What Is the History of Drag Racing?

What Is the History of Drag Racing?

Drag racing is a uniquely American form of auto racing that gained in popularity after World War II and during the 1950s. Its alternative name, hot rodding, refers to races involving Classic American cars that enthusiasts, or hot rodders, outfit with engines that potentially attain speeds of up to 100 miles per hour in 1/4 of a mile.

In the early 1930s, hot rodders began congregating around the dry lake beds of Muroc in California's Mojave Desert and conducting drag races. Wally Parks, founder of the Road Runners club, is an early proponent of the sport who parlayed his love of fast, "souped-up" cars, racing and his background as an auto mechanic into the hot rodding phenomenon he first encountered in the 1920s, after his family moved to California.

Parks was a military tank test-driver for General Motors who subsequently became the general manager of the Southern California Timing Association, the editor of Hot Rod magazine and, in 1951, the founder of the National Hot Rod Association. Parks founded NHRA, in part, to get hot rodders and illegal hot rodding off of the streets and to make the sport more accessible to a wider public.

By this time, drag racing was already a symbol of youth and niche counterculture. Pulp fiction of the time glorified hot rods and drag racing, and promoters constructed legal drag-racing strips to encourage the collective participation of drivers and spectators. In 1955, the NHRA hosted its first national event, called "the Nationals." The event traveled the United States, showcasing the sport of drag racing and the culture of hot rods.

Today, the NHRA boasts approximately 40,000 licensed competitors and 70,000 members.