TOPEKA, Kan. (May 24, 2001) -- As part of its ongoing 50th anniversary celebration, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) recognized the state of Kansas' long-term support of the sport of drag racing and presented Kansas Governor Bill Graves and...
TOPEKA, Kan. (May 24, 2001) -- As part of its ongoing 50th anniversary celebration, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) recognized the state of Kansas' long-term support of the sport of drag racing and presented Kansas Governor Bill Graves and Topeka Mayor Butch Felker with commemorative NHRA championship trophies today during a special ceremony on the north steps of the scenic Topeka Capitol Building, located in the center of the capital city.
An abandoned airstrip located in the small, central Kansas town of Great Bend hosted the first NHRA national event in 1955, which attracted more than 200 competitors from across the nation. As NHRA celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 2001, the tradition of speed and high performance continues with the Advance Auto Parts Nationals, May 24-27 at Heartland Park Topeka (HPT), one of the quickest dragstrips in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. More than 600 entries in 12 different racing categories are expected for this weekend's event at HPT, the ninth of 24 events in the $50 million series, which crisscrosses the U.S., making stops in more than 20 major markets.
The race, which will be televised on ESPN (3:30-6 p.m. ET), is one of several high-profile auto racing events taking place during Memorial Day Weekend, including the Indy 500 in Indianapolis and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, N.C.
NHRA President Tom Compton presented the commemorative trophies to Graves and Felker to officially recognize Kansas as the host state for the first NHRA national event and to offer appreciation for the continued support for events at HPT.
Several top NHRA stars participated in the celebration, including five-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein; 10-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force; and Jim Epler, who at Heartland Park Topeka in 1993 became the first Funny Car driver to clock a 300 mph speed.
Paul Flynn, owner of one of the original cars that claimed a class victory during the first national event in 1955, was present to offer his reflections.
"This is truly a very special day for NHRA, the state of Kansas and the sport of drag racing," said Compton. "When Wally Parks founded the NHRA in 1951 and started to build strong support for his vision across the U.S., it quickly became necessary to host a large, nationwide drag race in a central location. The NHRA will forever be grateful for the cooperation and support extended by officials in the town of Great Bend and the state of Kansas. That great support continues today with the Advance Auto Parts Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka. While the NHRA was founded and developed in its birthplace city of Los Angeles, there's certainly an important grassroots heritage for the organization here in the Midwest. We're proud to call Kansas the second home of hot rodding."
Both trophies contained the inscription: "To commemorate the state of Kansas as the host for the first National Hot Rod Association National Event in 1955. The NHRA, which was founded 50 years ago in Southern California, lives on today for the thousands of professional and sportsman racers throughout the United States. The great legacy of NHRA national event competition continues to thrive in 2001 in the state of Kansas with the Advance Auto Parts Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka."
Several NHRA cars were on display outside the capitol building during the event, including '99 Winston Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher's U.S. Army dragster and the Team Mopar Dodge R/T Funny Car driven by Dean Skuza. In addition, the car display featured a '69 front-engine top fuel dragster originally owned and driven by NHRA legend Tom Hoover.
"It's always a great weekend when the NHRA comes to Heartland Park," said Governor Graves when accepting his commemorative NHRA trophy. "The competition on the track, the fun for the fans and economic impact for Topeka is a winning combination. Memorial day weekend provides a showcase for American motor sports, and Kansas is proud to be part of the excitement."
Parks founded NHRA in 1951 to unify the ever-growing number of car clubs assembling around the country and to take race cars off the street and into a safe, organized racing venue. Working with civic leaders and local law enforcement, Parks began building nationwide recognition and support for his vision, and in a short time, the NHRA emerged as the premier sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing.
As the NHRA celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2001, it has emerged as one of the most popular spectator sports, with a 24-event, nationally televised tour. National champions are crowned in five professional categories, including Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock Truck. Sportsman champions in seven categories are also crowned.