The 50th U.S Nationals: Part 2 of 9

The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series presents the second in a series of nine U.S. Nationals special reports as the NHRA celebrates its 50th Anniversary of the famed event. Part 2: From Kansas to Indianapolis: A brief history of the Mac Tools ...

The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series presents the second in a series of nine U.S. Nationals special reports as the NHRA celebrates its 50th Anniversary of the famed event.

Part 2: From Kansas to Indianapolis: A brief history of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals

GLENDORA, Calif. - In 1955 NHRA decided to host a major drag race in a central geographical location that would provide an opportunity for the best racers from each region of the country to meet in an ultimate showdown of speed and high performance to determine a national champion. Back then, the race was known simply as The Nationals, and it wasn't held in Indiana.

Today's Super Bowl of drag racing, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, was actually contested in several cities before reaching its permanent home in Indianapolis in 1961.

Great Bend, Kan., Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Detroit all served as early hosts for the prestigious event.

Despite its remote location, the inaugural Nationals at Great Bend, Kan. in 1955 hosted competitors from nearly every U.S. state, including Hawaii. There were 30 classes of competition, including dragsters, roadsters, coupes, sedans, stock cars, sports cars and gassers, eligible for participation in the inaugural event. At that time, elapsed time was not important -- speed was the top consideration. The spectacular event, which featured an all-star lineup of the most notable pioneers of the sport, went off with precision. A heavy rainstorm, however, forced the event to conclude its unfinished portions at Phoenix six weeks later. Therefore, the first U.S. Nationals champion, Calvin Rice, was actually crowned during the Arizona State Championship meet in mid-November.

The U.S. Nationals moved to Kansas City in 1956 to a sparkling new facility that was barely finished in time to host the event. The track's construction was actually finalized by NHRA officials days prior to the start of the race. The move from Great Bend was a must due primarily to the availability of more hotels and restaurants in Kansas City. The turnout was so great for the second annual event that an entire city street was utilized for tech-inspection.

Competitors and fans attended in record numbers at the third annual event, held at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City. The site hosted the Nationals for two consecutive seasons (1957-'58). Crowds were so big in 1958 that there wasn't enough parking and pit space to accommodate everyone. At that point NHRA officials determined a new venue would be needed for the following year.

In 1959, NHRA's place in the auto racing world was solidified when the Nationals relocated to Detroit Dragway, in the heart of the country's major automotive manufacturing plants. As crowds continued to grow and racer participation increased to more than 500 teams, NHRA President Wally Parks and Tom Binford, president of the newly proposed Indianapolis Raceway Park, reached an agreement to move the U.S. Nationals to its final home.

Indianapolis Raceway Park, a spacious multi-purpose auto racing facility located just west of downtown Indianapolis, has hosted the U.S. Nationals since 1961. The move to the city of Indianapolis, which hosts the legendary Indy 500 as well as other major races including the Brickyard 400 and U.S. Grand Prix, has been a perfect fit for drag racing's most prestigious, historically significant and lucrative event.

"Part of the U.S. Nationals mystique comes from its location," said Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson, a six-time winner of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. "Indianapolis and motor racing are synonymous, with every major motorports sanctioning body holding an event there. I commend Wally Parks and the NHRA for having the foresight many years ago to place our biggest race there."

In 2004 -- the 50th anniversary of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals -- more than 1,000 competitors will compete for a share of the event purse, estimated at more than $2.6 million. ESPN and its family of networks will provide more than 10 hours of coverage of the U.S. Nationals over three days. Professional winners will be showcased in four different categories in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series -- Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Bike -- while seven sportsman winners will be crowned as part of the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. Additionally, the eight best Funny Car drivers from the season will compete in a bonus all-star event, the Skoal Showdown, and the winner will earn $100,000.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson