Eugene Drags: A Happening


        ROCKY'S ROAD            


Wild and Crazy Drag Race in Eugene

The next four episodes are about the drag strip that used to be located in Eugene, Oregon. That small eighth mile track played an important role in the early years of nitro funny car match racing here in the Northwest. There were weekly 8-car shows at the Balboa facility on Friday nights throughout the summer including local cars like Kenney Goodell; Springer and Price; Kenny Martin; Twig Ziegler; Nitro Nick Harmon and others.

The Northwest has always been limited in the size of major drag racing shows promoted around here due mainly to the limited amount of facilities here. There just were not enough race tracks, back in those days when match racing was hot and heavy.

Hall of Famer Bill Doner, President of International Raceway Parks, Inc. was committed to expanding the major funny car show in Seattle by bringing in a large group of front-line stars of the sport for his magical-concept of 64 funny cars...a huge step upwards in funny car racing. Nothing had come close to an event that large in size.

To get the best in the sport he needed to offer them several race dates before or after the Big Show planned for Seattle, Doner was well aware of that. The front-line cars would stay back east where they could race at events 3-4 times a week. Balboa Drag Strip in Eugene was ideal for that specific need as a support for the up and coming 64 funny car event.

In 1973, Doner had developed a plan to rent the Balboa Drag Strip in Eugene, Oregon and run an event there on Friday night leading to the first-ever 64 funny car events in Seattle, which was to be held the very next evening.  The event in Eugene would allow for booking a better quality of touring racers for the Seattle International Raceway (SIR) event.


Doner needed to give some of the cars several race dates while they were here in the Northwest. Portland and the 32 car show had run the Saturday night before and this Friday night show in Eugene would allow many of the traveling cars to have another “payday” before the Seattle event. It was a great plan.

The former concessionaire at SIR, Rod Ormsby, made a deal with the track in Eugene for this event which included that he would operate the concessions there that evening. Ormsby had produced many events on his own at Balboa in the past years.  Doner, had Balboa with the assurance to run no later than 10pm and I was going to organize some of the required event details to pull it all off. Doner would get the cars, make the hyped-up radio ads, take care of the tickets and do the announcing on race day. I would organize a crew from Portland, take the necessary timing equipment, buy the media and get an ambulance along with the necessary security that would be needed for the evening in Eugene.

As Manager of Drag Racing at Portland International Raceway (PIR), I had all the timing equipment, trick traction compound, grease sweep, fire extinguishers and other related items that we would need. I filled up a van with all the equipment and a group of us headed off Friday morning to Balboa Drag Strip, a little over an hour south of Portland.

Balboa was a quaint little eighth-mile facility with just a few thousand bleacher seats and very little parking. Around this time, Balboa was about to go away completely as the expanding of businesses in the area continued to be getting closer and closer to the race track. The facility was located on West 11th, just minutes from the city of Eugene, near the oval track there. It was a slick and bumpy race track that was certainly the worse for wear. No concrete starting line back in those days so the needed traction was a splash of VHT on the starting line and fire the motors. This whole scene was certainly a lot different than today's modern-day drag racing.

This is the same place I had crashed my AA/GS Anglia in 1971, so I was a little taken aback by even just going there. The pit space is very small and we all knew this many funny cars would be jammed into this little, over-crowded race track. With any size of crowd at all, it would be “stuffed to the gills” and hard to even run the event. As it all turned out, that is exactly what happened . . . and worse, but for a completely different reason altogether.

The funny car count was somewhere near 16 or so and that literally made it impossible to move the cars back and forth to the racing surface. It was something the locals in Eugene had never seen before because the funny car events there were always smaller programs with local cars. This monster event had finally arrived and the crowd knew it. Boy, did they ever respond.

There was a 2-lane road going west towards the drag strip from the City of Eugene. The cars were parked on both sides of the roadway. And anywhere else they could find). The small little drag strip parking lot had filled up well before much of the crowd had even begun to show up. Then, all of a sudden, the masses clogged the 2-lane roadway so no one could move, and so most of them just pulled over, parked on the edges of the road and walked to the raceway.

No doubt, some of the neighbors were probably going to be a little testy about what was going to take place at Balboa that evening. The noise and traffic generated by this one event certainly did impact the whole area, a lot more than what had ever taken place there before.