All High School Drag Racing



        ROCKY'S ROAD            


All High School Drag Racing


The race track operator from Woodburn Drag Strip, Al Beachell, had been working with the City of Portland and planning to build a race facility in the Vanport/Delta Park area in North Portland. In 1969 the race track plan became a reality as the work began. The drag races, on an eighth mile strip, were the first motor sports activities as the new race course was being constructed.

Beachell ran many drag races over the years at PIR with great success. As the facility grew the need for someone that could bring the major stars to Portland was well needed so major improvements could be made.

In 1973, I became the Manager of Drag Racing at Portland International Raceway (PIR) at Delta Park.  The drag racing portion of the race track was leased out to International Raceway Parks, Inc. (IRP). I then became the local contact for IRP as I lived in Vancouver, Washington, just minutes away from PIR.                                         

Working for Bill Doner, the President of IRP in Seattle, I was to manage all the minor drag racing events at PIR and have a crew for the larger or major drag races that would take place about 5 times each season. I understood the drag racing scene as I had been a crew member touring with the Northwind fuel dragster and I had built and raced my own supercharged gasser race car.

I looked over the existing program that Beachell had been running at PIR to see what changes we should make for our own schedule of events for the 1973 season.  Although the drag racing events are doomed when it rains we decided to start every Sunday in February and March—knowing that most of the 8 or so races would get rained out. In April through September we would run the minor events on Wednesday nights. The 5 major drag events would always be on the weekends, located mostly, throughout the summer.

Once we got started with the drag races, and ran a few of them, I was approached by a group of students from Benson High School.  Benson was an all-boys school at the time and these students were inquiring to see if they could have their very own drag race event at PIR. It would be just their students, exclusively, along with a teacher that was supporting the program and he would be the organizer of the event they wanted to do. We all know that students could possibly goof around a lot without a teacher so the teacher leading the group sounded pretty good to me.

I recall when I was in high school attending the all school foot ball games at the Portland Stadium downtown. Those events were sort of a school versus school which brought in a large audience.  But to be a participant at those events you had to be athletic. With these drag races it just is any size student that likes to work on cars is the perfect fit. You need not be the smartest kid and the possibility of available jobs in the automotive world can certainly be an excellent career for many students.

So I thought maybe we could allow ANY high school to participate—a sort of showdown of all the schools to see who is best. In the next year, the All High School Drags were borne at PIR. I had those ongoing vivid memories of the high school football championships. I wondered if drag racing could get a similar feeling of “a showdown” by using the same-type format.

The program that we finally came up with was very simple: The driver must be in high school by showing a student body card; the entrants would need to shoe polish the name of their school on the rear window, mostly so our announcer could really make some big-time excitement. It's “Jefferson vs. Lincoln or Grant vs. Benson” as the two vehicles accelerate down the eighth mile.


Also the more students from each individual school would certainly assist the attendance at each event.

When a group of students decides to represent their school for the all high school drags it also includes a larger group supporting them..........more is better for the success of these races. So that plan was included in these all high school drags.

That addition for this type of event, allowing any high school any where, to bring a group of cars to compete against the other schools really opened the doors for the students and drag racing. It made a whole different feel for this type event..........the showdown approach had arrived!

Once the All High School Drag Races at PIR were established we attracted entrants from as far south as Salem and as far north as Longview and Kelso.

Often times, I witnessed a large group of cars with their school names on the back window heading to PIR for the high school drags.  Our officials at PIR would award points to each individual car (and their school) so a huge trophy could be awarded to the winning team by the end of the event.

To compete in the event, of course, they would need to have a fairly safe car—seat belts, hub caps removed and no big cracks in any windows. It was really easy for just about any high school student to race with just about any type of a car. It is side by side, mano-a-mano racing on the eighth mile. The eighth mile worked great for these high school events. The cars don't get as much speed as a quarter mile distance and the event can be run off a lot quicker when there is a huge turnout of cars.......which was took place a lot at these events.

Did it work? Unbelievably well! Not only did we get a huge amount of race participants but also a great crowd to watch and cheer on their school. Sometimes there would even be cheer leaders with pom-poms jazzing up the was just a lot of fun for a lot of students. And one of the best parts of the whole program is the low risk. In the track management world we like “low risk” a lot.

Although I had been involved with street racing when I went to Jefferson, I would have loved this All High School program back then. It would have been perfect for me....and so very much safer than street racing took place back then.

Coming next:   Promoting the All High School Drags in the high schools was really hard to do.