Seattle Intl Raceway – Funny Cars We Loved
The 1970s were a mythical and magical time for Northwest Drag Racing and Seattle Intl National Raceway was the epicenter.
Nitro Funny Cars were in their zenith, and Seattle Intl Raceway “Innnnnn Kent” with Bill Doner and Steve Evans at the helm was the home of the bodacious, the bizarre and bare skin.
The 64-Funny Car Shows from 1972 to 1975 were the original bigtime ‘festivals’ of the Northwest. Never before, and seldom since, has anything anywhere in the Northwest rivaled these events for energy, entertainment, and sheer excitement combined.
“They’ll line em all up, 32 cars in each lane…AND THEY’LL ALL START AT ONCE” Doner would scream on the radio. At that point every party animal from Vancouver BC to Portland Oregon (ya it really did used to be a cool place) were on their way to the biggest party “in the world today.”
And you never knew who was gonna show up! Our first pit tour of the day usually resulted in “No way…THOSE GUYS are here?” This was particularly awesome the first couple years of the Coca Cola Cavalcade of Stars tour. The series brought many Eastern and Southeastern high quality Funny Cars up here for the very first, and often only, time. “Jungle” Jim Liberman, Prudhomme, Mongoose, Big Mike Burkhart, Bobby Woods, Don Schumacher, Ron O’Donnall, Raymond Beadle, Al Hanna and more.
The big races started in ’72 with “The Blue Max…The World’s Fastest” atop the lineup of an unheard of “Thirty Two Nitro Funny Cars”! Names? “YOU WANT NAMES” Doner would scream then rattle off a who’s who of west coast “floppers” from Pisano Matsubara to the Green Elephant. It was the beginning of the radio ad era and those guys in Kent were on a roll.
In ’73 they went to 64 Funny Car shows and for more years than it should have been allowed, became a Northwest party mecca well beyond the drag racing world. There were live bands on the track, streakers, and fist fights during the action. A motorized quarter mile melee!
Coolest part though was undoubtedly the racing. It was always as good as the spectator side shenanigans. From side-by-side quarter mile burnouts to stunning dry hops (Dry hops were the highlight of drag racing for two decades before they went away), flames over the roof, track records every year and Doner…omg Mr Bill on the mic! With no scoreboards or reaction timers, nobody… I MEAN NOBODY did flops under the lights better than Doner. He was an animal. It was a live tour-de-force performance that may never be equaled.
The scene here at Seattle Intl Raceway was a unique combo of the best in the Northwest up against the touring pros. “And it only happens once a year”. Something those from the glory days of the sport can truly appreciate.
The first couple of years it was Ruth against the Max. Then came that guy who chanted “Drag Racing is FAAAAAR OUT!” – Jungle Jim Liberman. His late arrivals were legendary, his showmanship never topped. Jungle and his girlfriend “Jungle Pam” came here like rock stars – in and out in a few hours. Leaving behind stories that will last forever.
Only once was the first Saturday night in August rained out making for a Sunday show. It was actually kinda cool. Snake and Mongoose ran that weekend – their only appeareace in a 64 Funny Car show here.
Canadian “240 Gordie” Bonin often drew louder applause than even the Blue Max and Jungle. There were a LOT of Canucks at these early races, well-oiled on their beer of course.
Yes, there were rock bands so you could “Boogie down in that trick traction compound” but hardly anybody cared. Really. It was actually one of those party races where even the non-race fans were here for some nitro.
Beyond 1975 they were still good, albeit on a lesser level, as security picked up and many of the partiers did not return.
The night drags of the great Pacific Northwest were without a doubt some of the best Funny Car races of the decade. Anywhere. There were very few wrecks, tons of great runs, and burnouts under a single giant back light, that from 1000 feet, was unfreekingbelieveable!