Drag racing fans who are part of today’s younger generation have never known anything other than an NHRA national event schedule that begins and ends at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona, with the Winternationals opening the year and the Finals – once backed by Winston and now by the AAA of Southern California – bringing it to a close. But it hasn’t always been that way.
Before moving to its long-running home in Pomona, the World Finals was contested in two other nearby southern California cities – Ontario (Ontario Motor Speedway) and Irvine (Orange County International Raceway) – but prior to moving west, it was hosted a full day’s drive from the drag racing hotbed of SoCal, at the Southwest Raceway in Tulsa, Oklahoma, smack dab right in the middle of the country.
The event at Tulsa, contested in late October and early November just as the Finals are today, witnessed the crowning of many an NHRA champion, and the 1966 edition was no different. Of course, back in those days, there was no Countdown to the Championship or a season-long point battle, as there were just four national events, with divisional action across the country setting the stage for the world championship races in Tulsa.
The 1966 edition of the NHRA’s World Finals held at what is now the Tulsa Raceway Park read like a who’s-who list of legends and future hall of famers, including Dave Beebe, Tom Hoover, Connie Kalitta, Jerry “The King” Ruth, Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen, Jeg Coughlin Sr., Gene Snow, engine guru Joe Lunati, and many others. The event was broadcast on television, with some truly amazing footage of the drivers, the racing action, and the push starts on the return road. At the close of the event, Pete Robinson (Top Fuel), Dick Padar (Top Gas), and Ed Schartman (Funny Car) were among the world champions that stood tall out of the 316 competitors on the grounds who had qualified and traveled from all the over the country for a chance at drag racing glory.
Kick back and enjoy this nine-minute clip of the televised footage from Tulsa!