Eugene Drags: Pt. 2


        ROCKY'S ROAD            


Eugene Drags:  Pt. 2

The plan, a well-intended one, was to rent the small eighth race track in Eugene, Oregon to give an additionally race date for the touring cars which were on their way to the 64 funny car show in Seattle.

These quality race cars were much better than had ever run at Balboa Drag Strip. Bill Doner had produced some hyped-up radio ads outlining which cars were coming to the Eugene facility.

Those Doner ads that had been “pounding” away on several radio stations for about 10 days in the area obviously generated a lot of excitement and anticipation throughout  Eugene. In, and around, Eugene, Oregon the folks knew that the drag racing circus was coming to town, bigger and better than ever before. The “buzz” just seemed to be everywhere as the event got closer and closer.

                  The conditions that night in Eugene were so perfect to use the radio commercial phrase, “You can buy the seat but you are only going to use the edge of it.” You could feel it in the air this event is going to be one that everyone will remember. That's for sure.

When that Friday night finally arrived in Eugene, that little 'ole raceway had never seen a crowd the size of this one before. It was so huge, to say the least, it was ever so hard to even get all the patrons into the raceway. Sort of a “shoehorn” approach was needed to “pack them in” the Balboa facility.

Doner flew to Eugene in a small plane so that he could head back that evening for the big event at SIR. A small airstrip was just a few minutes from the race track. The show that evening was “Chicago-style” drag racing where the cars are paired up, then each makes two runs, and the quickest two cars later that evening return for the final. Doner certainly had a way of building that scene up into a crescendo throughout the qualifying, as it took place. The excitement for the final was well anticipated by the crowd. Doner planted that thought in their minds over and over again as the evening wore on. The hype was really building as the tension grew for the crowd in anticipation of a “showdown” of the two quickest cars on the property.

There had to be three—four thousand (or more) people crammed into little ‘ole Balboa Drag Strip that evening and there was literally zero parking anywhere. The cars were lined up on both sides of the highway for as far as the eye could see. It was a traffic nightmare, a snarled up mess.

The grandstands at Balboa were the old wooden type, often call “circus blues”. The shaky over-used grandstands filled in a hurry and some how, to my astonishment, stayed erect during the entire evening. I thought we might have a huge problem with this large crowd but as it turned out someway they all fit in those shaky grandstands.

Additionally, the Friday night fans were lined up on the fences, both sides of the drag strip. The miniscule pits were jammed with car-haulers as the modern day funny car team

can take up a lot of room and there wasn't much of that. Mix that in with all the onlookers roaming throughout the pits and the whole scene made it awful tight for everyone---although, mostly for the racers as they prepped their cars, or attempted to, for this race.

The ultra-small facility added to the feel that night as the cars would fire up in the staging area and the onlookers would scatter a bit due to their position so close to the cars.

Those nitro fumes would generate tears in their eyes causing them to scamper to find some better breathing space. Talk about “up close and personal” the evening offered a whole new feel of the sport for those in attendance. Not many sports allow you to get that close to the action. That Friday night, you really felt part of the event in those close quarters. The fumes from the nitro just add to the atmosphere...only drag racing offers a scene like that.


Talk about a quality field for little ‘old Balboa, the excitement was in the air that whole evening long. The racing was going to be terrific. Ed “the Ace” McCulloch, the Hawaiian, Pisano, the Blue Max, Jungle Jim and even Danny Ongais in the Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing funny car were just a few of the quality cars that made up the largest field Eugene had ever seen. The stage was set for a fabulous funny car evening event at little ‘ole Balboa Drag Strip.

Can you just imagine the locals there in Eugene knowing that the cars that would be there. They maybe have only read about in a magazine or had seen them on television. Here they are just a few minutes from downtown Eugene and a big-league event is taking place.

As the evening set-in, things got underway on that slippery racing surface as there was a lot of tire smoking going on, but that really just added to the spectacle. There has been, and always will be, something really special about nitro funny cars in the dim of night. At this little track in Eugene it was nitro fumes so thick that you hardly breathe and the weak night lighting there allowed for the flames from the headers to extend well over the tops of the cars. The setting was breathtaking, for sure. The elapsed times had very little to do with all the excitement of what was taking place the fire and smoke, thunder and all the rest. It was a night to behold.  With the two initial qualifying rounds lasting over several hours that allowed Doner to really get the fans hyped up.

A night drag racing event can have a multitude of things go wrong---and often times, that certainly is the case. The weather can change; those 3,000 horsepower motors, back then, can explode or many other things can stop the show. On this particular night things were clicking along great—a near-perfect evening of high-powered drag racing—and then the unbelievable took place.

It was down-right shocking when a man in a suit walked out to the starting line. He sure looked out of place at this night drag racing event in a suit. What in the world is he doing here?

Next Rocky's Road:  The zPolice Have Arrived at the Race Track…Now What?