Located on a former B29 Army Air Force Base and its former life being a runway for these historic planes, the City of Great Bend acquired this location in 1946 when the military declared it surplus.
The first race was May 12, 1953, and the Sunflower Rod and Custom Association was formed on January 19, 1954. Just a year later, history was made when they joined the NHRA in 1955. Soon after the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter to NHRA found, Wally Parks requesting that Great Bend be the first NHRA National Event. With a resounding yes, Great Bend’s SRCA Dragstrip would be responsible for establishing the official acceleration records from stand to start in the quarter mile.
The first NHRA Nationals was just as spectacular as everyone had imagined. With 219 cars and 15,000 spectators, Art Chrisman ran 146.16 mph and Lloyd Scott set a new speed record for American drag racing with a 151. In 1956, the new AHRA (American Hot Rod Association) hosted their national event there on the 8000-foot-long track until 1959. In 1958, drag racing legend Don Garlits won his first national title driving Swamp Rat and Chris Karamesines won in 1959. Unfortunately, the President of the AHRA moved the event to the Kansas City International Raceway in 1960. After the drag racing organizations moved on to bigger cities and tracks, club races continued for a while at the track until they too fell away and disbanded. For a while, no one was sure of the future of the SRCA Dragstrip. However, in 1993, the racing club reorganized and went back to their original name of Sunflower Rod and Custom Association. By doing this, it helped the track be able to pursue being declared a Kansas Historical Site, which did occur in 1994.
The future of the SRCA is a bright one. In 2000, the track was resurfaced with a grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation. In 2003, a Compu-Link timing system was installed as well as new scoreboards. A new concession was also built that year and included showers for the drivers and staff. In 2010, a new tower with a meeting room was constructed and 1320 GO LIVE TIMING was installed. These updates continue even at the publishing of this blog. The board and staff that keep this dragstrip up to date continues to bring the best to the strip. The schedule at SRCA is slammed full from May the end of October. This year, in June they hosted the Rocky Mountain Race Week and in August the Lucas Oil Drag Race Series and the Midwest Drag Racing Series. The strip is fully ready to start hosting national events soon and we do hope they get that chance.
A visit to this incredible and historic location is something you just have to see for yourself. If you are going to be in the Great Bend area in September or October, take time to go see a race. On Friday’s the gates open at 6pm and on Saturday’s at noon. There is nothing more exciting you can take the family to than a drag racing event. Check out their website for more information srcadragstrip.com** All photos courtesy of the SRCA Dragstrip