Monday, July 12, 2010

San Diego's First Drag Strip...Paradise Mesa

Paradise Mesa Drag Strip was really the old Sweetwater Airfield used during World War II for aircraft landing practice. It was located east of National City.

There are many stories of how the cars would line up with 8 cars & race. The fastest 4 would turn around & race back followed by the slower 4. Eventually this would continue until 4 were going one way & 4 were coming the other way. If everyone observed 'the imaginary center line' there wouldn't be a problem. Unfortunately, accidents did happened. Later, after the strip became recognized, they would run two cars at a time.
The guys that were serious about racing (the club called "The Bean Bandits", Monique's mom was a member of the club) grew tired of being chased off by the police, so they organized to get use of the field and with the beginnings of the NHRA to help, events were held on weekends from 1951-59. Even so, the police would try to run the street racers off the strip or catch them, but their under-powered police cars were no match. So San Diego had it's first drag strip.

It's said there was a family that owned the huge chunk of land east of National City. They lived in a Spanish mansion at the west end of Paradise Valley Road. Every 5 to 10 years, they would sell off sections of land to developers or they would lease large areas to cattle owners. There is a DVD which described drag racing at the (Sweetwater) Paradise Mesa airfield: One of the interviews talks about how they had to get permission from 'the woman that owned the land' in order to have sanctioned racing. They also had to pay her an annual fee of a dollar.

The little "Dragster" looking car was one of the "Bean Bandits" early dragsters.

Sweetwater was still listed among active airfields in the Aerodromes table on the 1955 San Diego Sectional Aeronautical Chart. It described the field as having a single 3,000' bituminous runway, and included the remark, "Auto racing on field. Closed to flying on weekends." The Sweetwater Airport was evidently closed at some point between 1955-58.

According to auto racing historian Bret Kepner, the Sweetwater runway was used as a commercial drag strip until 1959.
Related posts: More on Paradise


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14 comments:

  1. Ron wrote: Use to go up there with a friends brother. We'd sit in the back seat of
    his 50 Ford when he'd race. It was an interesting strip with very
    little run off and a big drop off.

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  2. Bob wrote: Brings back old memories, in the late 50's I raced there in a Chevy stock class(many trophies) anyhow in days race series I had beat everyone in my class and the next so the run off was to be between me and the top time of the day which just happened to be the Bean Bandit's dragster, they pitted me at the half way mark of the quarter and still blew my socks off....ah memories... Bob

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  3. THE PICTUR OF THE A GAS 32 IS SKIP,HESS I BOUGHT THE 324 FLAT HEAD AND RAN IT IN MY MODEL A FOR A FEW YESRS YES THE GOOD OLD DAYS JERRY BERKOUF

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  4. Gotta agree, this brings back memories. I raced my modified '58 mercury there. Got chunked badly by a '57 Chev, though. Ha! Great days!

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  5. dave platt El Cajon ca,May 15, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    I have a really great friend of mine, Fred Jordan Jr was one of the first racers to race at Paradise in the late '40s. We were talking about paradise today and all the times he had there.

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  6. Dave, I would love to put more photos on if you know of anyone that has some.

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  7. I had my start in drag racing at Paradise Mesa, with a stock Oldsmobile 88. Many fond memories of the Bean Bandits, as well as later on Lions (the best drag strip ever) Ramona, Carlsbad and OCIR.

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  8. Hello John, I bought a 59 BSA golden flash from Valley Cycle Sales in ElCajon, took it from the show room to Paradise Mesa on a saturday made three passes. The first pass racing a non-stock 56 ford I was blown away the second & third pass I blew him away by realy cranking the petro to the bike' the last two passes due to vibration I lost my tools from the stock tool box on the runway due to vibration. Crossed the line at 105mph. Old Uncle Fred form Tehachapi Ca.

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  9. My father was killed at Paradise Mesa July 19, 1958

    http://dragstripdeaths.webs.com/195059.htm

    My uncle Leonard, (Dad's older brother) dedicated his life to innovations for safer racing and the legacy of the LENCO transmissions.

    Gary Sumek and the good people at LENCO, carry the legacy of my father and uncle on to this day.

    Thanks to all who love and support the lifestyle.

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  10. More Paradise photos, these by Bill Bean: http://www.fototime.com/inv/687435A210EF0D8

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  11. The strip was still running in the early 60s. We went there to drag race a Chevy powered sports car in about 1962. Does anyone know the last race?

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  12. Can anyone tell me if this is Paradise Mesa?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZf5Ppc_KK8

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  13. Just an update to the 13 club cars, first pictured. All these hot rods were San Diego Prowler club cars, that ran that day! This is where we all got our start & addiction! Great times & memories!!
    More local photos & history at www.San Diego Prowlers Hot Rod Club.com
    Andy Bekech (Prowlers Club Historian)

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