Those two June races, like the races in Goleta, at Mile Square, and other locations (including the streets) were grassroots activities. What changed on July 2 was that the weekly races at Orange County were scheduled, organized, and publicized. Racers paid fifty cents to run. It was, in a word, official.

"There were hundreds of spectators at those races. In the later days there was a small grandstand but in the early days, spectators lined up along the strip, sitting on the front of their cars or standing. There were telephone poles on the ground along the strip to keep the spectator cars away from the racing-and although they were supposed to stand behind them, people would sit on those. And a lot of people would just sit in their cars. Main Malt, a malt shop in Santa Ana, set up a little booth at the drag races to sell food.

"By the time the first races started, some of the airport roads had been closed off. The drag strip was not actually a runway, but a road that they had parked airplanes on. Creighton Hunter and many others called this the 'west runway,' but you don't land P-38s on a quarter-mile runway-I'll guarantee it.

"For at least the first three years it was all rolling starts-and it was more than a quarter mile. The racers started right back against the fence, and it was actually even a little bit downhill back there. CJ would stand out in front. The cars would accelerate together, CJ would drop the flag, and they'd have a race.

"The strip was wide-200, maybe 300 feet. It looked great to the spectators, but once you crossed the finish line, you'd better be ready to slow down. It turned into a very narrow road that only went for about 500 feet and curved to the right, with a drop off on the left. If you couldn't get stopped, you dropped off the end of the curve, and you were in the tall weeds waiting for somebody to come get you. I plowed through them a lot of times.

"In the early days, it was all about top speed. They didn't have e.t. lights. They had electronic timers at the finish line-a photo cell on each side to time miles per hour. Some racers didn't understand how they could lose a race even though they had a faster car. I was 'the college student' so guys would come up to me and ask me, 'Look, I just went two miles an hour faster than that guy and he beat me. How could that be?' I'd explain that it's not about top speed, it's about elapsed time. The race is won or lost right off the line. And later on, they finally put in e.t. lights."

By the mid-Fifties, Hunter and Stillwell were no longer involved at Santa Ana, but CJ continued until the last race on June 12, 1959. By that time, Santa Ana was no longer unusual. Drag racing had become an organized sport all over the United States, with rules and standardized classes and national events, thanks to sanctioning organizations (most notably, Wally Parks' NHRA) and the growing number of magazines devoted to hot rodding.

Today, drag racing is bigger, quicker, faster, more expensive, more commercial, and more popular than anybody 60 years ago could have imagined. Computer-equipped dragsters running at multi-million-dollar arenas are clocking top speeds that are double the numbers Charlie Potvin and Leslie Long argued about in 1955. But if it wasn't for CJ Hart, Frank Stillwell, Creighton Hunter, and hundreds of hot rodders trying to beat each other to the end of a quarter-mile straight line at an out-of-commission airfield, who knows where it would be today.

How Did Drag Racing Become A Quarter Mile? We've always heard it had something to do with horse racing-or the distance of city blocks. Could it be that 1,320 feet became the official distance of a drag race by random accident?