Just business as usual at the Santa Ana Drag Strip. Hambone waves the flag and the drag racers who usually had a rolling start to save their rear-ends from tearing apart would start screaming down the track. C.J. “Pappy” Hart’s perch is visible on about midway down on the right– below that was an old hearse that the track management used to store equipment and supplies. The cost for a run at the strip– 50 cents. The experience– priceless.
Give credit to the legendary C.J. “Pappy” Hart for organizing the world’s first commercial drag strip at what is now the John Wayne Airport– The Santa Ana Drags. He did out of love for the sport and to give his fellow enthusiasts a safe, fun and legal place to enjoy their sport. From We Did it For Love–
“C.J. Hart, who along with Creighton Hunter established the Santa Ana Drag Strip on an unused runway at the Orange County Airport, and held races Sundays from 1950 to 1959, was known to legions of drag racing fans as the one of the grand old men of the sport. In his later years, Hart was a member of the NHRA Safety Safari, traveling the country and greeting well wishers at every stop. Hunter sold his interest in the strip to Hart in the first month of operation, and Hart, who owned a gas station in Santa Ana at the time, went on to run the strip with his wife, Peggy, who competed – and won – regularly at the track in her ’33 Willy’s coupe. Peggy Hart died in 1980.”
“There’s been drag racing since cars were invented,” Hart said in a 2001 interview in National DRAGSTER, “but I guess they say I invented drag racing because I was the first one to have a commercial strip. There was one in [Goleta, Calif.], but they charged no fee at the time. I saw a need to get people to stop racing on the streets; that was dangerous.
The fee to race or watch was 50 cents, and Hart decided on a quarter-mile length adapted from thoroughbred racing. In addition to installing an electronic timing system (cobbled together from an old Victrola), Hart’s track also created some of the sport’s earliest rules, regulating axle ratios as well as year, make, and displacements of engines, and safety regulations such as roll bars.”
The NHRA Drag Racing Meet at Santa Ana, California, ca. 1950s.