PIR Part 1

PIR Part 1

        ROCKY'S ROAD            


By Jim Rockstad

PIR 1986: The final parachute comes out on major drag racing after such a great run!!

Portland International Raceway has got to be the best located track in the country. Not only is the track located right along side of Interstate 5, it has a light rail station allowing spectators to “Take the Train to the Races”. With the beautiful backdrop of Mt. Hood, PIR is inside the city limits and about a 20 minute drive to City Hall in downtown. How much better could it get?                                                     


If you can get the weather, the promotion, and the targeted audience figured out and then offer them a quality event at a good price you can certainly put a major crowd in the facility. Most people in the Portland-Vancouver area are 20-25 minutes from PIR. With multiple entrances for walk-up ticket sales you can ingress and egress huge audiences in a short amount of time.

When IRP (International Raceway Parks, Inc) first got started at PIR at the beginning of 1973, the plan from President Bill Doner was to have 4 major drag races sprinkled throughout the summer. An eight car nitro funny car event in April; The Oregon Open, top fuel and funny car event in May; the Rose Festival Drags in June and the Grand Daddy of them all: 32 funny cars in late July.


(Al Beachell was the manager for Woodburn Drag Strip. For years he attempted to get enough support to build a drag strip at Delta Park. One representative in the group was Bruce Bowler, the NHRA Division Director. Also there is a representative for the City of Portland. It was 1969 and Beachell had received the approval to build an eighth mile drag strip at the former Van Port sight. For years, the vacant streets of Van Port area were used for drag racing, as encouraged by then, Mayor Terry Shrunk. The streets through the Portland-Vancouver area were hot beds for street racing with all of the danger that can potentially take place. For years the building of an NHRA sanctioned drag strip was the desire of many. The scene in the photo was taken during the construction of the drag strip.....years later the drag strip was extended to a full quarter mile. Every year since the building of this strip drag races take place at Portland International Raceway (PIR).)

In addition to those four events we tried several other races but it came down to the four event approach that fit the PIR schedule and most importantly, they would run in conjunction with the SIR schedule. Seattle International Raceway is about two and a half hours to the North.

From February through September we ran bracket races on either Sundays or Wednesday nights. These cars were often called e.t. (elapsed time) bracket cars that, generally, were right off the street. These events were very popular, often there is 150 plus cars or more participating each week.

I had contacts with the Army Reserve due to my many years being involved with them. I approached them about using their large dozer to assist me in building a motocross track (an off-road motorcycle track) at PIR. They could use some of their reservists to practice while building the track. They jumped right on it and in several months the track was completed.

The Rose Festival Association financed some night lighting, along with the installation. The lighting program was all set for a 5 year repayment from the rental income to the City of Portland. With the major success for weekly motocross it just took 2 years for the pay off to the Rose Festival Association.

On Thursday evenings throughout the summer the local PIR motocross facility became a big hit with several hundred riders and an excellent crowd to watch. To this day, that track is very busy for area motorcycle riders.

The major drag races at PIR were the financially high risk-type events with large crowds. I do remember one of the giant successes we had during my tenure there was an April funny car opener. I had sold a sponsorship to the Jean Machine which was a youth oriented clothing department of G.I. Joe’s in Portland. G.I. Joe’s had lots of stores in the greater Portland-Vancouver area and so we printed the tickets with a $5.00 off of any pair of jeans at the Jean Machine. The weather rolled just perfectly and in Doner-style the media buy along with the hype was plenty strong. The event was 8 nitro cars headlined with Ed “Ace” McCulloch who was raised in Forest Grove, Oregon and had went on to big-time national-level success. With showers the night before, the weather broke to a sunny nice day on that Saturday for the evening event. The momentum was obvious as the phones at the PIR offices were melting off the desk and the pre-event media coverage was excellent. The conditions were perfect for a huge crowd. A spring-time event and the weather gets nice and warm, along with a massive media buy…..lookout PIR!                                               

As I recall, the paid attendance was nearly 10,000 which was a huge crowd for PIR (with limited seating at the time). The grassy bank behind the starting line was packed with race fans and the pit area was hard to even walk through. The raceway was stuffed to the gills and the funny car racing was as good as it gets. An interesting sideline to this event was the $5.00 off on jeans at any Jean Machine store was the biggest return that they had ever seen at the time. The concerts that they had tried this same promotion at didn’t get the discount ticket return as good as the drag races did.

It’s all hard to remember but I believe the Ace won the event…as he did at most of the funny car events in the 70’s.

Coming Soon:  PIR Pt. 2   More about the major drag racing at PIR...and noise.  As always, your comments are welcome.    rockstad@aol.com