they were consistently running right on the national speed and ET records when tragedy struck at the Little Rock Drag Strip.  Driver Jimmy Camp was killed when the car swerved to the left for unknown reasons and struck several large trees just before the finish line. After a year away from racing, Heim built a new car based on a ’32 Ford roadster body powered by a stroked, injected Chevrolet engine.  While it was competitive, his fertile mind was already at work on a radical new design that changed altered roadster construction for competitors around the country.  Influenced by Mickey Thompson’s success with Pontiac engines, he used a supercharged Pontiac engine mounted at a radical 35-degree upward angle to transfer virtually all of the vehicle’s weight to the rear slicks while under acceleration.  It worked, and he dominated AA/Altered racing in the Midsouth for several years until O. D. Brazil and Paul Brower built their version of a fiberglass ’27-T powered by one of two aforementioned blown Chryslers.  With that car and its successor, they won all but three of 54 races entered over three years, setting national speed and elapsed time records on two occasions.  Toward the end, with 65% nitromethane in the tank, Brower ultimately drove the car to an elapsed time of 8.82 seconds and a top speed of 183.3 miles per hour—well into the range of top fuel dragsters at the time. The Heim and Butler team were the most durable of the Arkansas-based fuel dragster racers.   Starting in 1967, they ran a series of front-engine Chrysler-powered cars all over the Southwest and Southeast and made several trips to California for the Winternationals at Pomona, where they qualified, which in itself was a victory.   When the Donovan aluminum engine hit the market, they had one.  With the rear-engine revolution, Heim teamed with the late Mike Tarter of Houston in a series of successful cars.  They were always among the fastest wherever they went.  Near-blindness took Heim out of action for a couple of years, but successful surgery restored his sight and he resumed racing.  

But back to the roadster:  Drag News from the Left Coast was “the racer’s Bible” newspaper.  Published by Doris Herbert, sister of cam grinder Chet Herbert, it covered drag racing across the country with editorial content provided by local scribes.  It also established the “Drag News 1320 List” of top 10 fastest speeds and elapsed times for all classes and Eliminator Groups of cars.  Being Number One on the Drag News list was a Large Deal.   It was referred to, laughingly in many cases, as “National Recognition.” To get on the list, you had to challenge a team already on it.  You could challenge the holder of any position from one down to 10 and, if you won two out of three races against them, you got their spot.  Heim and Butler got involved with the Middle Eliminator list as a result of a contact with the Des Moines-based altered roadster team of Dave Powers, Bob Riley and Don Roshak.  With a Chrylser wedge-powered roadster, they had held the number one spot for several years.  A challenge was issued and Carlisle was agreed upon as the site for the race.  (See some promoter involvement here?)  Heim and Butler won the first and third rounds and then held the top spot for over a year before giving it up when they moved up to fuel dragsters.

Paul Brower

Before those roadster days, the Beard dragster chassis has passed into the ownership of a Jacksonville car club  before Paul Brower bought it, formed a new aluminum body and painted it the distinctive purple that he and Brazil used on all their cars.  Brower bought the Chrysler engine that Woodie Taylor had run with limited success in his Chassis Research car.  With further refinements, six fresh Stromberg 97 carburetors on an Isky “log” manifold, a new Vertex magneto and an Iskenderian Super 7000T “five cycle” camshaft (Ed Iskenderian’s over-the-top advertising puffery would shame P. T. Barnum), Brower matched the national speed record of 144.6 mph with an elapsed time of 10.46 seconds on the very first lap with the car.  Over the next two seasons, he won all but two class trophies at Carlisle, six middle eliminator trophies and two top eliminator trophies (plus $25 savings bonds!)  He also won the B Dragster Class trophies at Halls, TN, and Little Rock Drag Strip on several occasions, and was the surprise winner over both Raymond Godman and John Albright at a season-ending 1963 NHRA Division Four Championship Race at Lakeland International Drag Strip in Memphis with a top speed of 160.62 mph and elapsed time of 9.91 seconds.  It paid the lofty amount of $750 cash along with a box of Sears Craftsman tools which he still has today (the tools).  

