Chamber Announces SRCA as Legacy Award winners during 100th Annual Meeting
2021 Legacy Award
BY DALE HOGG
Last fall, a colorful mural depicting the historic Sunflower Rod and Custom Association dragstrip and the first National Rod and Custom Association race there in 1955, went up in downtown Great Bend.
A few short months later, the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce will honor the SRCA for its ongoing efforts to bring racing to Great Bend by bestowing it with the Legacy Award. The honor will be presented at the 100th-annual Great Bend Chamber Banquet the evening of Saturday, Feb. 19, at the Great Bend Events Center.
The award honors the life and legacy of individuals who have made an indelible mark on the fabric of our community. The first recipient of this award was Great Bend’s own Skip Yowell, founder of the company Jansport - an American brand of backpacks and collegiate apparel, now owned by VF Corporation, and one of the world’s largest outdoor apparel companies.
“The SRCA which consists of all volunteers, competitors, and multitude of local and national sponsors make improvements to this facility to maintain and preserve its historical presence in NHRA drag racing,” said Mike Carlson with the SRCA. “We do this to promote our community and family values, to promote education and safety and a great place to race safely and off the streets.”
Carlson and SRCA President Hank Denning provided the following history of the facility.
The City of Great Bend acquired this 829 Army Air Force Base in 1946 after it was declared military surplus.
The first race was held there on May l7, 1953. Then, on Jan. 19, 1954, the Sunflower Rod and Custom Association, joining the National Hot Rod Association in April 1955.
The Great Bend Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of SRCA, wrote a letter to the NHRA president requesting that Great Bend be the site of the first National event. NHRA responded yes on June 13, 1955, and this race would establish the official national acceleration records for stand and start quarter mile.
Those first races started on Sept. 29,1955, with 219 cars and 15,000 spectators Nations top automotive engineers were here to watch attempts to exceed the kilometer standing start speed set by the German Auto Unions Porsche designed roadster on the Autobahn in 1937. Art Chrisman from Compton, Calif., ran I45.16 miles per hour in his Gold Dragster and Lloyd Scott from Long Beach, Calif., set new speed record for American drag racing with the Bustle Bomb running 151 MPH.
NHRA stated in November 1955 if strip was black topped the Nationals would return in 1956. At that time, it was considered to be safer then running on concrete. That request was not acted on by the city and on March 29th,1956 NHRA announced that Great Bend would be ruled out for this event.
From there it hop scotched over the country for the next six years then in 1961 settled in Indianapolis, Ind., to become the present day NHRA U.S. Nationals. The most prestigious Drag Race event in NHRA.
• In 1956 the then one-year-old AHRA convened in Great Bend and made the announcement that SRCA Dragstrip would hold its first National event on their 8,000-foot track and was awarded that until 1959.
• In 1958, the dragstrip surface was black topped.
• In 1959, Don Garlits won his first National title at that event in 1958 running Swamp Rat and Chris Karamesines took the win over Eddie Hill.
• In 1960, then President of AHRA who lived in Kansas City announced that this event would be moved to Kansas City International Raceway in Missouri.
The club ran races after that and as time went on they slowly fell away from running the track and disbanded. It went through some other operators and then local car owners were concerned of the condition the facility was falling into and in 1993 reorganized the club under the original name Sunflower Rod and Custom Association to help in maintaining the track.
They sought to have it recognized as a Kansas Historical Site and in 1994 was successful, going back to the original name of the track SRCA Dragstrip for which is named and registered 150-foot wide and 7,999-foot long. The facility is now eligible to be registered nationally.
• To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Nationals, Art Chrisman returned with his number 25 dragster to Great Bend, along with Mayor McMullen, Wally and Barbara Parks, original NHRA Safety Safari and Gov. Joan Finney, to reenact the opening ceremony.
• In 1999, the club was still concerned of the condition of the facility and there was talk of closing it down for safety concerns. In 2000, SRCA went to the City of Great Bend and was awarded the operating agreement for the track and revitalized the facility to what it is today.
• In 2000, the track was resurfaced with the help of a grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation and the club borrowed $120,000 to finish out the shut down area past the finish line and make needed repairs.
• In 2003, the facility was honored to be awarded to hold a NHRA Division 5 Lucas Oil Series Event and is excited to hold the 20th event in 2022. The club purchased a Compu-Link timing system and new score boards, constructed a new concession stand and shower facility the same year.
• In 2008, SRCA started to construct a new control tower with meeting room, office, storage and shop, and this was completed in 2010. The buildings were then given to the City of Great Bend.
• In 2010, installed 1320 go-live timing and SRCA was the first track in Kansas to have this system operational.
• In 2011, SRCA completed the concrete guard barrier that originally stopped 1,500 feet past the finish line to 2,350 feet past the finish line, installed a containment trap at the end of the shut down area to capture a run-away vehicle per requirement of NHRA, added additional lighting to the complex and repaired damaged concrete in the entire complex.
• In 2012, SRCA took a loan from the city to have the track surface ground and textured as the track was starting to deteriorate. This would give the track another eight years of use.
• In 2013, from April 27 through May 5, Gov. Sam Brownback proclaimed that as Kansas Speed Week in recognition of the history of NHRA Drag Racing in the State of Kansas and the importance of the SRCA Drag Strip to the history of Kansas.
• In 2018, SRCA purchased a Complete Track Rotator from Larry Crispe with Bandimere Speedway to enhance the quality and speed of preparation of the track surface.
• In 2019, SRCA had a 40-foot-by-50-foot steel maintenance building built and also gave it to city upon completion.
SRCA became aware of a KDOT cost share program from Kansas State Sen. Jim Denning that could possibly help fund the complete reconstruction of the drag strip. SRCA approached the city with that information and the city pursued that avenue and were approved for the project.
SRCA then started to pursue funds to complete a continuous pour concrete containment wall full length of the track to National Event specifications heights as part of our commitment to this project.
• In 2020, Great Bend agreed to the project and reconstruction started in late 2020. SRCA then purchased a traction compound sprayer from Larry Crispe with Bandimere Speedway to even further enhance track preparation and speed.
• In 2021, SRCA purchased and had the designer of the Compulink Timing Systems install the latest version of his system at the track and our computers with all cabling installed in conduit. The system now has all the features of a national event facility.
Previous Legacy Award Recipients
2019 Jan Peters
2018 Great Bend Recreation Commission
2017 Kids Ag Day
2016 Kari Smith
2015 Skip Yowell
Events either held, or planned, at the SRCA dragstrip include:
• NHRA first Nationals
• NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series
• NHRA Summit Drag Racing Series
• NHRA National Dragster Challenge
• NHRA King of the Track
• NHRA Sunflower National Open
• NHRA Ignite Super Quick Series
• NHRA Summit Junior Dragster Challenge
• NHRA All Access Challenge
• NHRA TV Challenge
• NHRA Kansas State Championship
• AHRA first Nationals
• Hot Rod Magazine Drag Week
• Rocky Mountain Race Week
• Rocky Mountain Superchargers Series
• Rocky Mountain Nostalgia NSS/AFX
• Colorado Flat Headers
• Horsepower on the Plains
• 409 National Convention
• Sammy Mathews Charity Race
• Big Bend Bike Rally
• Speed Scene Live TV first Nationals
• Wichita Pontiac Uprising
• Injected Barnstorming All-Stars Tour
• Midwest Drag Racing Series