PIR Part 2


PIR Part 2

        ROCKY'S ROAD            


  More about the major drag racing at PIR.....and noise.

The major drag races drew race teams from all over the West Coast. PIR became a special race track for many of those racers. The events in Portland allowed these teams to often “double up” with back-to-back events at PIR and then up to SIR (Seattle International Raceway), usually the next weekend. The double events allowed the racers to come to the Northwest and race at two excellent facilities.


The Oregon Open was a 2-day affair so it was always a week earlier or later than the Northwest Open at SIR. Here again, the cars had two weekends in a row to race at, which makes for a better field of cars. The event was an 8-car field of both top fuel dragsters and funny cars along with a bunch of sportsman categories. Shirley Muldowney, Jerry Ruth, Herm Petersen, Kuhl and Olson were just a few cars in the quality field of the top fuel program. Funny cars included Gordie Bonin, Mike Miller, Twig Zeigler, Jim Green’s Green Elephant and a great group of others. This truly was a mini-national event right in Portland with push starts for the fuel cars from their pits down near the shut-off area.                                   

The Rose Festival Drags was tied to the festival that takes place each year in June in downtown Portland. The festival is two weeks long with parades and events throughout the city. The event usually included a match race of top fuel cars and funny cars for feature cars and a huge field of sportsman entries. A lot of the Rose Festival dignitaries would be included in the event and a parade of cars with the Rose Festival princesses as part of all the activities.


The best-ever attendance at the 32 funny car event was in the 8-9,000 range. Always held the last weekend of July at PIR, the event was a stopping off point for the funny cars on their way to Seattle for the next weekend. The one day events always seemed to work the best in Portland as they do at other race tracks across the country. The one day show, at night, makes for a fun evening and the nitro cars are at their best at these events. Portland always had really quality funny cars at this event. The traveling pros loved racing in Portland and it showed by their attendance: Blue Max, Prudhomme, Hawaiian, Jungle Jim, McCulloch, Mongoose, Bonin a long list of the best in the sport.

Of course to have a race track in the city limits and so close to the potential customers there has got to be a downside. The supercharged motors at night are wonderful for all those that attend these events but not so wonderful for those that live in the close-by neighborhoods. The expanded schedule produced by IRP impacted the entire area and the pressure to quiet the track came around front and center. Groups organized and held meetings throughout the area. The pressure on the city officials to quiet down the track was “loud” and clear. It was the major drag races that were the huge noise makers and the neighbors wanted them stopped. We call it “thunder in the pipes”, they certainly call it an ongoing irritation.                             

I attended many meetings with the DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) as they attempted to control and lessen all noises in and around the city of Portland. We adjusted the best that we could within time curfews with later start times but it always came down to the elimination of the noisy cars. The noisy cars were the ones that drew the big crowds making it profitable for the company. In racing it seems like the louder the vehicles the larger the crowd. After years and years of meetings, adjusting the major drag program and thus the noisy cars, the pressure on the city of Portland was too great to hold back. In the summer of 1986, the Last Drag Race was held at PIR. There was lots of media to do interviews with statements like “you’ll get it worked out”… but that was the end of major drag racing at PIR. The weekly e.t. bracket races continue there with mufflers on the cars but the end of an era took place as the last of the big drag races went away. What a terrible shame!


The community pressure was too great as these folks are the “voters” and these drag race promoters haven’t got the image of the Indy cars….we were bound to be losers sooner or later. Indy cars stayed and we were shut down. I guess the interesting and ironic part is that the Indy cars, many years ago, dumped Portland and the major drag races could have still been cooking there. It was a sad time to see the potential of an ongoing major drag race at PIR knowing that a summer good time event would be excellent for the whole area.

Seeing what the importance of major drag racing was to the city of Pomona and the fair grounds there it certainly proves that their fore sight was a really smart move. With some noise retention walls the two major drag races fit right in with the community. Homes there in Southern California are as close to the race way as they are in Portland. A similar type approach could have taken place at PIR with one major drag race in the middle of summer which would have been hugely successful for everyone involved. It’s a shame that the City of Portland didn’t follow Pomona’s model at PIR. A weekend of thunder and cackle would have satisfied those that remember the old days of PIR, and the impact it had on local businesses which was substantial. As with Pomona, drag racing certainly could have co-existed with the community surrounding PIR. But it was not to be!

I remember a discussion I had with Jim and Louise (Ulibarri) Miller. They lived in North Portland for many years. They said there was very little noise in their area which was real close to Lombard. The impacts from these major drag races were often times a figment of some imaginations.

I always felt that this was just a political move by the City of Portland to satisfy a group of voters. After all, it's so very important to schmooze the voters....and destroy an entertainment program enjoyed by thousands of people.

 Next Rocky's Road:  It's down right amazing what takes place at a drag race.