Bill Deaver

Woodie Taylor’s Chassis Research car re-emerged in the late-‘60s with blown Chevrolet power under the ownership of Bill Deaver of Little Rock.  Taking time away from piloting Pete Moory’s No. 7 super modified at the Benton Speed Bowl, Phil Butler made several passes in what proved to be an exceptionally ill-handling car.  The final episode resulted in a trip into the rice field on the north side of Carlisle Drag Strip just beyond the finish line.  Although he was uninjured, the car was bent and retired. Meanwhile, out behind the airport:  Deaver earlier had a white ’58 Corvette that he raced in A Sports Class.  Not satisfied with the results in stock class, he had Dick Beard “tune it up.” In secret, Beard converted it to run on methanol through the factory dual Carter four-barrel carburetors.  On its first test run, Deaver and a friend left Beard’s garage on West Fourth Street in North Little Rock one night, smoked the tires almost all the way across the Broadway Bridge to Little Rock and then idled through Snappy Service Drive In, the meeting/show place for many hot rodders of the day.  It (or rather the methanol fumes) left the audience in tears!  Then it was back to Beard’s place to wait for the Sunday race at Carlisle where he won A/Modified Sports and Little Eliminator.  Back on the street, the ‘Vette met its end one night when it ran off the famous road behind the airport and was destroyed.  As badly as the car was damaged, it was a miracle that Deaver survived after only a few days between the sheets at Baptist Hospital.

Touring Pros at Carlisle

Over time, many of the popular touring professional racers appeared at Carlisle.  Most often, match races were arranged between the touring pros and  Raymond Godman, Albert Waits of New Orleans, Cue Ball Wale of Baton Rouge or Brazil & Brower.   Some of the “visitors” included Don Garlits on several occasions, Art Malone, Pete Robinson, John Reed of Atlanta, TV Tommy Ivo, Benny Osborne and Bob Creitz of Oklahoma, Vance Hunt, Eddie Hill, Charlie Sitton and most of the other Texas-based fuelers, Chris Karamesines of Chicago (still racing today at about 85 years of age and who might still have a hangover after a long night in the early 1960’s with Phil Butler at several Hot Springs entertainment establishments), Lin Huit from Houston, Bobby Sullivan of Kansas City and others who have faded into history.

Stock Classes

At any Carlisle meet as at most drag strips across the country, the stock cars far outnumbered the hot rods.   Before the factories woke up to the tremendous popularity of stock car drag racing, it was up to individuals to prepare and run their street cars.  It seemed like about half of all 1955 Chevrolets ever made were raced.  This was repeated with the ’56 and again with the ’57 year models.  Gene Harness of North Little Rock, a salvage yard operator, had a screaming ’55 Chevrolet, among several that he raced.  Lloyd Bray of Malvern ran a ’56 Chevrolet with much success, as did Bob Thompson, the timer-builder, in a factory hot rod Mercury.  In 1958, the 348-cubic-inch engine in an Impala hardtop was the ride of choice for many racers.  Flagman Kenneth Yielding of North Little Rock ran up a long string of wins at Carlisle with his Impala.  Before him, Babe Sanders of North Little Rock won regularly with a similar car with a small block engine.

Cheating
  
Speaking of Babe, was there cheating?  Is the sky blue?  It was hard to detect and took a $25 deposit to force a competitor to tear down his engine.  There were occasional protests, but the usual outcome was one or the other of the protagonists backing down and leaving the strip in a symphony of profanity, but without tearing their engine down.  It may be remembered that several protests of  Sanders’s engine came to naught when he blocked access to the hood with a tire iron.  Babe, you should understand, was a 1958 version of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Only bigger and meaner.

Pontiac

There also were winners in stock cars other than Chevrolets.  Charlie Mitchell, a Pontiac salesman from England, AR, won a ton of races in the early ‘60s with several COPO Pontiac Bonnevilles.  It certainly helped him with what had to be high “maintenance” costs of same.  Another Pontiac racer was Bob Ayres of Little Rock.  His “Catalina” might have been a little light, owing to the fact that it was not born as a Catalina, but was actually a “dressed up” lighter Ventura base model, upgraded to a Catalina.  On top of that, it was his street car which he drove daily in his job as a salesman for a farm pump manufacturer.   Nonetheless, he won often and then went on to race and win “national recognition” with a series of stock station wagons called “Grog” after the comic strip character.

Ford

There were several Ford engine/model combinations that occasionally won as well.  First were the Paxton-supercharged 312-cubic-inch “Y Block” ‘57 T-Birds and sedans, followed by the three-carb 390-based engines.  When they didn’t do the trick, Ford introduced the short-lived NASCAR-oriented 409 cubic inch model as raced by the Curtis Brothers.  It was followed soon by the 427 “side oiler” engines and finally by the “cammers” that put Fords in the win columns.

Chrysler

Chrysler had some history with the early hemi engines already mentioned in connection with Carlisle.  A couple of ’56 Dodges were run by Jim Reynolds and others, particularly Bill Massey, first a Chrysler product salesman in Little Rock and a later a  dealer in Cabot.  His D-500 was strong for its time but weak in the rod bearing oiling department, resulting in frequent and expensive down time.  Chrysler got with the program in the late ‘60s with aluminum body parts, altered wheelbases, the 413 wedge and then then mighty 427 hemi engine.  Most had Torqueflite transmissions, making “slush boxes” the preferred transmission for most competitors.

