Kingdon Drags! A Nor Cal Drag Race Reunion
Back in the dawn of serious dragster racing, the Golden State was littered with drag strips including a converted military airport runway known as Kingdon Drag Strip outside Lodi, California. A decade after the end of World War II, Stockton police offer Bob Cress got the OK to convert it into a dragstrip for Lodi’s hell raisin’ teens who were tearing up county roads and city streets. It worked, and the Kingdon Drags became a gathering point for the valley’s hard-charging youth to kick out the jams and bang the gears.
Regular attendees included Gene Winfield, Bob Cress and other members of Modesto’s Century Toppers car club. The club had promotional savvy as well leading to an event that would put Kingdon on the map forever. Shortly after getting defeated at the inaugural Smoker’s March Meet in Bakersfield the first weekend of March 1959, Floridian Don “Big Daddy” Garlits (whom west coast fuel racers chided with “Don Garbage” taunts) needed more beans for his injected fuel dragster. Monday after the Bakersfield race, Garlits traversed the ridge route down into Los Angeles for a stop at Iskenderian Racing Cams. It was there with “Cam Father” Ed Iskenderian that Garlits put a 6-71 blower on top of his Fuel Hemi. After testing it to satisfaction, “Big” headed north up the 99 Freeway to Kingdon where he was paid appearance money by the Century Toppers.
The new supercharged Hemi between the rails of his “Swamp Rat” dragster allowed Garlits to tear through the field to defeat March Meet winner Tony Waters in his blown fuel roadster for the trophy and cash. The event was of historic significance in that it was the first event Garlits had ever run a blown fuel engine. Not only that, Garlits managed to run 180mph during the race.
After being shuttered until it reopened as a functional airstrip in the 1970s, the racing at Kingdon had dried up but the memories remained as did some of the original racers. In 2006, the ¼ mile stretch of asphalt rumbled to life again as a drag race and get-together was staged by Jeff Shrink to honor the many racers that ran here in the past. A few weeks ago, the 12th annual Kingdon Drags Racing Reunion was held attracting over 150 machines of all varieties to race, remember and rock out. Street machines, hot rods, motorcycles, dragsters and funny cars engaged in full blown 1320 foot combat including headliners like second generation dragster racer Lori Peterson, Brendan Murry’s Runnin’ Wild front engine fueler, Jason Colby’s “Sourcerer” Vega Funny Car and jet dragster exhibitions from “The Beast.”
To kick off Saturday’s program, Peterson, driving her Potvin supercharged “Ol #2” dragster, carried a black and blue American flag honoring fallen Sacramento County Sherriff Robert French who died in the line of duty a month prior. One of the things that struck us was the community atmosphere of the Kingdon Drags. Promoter Jeff Shrink arranged for the Lincoln High School ROTC color guard to present our nation’s colors, and had a WWII fighter plane flyover during the live National Anthem. Moreover, the entire event crew is all volunteer from the starter, to the staging lane crew and top end timing stand operators. The Port City Chapter of the Northern California F-100 Elites hosted the pit area car show. Cackle dragsters came from all over the region to give the fans a whiff of the sweet stuff. It’s a way cool vibe here.
The racing is absolutely “Run what ya brung.” We saw flat grey junkyard muscle cars, incredibly detailed Super Gas machines, roadsters, altereds and lots of late model cars and bikes. Everyone is welcome to race here provided they pass a tech inspection. It’s a loose format allowing for both seasoned veterans and amateurs to race and have a good time. That’s what the Kingdon Drags are all about.
We will return!
Photography by Steven Bunker