If I put myself in France in 1966, I imagine myself putting around in a Citroen Ami 6 while listening to “Les Sucettes.” But, in America during the same time, I probably would be driving to the beat of the Music Machine’s “Talk Talk” (mono, of course) while heading to Lions Drag Strip in Wilmington, California, near Long Beach.
That was the idea the producers of France’s “Les Coulisses De L’Exploit” had. Their show featured different aspects of the sporting world, and they had caught wind of this new world of nitromethane Top Fuel dragsters and wanted to check it out.
Nineteen fifty-five is perhaps the most significant year in the 20th Century. That is the year where America came of age – it became clear that Rock & Roll was here to stay, the kids started to control popular culture, and Detroit began its “Horsepower Race.” So it’s no coincidence that the racing scene in 1955 Los Angeles would have a new place in Lions Drag Strip. Sponsored by the Lions Club International and leased from the Harbor Commission, the races at this former rail yard were sanctioned by the American Hot Rod Association.
Like many drag strips throughout the country, the expansion of suburbia and public officials with an agenda put an end to it all. On December 2, 1972 – a time when drag racing was still hot – the last car made the final pass. Afterward, the Los Angeles Harbor Department revamped the track to make space for overseas shipping containers.
The French producers most likely were oblivious to the legends of Mickey Thompson (who had retired from managing the track in 1965), “Big John” Mazmanian, “TV Tommy” Ivo, and Joe Mondello but, truth be told, that status had yet to be cemented by 1966. Given that the producers chose Lions over any burgeoning track speaks volumes about its significance in racing history and California culture.