Memphis-area Racers

Carlisle was a favorite strip of a large number of  Memphis area racers.  The latest stuff always seemed to come from Memphis with Larry Coleman, his auto transmission business partner Bill Taylor, Marshall Robilio, Herb McCandless, John Callies, John Albright, Billy Webb  and a long list of other dedicated racers who made the trek to Carlisle on the second Sunday from April through October.

Ray Godman

But among the dedicated racers, none was moreso than Raymond Godman, a Memphis insurance agent and later speed shop owner and fuel dealer.  Working from a wheelchair due to Korean War injuries, he fielded what consistently were fast and quick, if somewhat crude, cars in the Midsouth for many years.  Using a dragster chassis with a radically modified roadster body, he set many strip and national speed and elapsed time records at Carlisle and other strips.  In the class structure used then, he often had little class competition enroute to a shot at top eliminator.  With the introduction of Middle Eliminator by NHRA, he and his drivers, James “Red” Dyer, Harrison Jacobs, Preston Davis and even dirt-track legend “Hooker” Hood on several  occasions, were dominant at the U. S. Nationals at Detroit and Indianapolis as well as throughout the country.  In later years, he fielded winning funny cars and top fuel dragsters under the moniker of “Bo Evil,” and later, for those who didn’t get it, “Bo Weevil,” with an image of  the popular cartoon character Colonel Beauregard waving a Rebel flag over the legend of “Forget, Hell!” Godman also was later the promoter of Lakeland Raceway, one of the finest purpose-built strips in the Midsouth.  It was the site of some early NHRA national events but ended up as a shopping center, as have so many other drag strips across the U. S.

John Albright

Another regular competitor at Carlisle was John Albright of Memphis, who for many years stuck with Buick for power in his A Dragster.  While that was hardly the winning ticket, he fabricated a host of altered, dragster, sports car and other chassis that were winning tickets for their owners.  His craftsmanship and designs were superb and he never assumed the eccentric genius persona that was so common among car builders.  Using chassis built by Albright, Godman, Billy Webb with a blown Oldsmobile AA roadster, Mike Heim and Phil Butler with both an AA roadster and later an AA fuel dragster, along with Brazil & Brower found success with pipe he fabricated.   It was a very sad day for all who knew him when, in the late 1960’s, he was shot to death in a road rage incident in Memphis.

Others

Among the many other names that appeared frequently in early-year race results were Charlie Strickland of Little Rock, son of the garage owner mentioned earlier; with a D/Gas ‘55 Chevrolet; Fred Shemwell of Little Rock, who started with a ’50 Cadillac and later raced the Pontiac coupe built by Woodie Taylor re-powered by his Cadillac engine; Jerry Urbani, son of Carl (Sonny) Urbani who raced for years with Mike Heim, with a recreation of Heim’s Chevrolet-powered ’29 Ford Roadster running in the same B/Street Roadster Class; Monty Carlson of Stuttgart, who filled a room with trophies won with his ’57 Corvette; Ray Alexander, whose ’50 Olds hardtop was always there on race day in D/Stock Automatic (since he owned a transmission parts business with his dad), Bobby Roper, who started in stock cars, moved to gas classes and, with his business partner, Lowell Elrod,  got more horsepower from the lowly  Volkswagen than most stock cars of the day produced.  And there were many others.

Bill Dedman

One person who deserves special mention is the late Bill Dedman.  From the beginning of racing at Carlisle, he was involved in stock car inspection and classification.  He was a stock car mavin who really knew his stuff.  When not pushing the advantages of a Hydramatic transmission for drag racing, such as the one in his White Elephant ’51 Oldsmobile sedan, he was a talented bass player in a combo that started at Central High School and continued to play for over 50 years.   Was he a little eccentric?  How many guys do you know who could and did hum the bass part of any popular tune?  He moved from Little Rock to Des Moines, Iowa, where he worked in that city’s newspaper print plant, then moved on to the San Francisco area to work at newspapers in the Bay Area.  In each area, he was involved with drag racing, particularly with stock cars.  He returned to Little Rock and resumed his role as bass player with his old high school group.  All the while, he was involved with drag racing.  His last project, while living in Conway, was a turbocharged Valiant six-cyclinder “sleeper” car.  Just like grandma’s--dog dish hubcaps and all--but all technology under the hood.   RIP Bill.

