Quick History: Origins of Drag Racing

Imagine what you could get away with if no one told you what wouldn’t work, there were no lawyers involved, the Internet wasn’t there to call you an idiot, stuff was dirt cheap, and you were fearless about pounding things out with your own hands and limited resources. No idea too crazy, no goal unreachable, no contraption too outlandish. That was hot rodding, ’50s style. We feel obligated to instill you car-loving newcomers with a sense of awe for the ingenuity and action of the original hot rodders who created our hobby. We’ll do that here, with plenty of images that may seem like they came from your great-granddaddy’s scrapbook but that make Roadkill Show exploits look mainstream.

The photos here came from the archives of Petersen Publishing (aka Trend Publishing for a few years), the company that founded Motor Trend and Hot Rod magazines, which are the roots of Roadkill Show. These photos are also from Petersen titles such as Car Craft, Rod & Custom, Motor Life, and Sports Car Graphic. The shooters themselves are legendary—Eric Rickman and Bob D’Olivo in particular—and the moments they captured show us how the car life really was. And it was pretty incredible, especially if you think of these accomplishments in the context of the never-before-seen newness of the time. We’ll parcel out this magic in easy bite-sized pieces. Look at the photo, learn the names, go use the Google for more and BAM, your afternoon will be gone. Sorry, not sorry.


The first sanctioned drag race is considered to be an event on the access road to the Goleta, California, airport in 1949. “Sanctioned” meant that the racers had permission from authorities and some crowd control. Before then, drag racing was street racing, and The Man was coming down hard on those punk kids. That’s why C.J. “Pappy” Hart, his wife, Peggy, and his partner, Creighton Hunter, were visionaries and the first people to talk a local airport into shutting down a runway for organized (and paid) drag racing. Pappy and Peggy kept it going from 1950 to 1959 in Santa Ana, California, at the location that’s now John Wayne Airport. This photo is from 1957, and the scene was still mayhem every Sunday, packed with racers and spectators. Imagine being part of the birth of a whole new motorsport.

Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover