9/2/2012 by Sean S.
The Houston International Speedway, later known as the Houston International Raceway and then Houston International Dragway, or the "Freeway Dragstrip", as well as other various names in its lifetime, was built in the mid-1950's and was considered one of the nation's premiere drag
strips during its time as a member of the NHRA's Division 4.
Some of the legends to race there were "Bid Daddy" Don Garlits, Warren Johnson, Lee Shepard, Marvin Graham, Gary Beck, and a host of others.
HISTORY OF NAMES:
Houston International Speedway (1967tower)
aka Houston Drag Race Way AHRA (tower)
aka Houston International Raceway (1979tower, 1980article) (HIR)
aka Houston International Dragway (1980poster,1985tower, til close?) NHRA Winston Drag Racing
aka The Freeway Drag Strip (1959article) aka Houston Freeway Dragstrip
aka South Texas Dragway (logo)(60s-80s, Official CHRONDEK Time slips)
aka Houston International Drag Strip (60s)
aka South West Dragstrip (tower, 50s/60s)
aka Gulf Freeway Strip (58)
"Freeway Drag Racing Association Houston-Galveston" racing league
1957 - Historic Aerials - strange dirt tracks?
1959 (March 1st) Article - "Freeway Drag Strip"
1957: Track Opens:
"However, it was not just at airports that drag racing was occurring in the late 1950s and early 1960s; a few purpose-built drag strips did exist. The first known purpose-built drag strip in the region was the Houston International Drag Strip, originally known as the Freeway Drag Strip, which opened in Dickinson, Texas, in 1957. A 1959 article in the Houston Chronicle described the development of the strip." (11)
1958: Showdown in Houston: "Big Daddy" Don Garlits account:
"I ran the rail at several early meetings (including a momentous one in Wichita Falls where I edged the big Texas star, Bobby Langley). Still, the Californians guffawed when my name was mentioned. I knew that the time was getting ripe for the moment of truth. I hoped that I was ready. I didn't have to wait long. A letter arrived in July from a promoter of the Freeway drag strip near Houston, Texas. It contained an invitation to the one chance I had been waiting for. The words I read made my temperature rise: "A group of the West Coast fuel drag racers are doubting the times you've been setting there in the East, so everybody is figuring that it's time for a real showdown. Well, because our strip is about halfway between California and Florida, we'd like to invite both groups to see who really is the fastest drag racer. In fact, we've also invited some Texans, to boot. Would you be willing to take them on?" Would I? My acceptance was in the return mail. Work on everything else in my Nebraska Avenue shop came to a grinding halt. I had to put all my efforts into making the dragster ready, extra ready. Word had already begun filtering in about the stiff opposition I would face in the touted "California/Florida Challenge," lots of famous names with fabulous dragsters: Pete Ogden from Oakland in Romeo Palamides' new streamlined car; Jack Ewell driving "Big Jim" Kamboors' Jado Special ("Big Jim" was a wealthy Los Angeles caterer); and Red Case in his radical little Cagle and Callahan car. The Texas delegation was going to be led by Bobby Langley in his much-improved "Scorpion II." It was going to be the biggest thing to ever hit the drag racing world, more like a wrestling "grudge" match—the big guys against the little hotshot with the big mouth. The word was out; Ewell, Case, and Ogden weren't as concerned with winning the meet as with getting Garlits. If they could return to California with the news that they had put this Florida wise guy in his "place", it didn't make a speck of difference to them which one of the three ended up being "Top Eliminator." And even though he didn't care about the California/Florida issue, Bobby Langley had his Texas pride at stake. He made it clear that there was nothing he would rather do than send both Garlits and the Californians back home in defeat. Plus, he was particularly incensed about my win over him the year before at Wichita Falls in front of his ardent fans. Anyway it came down, it was Garlits against the field. Put up or shut-up time."(8)
Don Gay purchased Houston International Dragway in 1960 and
added lights, xmas tree, timing system, grandstands, PA system, etc.
Gay Pontiac Dealership had pictures on their walls for years:
Don Gay: Born 1947ish, died June 30, 2007. RIP
Don Carl Gay, former professional funny-car racer known as the "Texas Teenager" and considered a pioneer by the National Hot Rod Association, died June 30 2007 of heart disease at his home in League City. He was 60. As a teen, Gay watched dozens of races at the now-closed Houston International Raceway in Dickinson. The 15-year-old saw opportunity when his parents were out of town one weekend. Gay boldly drove off with the blue 1958 Bonneville that graced the showroom floor of his father's car dealership and won his first race. At that moment, Gay knew hot rods were for him...
"Don Garlits' controversial Dart Funny Car, driven by Emery Cook, made a problem-plagued debut at a match race at Houston Drag Raceway in Dickinson, Texas, where Cook lost two straight to hometown favorite Don Gay."
NHRA Monthly Headlines, July 1966 (10)
Houston International Speedway Drag Racing, 1970:
Push Board Incident, 1976:
the Tower reads: Houston Drag Race Way, A.H.R.A., '66/'67?:
Bret Kepner: "To post the definitive and technically correct response, this was, indeed, Oklahoma City's Tommy Dumbell in the "Gravedigger" AA/FD at the Houston NHRA WCS meet in 1976. This was Tommy's first RED after parking his "Godzilla" FE AA/FD. The car was not the ex-Cross & Corzine car but a Tuttle chassis. Crewchief John Davisson was pushing the car when a brake caliper locked up and...well, it's obvious what happened next. There were no injuries and Tommy continued to run the car through '76 before taking delivery of a new Tuttle (RCS) "Gravedigger" in '77. The new car was #2 qualifier at Bakersfield '77 with a 5.90/238. Suffice to say this was Tommy most embarassing moment."
Track Closure: Unknown Date:
"The fact that [other tracks have] remained in continuous operation with so few alterations is even more remarkable considering what has happened to the other first-generation dragstrips in the region. Houston International Drag Strip, originally known as the Freeway Drag Strip, in the Dickinson, Texas, vicinity closed at an unknown date, and by 2000 was largely demolished" (11)
"FORGOTTEN" First 200MPH Run:
Kent Chatagnier and the "Kent's SPeed Shop" fueler from Beaumont, Texas. Running a fuel burning Pontiac, he totally upset the world of drag
racing in 1960 by running the "forgotten" 200 mile per hour runs at Houston. He made four runs that day between 197.36 and 201.78 miles per
hour. He did everything that was required at that time to back up the speed, as called for by the Drag News Standard 1320 rules that were in
place at the time.
Drag News published the record for several months as the "official" standard 1320 AA/FD speed record. After a while, Kent no longer was
credited as being the first 200 mph run. The argument through the years has been that he never did it again. Chris Karamesines did not back up
his 204 at Alton and did not run close to 200 again for years. Ivo didn't back his 200 up. No one did it and backed it up until Garlits did
EXCEPT that unknown kid from Beaumont, Texas, Kent Chatagnier.
Another forgotten Texas team was that of Burris-Huiett, who ran a Chrysler (392) out of Houston. They didn't travel much do to job
commitments, but were heavy hitters on the local scene. They were runners up at Art Malone at the grand opening of Green Valley Raceway in Ft.
Worth in 1959. Art made a statement that appeared in Drag News. He said that while he had never heard of these guys, they had put the fear
into him. Art stated, "They are dead serious racers." They ran for a few more years then kind of faded away. The cost was just too much for a
couple of Chrysler-Plymouth dealership mechanics.
Lee Schelin, Standard 1320 Group founder, comments:
The Greek did not back-up the 204 mph on the same day/same track as required by Drag News, but did run 199 mph the following week in Kansas.
In early 1961, Drag News wiped all The Standard 1320 records clean and started over. The new Standard 1320 requirements for an official record
were the following:
2% back-up of the record the same day/same track and another 2% back-up the following week at a different track. Tough duty...
- Lee Schelin.
Damage to the Time Slip Booth at the end of the track, After Hurricane Alicia, 1983:
HISTORY OF THE TOWER AND ITS MANY NAMES AT THE TRACK:
The Houston Chronicle Magazine, Texas, Sunday, March 1, 1959:
"The Flag Says Go. Starter Tim Evers waves his green flag feverishly
to start a B-dragster elimination race at the Freeway Drag Strip"
"Zooming over 160 mph are Bobby Langley in his Scorpion II and Lin Huiet in an elimination race."
"Houston International Raceway", Billy Bratsen in his 1969 Chevelle Wagon, 1978
"Houston International Dragway", Armadillo Nationals, 1985:
Closed, "Houston International ----way?", Armadillo Nationals, unknown date: