Santa Ana Drag Strip From Above
For those unfamiliar, the Orange County Airport is essentially the birthplace of organized Drag Racing. In 1950, Pappy Hart, Creighton Hunter, and Frank Stillwell got together with the suits of the airport and arranged for their auxiliary runway to become the “Santa Ana Drags.”
The deal was simple. The boys got $1000 together to use as startup capital and buy things like accurate timing clocks (Otto Crocker was the man), restrooms, concession stands, and grandstands. To monetize all this, they then charged both spectators and participants 50 cents (I love you like a fat kid love cake) to enter the venue. Afterwards, 10% was handed over to the owner of the airport.
It was profitable enough that the boys were able to do their thing happily for a few years… but by 1957, Pappy started noticing that the take was thinning even though the crowds were getting bigger.
“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Pappy’s wife noticed too… and she was pissed. She hired a private investigator and through his evidence, concluded that Frank Stillwell was skimming from the gate receipts. The bubble popped and everyone split ways in 1959.
Greed is a fucked up thing man – capable of ruining even the most beautiful of endeavors. And while much of this history has been kind of swept under the rug to keep the past pretty, it’s always kind of tainted the story of drag racing for me. Thankfully, a guy like Wally Parks was around to clean it all up and make it presentable again.
In any case, I was recently contacted by Daniel MacPherson… Dan somehow got his hands on some aerial shots of the drag strip (two taken by Pappy himself) and thought I’d be interested in sharing them. I was… and here we are.