Paul Brower

Fort Smith

  • Razorback Dragway, 1964-66
 
I ran my first drag car at Razorback in 1966. A Chevy-powered '41 Ford coupe in D/MP class. My friend's and I could be found there most Sundays from '64 to '66 when I moved to Memphis where I ran at the old Lakeland dragstrip. Awesome memories of Razorback Dragway. Razorback had a high bank at the starting line and at one time extended and cut down further on the starting end. We used to sit on the hill cut down behind the starting line under the trees to cool off.  I know, or knew who ran in the 60's when the strip was most active. Jim Hale, Monroe Moody and others.
Tommy McFarland

Little Rock

  • Little Rock Drag Strip
 
Little Rock Drag Strip should get a chapter all its own.  Built by Cliff Packer, a Ford-Mercury-Lincoln dealer in Benton, and managed by Jim Reynolds, it staged races that were heavy on fuel dragster competition. Practically every heavy hitter—Texans Bobby Langley, Vance Hunt, Raymond Austin, Charlie Sitton and Eddie Hill, Lousiana’s Cue Ball Wale and many others—smoked the hides through the clocks of LRDS and then hoped for a quick parachute opening as they sped up the hill in the shutdown area.   One whose ‘chute was slow to open was Bob Sullivan of Kansas City, who wrinkled the full  body of his car, “Pandemonium,” when he chose to veer off to the right at the last second, knock down a barbed wire fence and bounce into the pasture of the neighboring dairy farm. Jimmy Camp was involved in a fatal crash there, as was Tom Burris, who several years later went off the end and into the pine trees in an A/Roadster that Tom and his brother, Rayburn, built.  The cause of the crash was never determined.  Tom’s winning personality and impish sense of humor made him a favorite wherever he went.  He was a truck mechanic, but was best known by racers as an expert on the Chevrolet fuel injection system.  He could make it sing.

Paul Brower

Paragould

  • George Ray's Dragstrip, 1961
 
I worked at George Ray's dragstrip in Paragould, Arkansas, when it opened, along with several friends. I worked in classification and as a finish line judge. We had cars from Memphis, St. Louis, and all around the area.

Bert Mangrum
  • George Ray's Dragstrip, 1970s, 2005-6
 
I  was looking for something else when I ran onto this page. This brought back a lot of memories. I raced in the '70s. If George was open, I was there. I ran a '67 Mustang, orange color, G Gas. I run a '67 Ford Falcon that I won on a bet at the track. Oh man, those were the days. Cars from Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri.  There was some boys there that had some bad-ass cars. After the '70s, I took a break until the '90s. I raced a lot in Texas. I took another break again until 2005-6. I came back to George Ray's and raced. I'm 66 now and don't know if working all my life or getting in and out of them damn cars put me down and out. I can just look back and tell you, I had a hellava ride. Also I spoke to George about seven months before he passed. Anyway I moved away from that part of the country. I still like to go and watch.

Raymond Lane
  • George Ray's Dragstrip, 1961
 
I was at the first race at George Ray's strip in November 1961. I saw George Fisher running a black '61 409.

David Mitchell
  • George Ray's Dragstrip, 1962-65
 
I raced at this track from 1962 thru 1965. Back then, there was very little here, other than the 1/4 mile (back then) and a lot of cotton. I raced a 1962 Plymouth Fury, running D Stock. I still have two winning trophies. Occasionally having to race against George if there were no other cars in the class. I spent a lot of Sunday afternoons at George's track. It was always a lot of fun.

Vic Byrd
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1963 class trophies from George Ray's strip. Courtesy of Vic Byrd

Prescott

  • Prescott Dragway, 1977
 
TJ and I raced at Prescott, Arkansas, in 1977.
Don Hurst
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TJ racing her "Easy Lovin" Firebird at Prescott in 1977. Courtesy of Don Hurst

Stuttgart Army Airfield

  • Stuttgart Dragway, 1967
 
I was riding a 250cc Yamaha from southern Maryland to San Angelo, Texas. I stopped at Stuttgart Raceway in Arkansas on a Sunday in 1967. I could not ride too far as gas stations were closed. I found a few folks on bikes, so I joined them. The PA system announced a drag race opportunity against another Yamaha, so I stripped all my gear, pulled the baffles out of the pipes, and paid the two dollar entry fee. I did not come close. I reloaded my bike and was ready to ride on when one of the other riders said,  “You are crazy. Come home with us.” We were friends for years. I got to San Angelo with a badly sun-burned face, and a great story.
Fred Sypher
  • Stuttgart Dragway
 
Stuttgart airport (nee Army Airbase) was the site of some huge Sports Car Club of American races in the 1960s, staged by the Arkansas Region of SCCA, and occasional drag races promoted by the Memphis Rodders Club, among others.   The entire base was concrete with slight offsets between each slab and ridges of expansion joints that caused traction problems until the cars beat them down.   Additionally, the strip ran slightly downhill, resulting in some very high speeds for the faster classes. It was easy to get to and attracted some huge crowds of cars and spectators.
Paul Brower