My brother and I grew up in Phoenix as car nuts and auto race fans. Our biggest treat each year during the 60s and 70s was attending the American Hot Rod Association’s Winter Nationals Championship at Beeline Dragway.
Located on the Beeline Highway (state route 87 to Payson) just northeast of Phoenix, was a premier drag racing facility of its time. One of the sports’ major events was held at Beeline each year, the AHRA (American Hot Rod Association) Winter Nationals, which attracted the top drag racers from around the country, and for five bucks, you could sit in the grandstands and enjoy a Sunday filled with heart pounding speed, power and excitement. The Winter Nationals always were scheduled in late January at Beeline each year and as my birthday is January 30th, my big brother’s birthday present to me each year was taking us to the races.
Although speeds at the end of the 1/4 mile paved strip back then only approached the high 200 mph range (today’s drag machines are well into the 300s) I can still remember the wild combinations of senses that I would look forward to each year. The incredible high decibel sounds of the powerful engines as the drag cars flew by. The pounding of my heart and the vibrations rumbling through my body as the vehicles screamed by our seats. The burning rubber odor created from the spinning tires at the start line. The beautiful multi-colored paint work that had been placed on these magnificent racing machines and even the sore throat and ringing eardrums I’d feel for a whole week after that Sunday event.
If you were a drag race fan in the 60s and 70s, these names may jar your memory. All the World famous drag racers would be there including “Big Daddy” Don Gartlits, “Dandy” Dick Landy, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Sox and Martin, Mickey Thompson and of course the First Lady of drag racing, Shirley “Cha-Cha” Muldowney, screaming down the track in her bright pink AA fuel dragster.
It’s unclear what eventually created the closing of Arizona’s first major drag strip. It seems it was a combination of events, money problems, landlord problems, encroaching home development and competition from the new, modern Firebird Raceway which was developed southeast of Phoenix in the 80s.
Regardless, I know there are many who share my memories of the old drag strip on the Beeline Highway, even if all that’s left of the drag racing facility today is the old and crumbling control tower. I can still hear the announcer on the radio screaming out excitement of the upcoming big weekend at Beeline, finishing the commercial with a resounding, “BRING YOUR CAM-ER-A!!”