Friday, November 5, 2010

Ramona Drag Strip

Old race tracks of the past...have a "Special Life" about them, whether road race tracks, dry lakes, ovals or drag strips, they were there for one purpose...to go as fast as you could and beat whomever you could. Simple as that.

This one was called "San Diego Raceway" at Ramona, California. It began life in about 1963 after what was termed the "San Diego Rodders Riot." The location was just north-west outside the small town.

There was not much there except for a pit area, a few grandstands, a timing tower and a strip to race on. One good thing, it was a safe place for kids to race....but it not only drew the kids, it also drew the pros.

Back when I had just turned sixteen, I headed off to go racing. For a kid in that day really the only racing one could do was "drag racing." Ramona was the place. This is a photo of the first trophy I ever won, it reads "San Diego Dragway At Ramona"...still have the trophy...always will.
Here, the flagmen lets them go. This photo was taken before the use of the "Christmas Tree" lights.

Two front engined dragsters lite them up. Dragsters were still trying to hit the 200mph mark back then.

A Willys in the near lane sponsored by "Jacks Muffler Service...San Diego" gets the jump going against the Mercury Comet of "Dyno" Don Nicholson. Don was a very well known national drag racer back in the day, first driving Chevys then mostly Ford powered cars. Images via.

A few days ago I was reminiscing about Ramona with a friend of mine, blog follower Keith Nelson. He had also raced there back then. He was telling me about the time a car called "The Green Monster," a jet powered exhibition racer built by Art Arfons blew down the fence behind the staging area on some cars as it fired up for a run down the drag strip.

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Related posts: Ramona Drags, As Talked About, The Accident

35 comments:

  1. Thank you John, for the Ramona,"blast back to our past photo's", brings back great memories,from the most exciting era in automotive history,sure glad we were lucky enough to experience it. I raced against both Jack's Willys and Don's Comet. I will dig out some photo's to post real soon.Thank's again, Jon Guilmet

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  2. Kings' Video of the Men Car Club gathering for a trip to the Ramona Drag strip in 1964. The yellow car with the enclosed parachute is TV (Tommy) Ivo And local record holder: Ted Cyr with his Lincoln: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aOX3cMfhtQ
    Thanks, Bill
    L W Hughes III
    1540 Goodwin Dr
    Vista, CA 92084-3030
    760-726-4694
    LWBillHughes@sbcglobal.net
    http://BillHughes.com/

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  3. Thanks Bill...that video is great!!!

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  4. John a friend of mine gave me your site and as a teenager (13) with an older brother I got to see Ramona on many occasions. One of my best friends at the time, his older brother was involved in the Carol & Flounders B/GS Willys, unfortunatly Vietnam came along and broke up the team. We even rode bikes to Ramona twice from Clairemont just to smell the fuel.I was there when Arfons blew the fence down and when John Wenderski made his last pass. Thanks for the memories!

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  5. That's cool...if anyonehas more photos of Ramona, please let me know...I'll get them posted.

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  6. John:
    I am just finishing up a pictorial history of Ramona for Arcadia Press and I really, really want to have some photos of the San Diego Raceway at Ramona in the book to get that part of rodding and dragging history out to the public. Can you provide me with any good quality tif of some of the photos on this blog or others that you may have? The requirement for good quality publication is that they need to be scanned in at 8" print mode so when they are reduced and printed they look really good. I will of course provide full credit to you as the provider of the images and will make sure when the book comes out in July 2011 that you get a copy.
    Richard Carrico
    Ramona CA rbrujo@sbcglobal.net

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    1. I have several.They are all of my dragster racing various opponents. They were taken by the strip photographer. So the quality should be OK

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  7. Great to see this site. I raced my bright yellow 55 Chevy in 63/64 in CMP, called The Yellow Thang. 327 with Crower cam, Isky roller, dual AFBD carbs, alum flywheel, 538 posi rear gears. Loved racing there every chance I had and only lost one race to the Four Door Plum, another 55. Teamed up with Mendelson (sp) to race the 40 Willys, blue in color. Also raced Pomona, Fontana, and Riverside Hot Rod Championship inaugural year; lost in the finals to a sponsored Broadway Motors Ford, a sign of the future of sponsorship.

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    1. I remember the car, I think you lived in P.B. near Crown Point, always had a taxi drivers hat in the rear window. I had the white 63 Tempest in '64 and then the 65 GTO in '65. Raced at Ramona all the time against other GTO's, 442's and Buick GS. Beat most all of them.

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  8. Thanks Tom, it was a simpler time back then. Please pass the blog along to others you think may enjoy it and if you have any old photos you would like to share, please email me.

    John

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  9. I was recalling being at the Ramona Drags... the Four Door Plum (thought this was a Falcon)...and Willys' Pie Wagon, one of our favorites......the driver smoked a big stogie (like mr. horsepower)

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  10. I forgot about the "Pie Wagon."

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  11. I remember watching "TV" Tommy Ivo's 4 nailhead Buick engine powered rail, the "Showboat", run at Ramona...
    I've never been the same since 8=)

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  12. can anyone tell me where san diego dragway at ramona was located? (address,nearest street,etc)my father john wenderski was killed there in feb.'64. thanks in advance! mike. www.blackbeautyracing.com

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    1. Mike, I was there the day your father was killed and it was a sad day. The dragstrip was located on the south side of the Ramona airport.
      Dennis Nottingham
      Lakeside, CA

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    2. As I recall...and at my age that can be tough....the Willys was owned by Jack Armstrong "JUMPIN JACK ARMSTRONG" then owner of Jack's Muffler on University Ave. Always loved watching him race
      Dennis Nottingham
      Lakeside, CA

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    3. Hi Dennis. I was wondering if you could tell me about the track conditions on that day. primarily was it a windy/gusty day that day?
      Sincerely yours.
      Mike Wenderski

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    4. Mike,I was sitting in my dragster at the end of the strip up for the next run when your father went airborn. The weather was good and no wind I still do not know what happened, He was still on the throttle.

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  13. The track runs paralle to the Ramona Air Port. It is the small strip with overgrown weeds to the left of the tarmac.
    Ron

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  14. The first drag race I ever attended was at Ramona. I was about 13 or 14. My dad took me as a reward for cutting back all the weeds on our property. I saw Don Garlits match race Connie Kalitta. I also saw a little Junior Fuel dragster too and vowed to myself to someday to have one. It took me 30 years, but I got it. I am still drag racing and only race Junior Fuel. Thanks Dad.

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    1. wow, I was there that day to see garlits and kalitta as well, first drag race I ever went to and was hooked on it. I believe this is the same day I saw jerry baltes pull a giant wheelstand in the yellow cbl digger. so cool first whiff of nitro. went there numerous times as well as Carlsbad but I just loved that ramona track. talked to garlits and baltes about Ramona and they remember it well, jess vandeventer and fred lear were names we remember and I spoke to them also. I could go on but these are other names , lechien,brennan/brown, willies pie wagon,tommy the watchdog allen. give me some more names if you remember.

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  15. I was present when the Green Monster blew down the fence. I will never forget that race. A double A fuel dragster was lined up with the Monster. The dragster was the first to line up, then the Green monster fired up its jet and it began to increase its noise level. Soon you couldn't even hear the dragster! The flagman had a fire suit on and he needed it. With the start the after burner kicked in and the Green Monster lit up the night creating an image that I will never forget, the monster beat the rail, but what an exhibition! I remember at the time thinking the guy driving the monster has more guts than anyone I could imagine.

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    1. I saw that too, I don't think the tower ever thought about that fence blowing over, that was cool! bet they were glad the tower didn't sit in that area it would probably been blown over or set on fire!

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  16. Well, here it is 2013. I remember Ramona opened just after I graduated from Kearny High School. I remember the episodes on El Cajon Blvd, after the San Diego Dragstrip was dozed over to become a housing development. I remember racing my 57 Chevy at the old air strip near Montgomery Field. Vietnam came and many of use left to the war. I remember my buddy telling me about the new drag strip in Carlsbad. Thanks for the memories.

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  17. Thanks for the memories.
    Totally forgot about "Willies Pie WWagon".
    I also was there the day the Jets knocked over the back fence.
    Lot's of fun there. The Drags have come a long ways. It truely was much simpler back then.

    TX, again

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    1. still love the current drags but nothing can take the place of 60s drag racing, in particular nitro feds.

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  18. Does anyone remember the "Flyin' Pumpkin"?
    Orange '55 chev driven by (I think Randy??)?
    Set soem records at Ramona and I believe Pamona???

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  19. why are there so little photos of Ramona. no one seems to have any, I did see one of baltes and wenderski on another site. lions has tons of pics but san diego and Carlsbad seem to be left out. pity.

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  20. I went to Ramona or Carlsbad or Holtville a lot with my Dad and Grandpa (both Jim Heck) He drove AA/Gas supercharged...My job as a 7 year old was to wipe the gravel off the slicks before the race...I think it was just to keep me busy. Blue Jet and Green Jet were favorites along with Willys Pie wagon and The rear Engine dodge Wheelie exibitions.... Good times. ( King's Men Solana Beach )

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  21. I was there that night.My dad took me for my 12th birthday.I believe that was the same night that Randy Walls Super Nova was match raced against a Ford Galaxie F/C named Peanuts out of L.A..Thanks for all the great memories.Kevin.

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  22. I worked at Jack's Muffler Service when I was 16. I got the job downtown San Diego through a work project for young people. The shop was shared by a radiator repair shop owned by Fred Brown. Jack Armstrong liked jazz music and especially Chet Baker. He was always talking about de-cambering and de-castering the suspensions in VWs to make them corner like a Porsche. The shop was at 39th & University in East San Diego. That was after I had gotten my CDL at 16. He was a master acetylene welder and I joked around and entertained him while I saw him, many times, build sets of TUNED headers (all equal lengths of pipe) ON THE CAR, BY HAND using u-bends and straight pipe, bead-welding all the connecting pipe sections. That means he was reaching up into the incredibly tight spaces and actually welding the pipes all the way around, PERFECTLY every time. I don't know how, I just watched, had a blast and marveled at his brilliance. Notice that his car says "racing headers" on the door. That was in the days when Husqvarna, Maico, Sachs and CZ dirt bikes were happening and Jack was a great rider and enthusiast. He came into work with a busted collarbone and still welded all the muffler jobs that came in, looking like he was a bird with a broken wing. A couple of years later he moved the shop down to Louisiana & University and invested in a mandrel bender for muffler pipes that was air powered and had a foot switch to operate it. The shop @ 39th St. & U was replaced with a Charburger. That shop was right across from Oscar's Hamburgers that had carhops, young attractive girls who brought your food out to you so you and your date or family could eat (and smoke) in your car. They had 2-way speakers to order through. All these things I am talking about were really the deal. The 60's was a time that was nearly as modern as today, and San Diego had less than 250,000 people living here. Ramona was a speck on the map and totally rural. Jack Armstrong pulled and held 4-gear wheelies all the way down the track with that '41 Willys, shown above. He was an honest and great guy who deeply cared for his family and of course I really idolized him. He was in his 30's and early 40's when I knew him. We had an absolute BLAST ! ................kevinchristie9@aol.com

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  23. talk to dick lechien occasionally, probably remember the lechien/drake aa/fd. he has an unbelievable collection of photos etc from paradise mesa to ramona and carlsbad he told me his wife saved everything from his racing career from pics to time slips. he has some great videos, takes a few hours to watch but well worth the time. click dick lechien and go from there. thanks mike ward

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