A couple of weeks back we highlighted a small footnote in the history of the Bandimere Speedway — what today is known as the first leg of the NHRA’s popular mid-summer Western Swing. Now we’re switching gears to the finale: the race that all of those weary crewmembers that have been pounding the pavement for three weeks are ready to put behind them each year as the calendar turns to August.
Of course, we’re talking about the NHRA Northwest Nationals, held at the multi-use facility In Kent, Washington, just south of Seattle proper, known as Pacific Raceways. As an interesting side-note, the track, built in 1959, was originally known as Pacific Raceways, the became Seattle International Raceway, and then reverted back to its maiden name.
The Pacific Raceways 1/4-mile has quite the history, serving as a hot-bed of drag racing in its formative years — to be expected with its relative proximity to the world center of nitro racing that was the California coast in the 1960s and 70s. Perhaps still most notably, the track was the site of the famous 64-car Funny Car shows for 16 years, hosting greats like Raymond Beadle, Ed McCullough, Jim Dunn, “Jungle Jim” Liberman, Gene Snow, Gordie Bonin, and some guy named John Force.
In September of 1975, Seattle became part of the NHRA national event schedule, but was routinely plagued by rainfall (imagine that), and the event went on hiatus in 1980. The main attraction continued to be the 64-car Funny Car show, but in 1988, the NHRA expanded the west coast schedule, adding both Sonoma, California and Seattle to the calendar and thus creating the Western Swing as we know it today.
The Northwest Nationals took over the early August slot previously reserved for the 64-car Funny Car extravaganza, and that shift in date to accommodate the NHRA ultimately played a role in its demise. The NHRA national event, however, has become a fixture on the Mello Yello Series calendar, prospering for more than 30 years.
Whether you weren’t alive yet in 1988 or time has simply sapped your memory, we won’t ruin the result of that 1988 edition of the NHRA Northwest Nationals, but it’s certainly worth the watch as names like Darrell Gwynn, Dick LaHaie, Shirley Muldowney, Kenny Bernstein, Mark Oswald, Bruce Larson, Bob Glidden, Butch Leal, and others competed in the oxygen-rich environs of Washington state in their heydays.