When CJ Hart came to Santa Ana in 1944, he found a bunch of outlaw kids drag racing dangerously in the streets and wanted a safe place for them - and for himself and his wife, Peggy - to test their speed.
Hart said he decided to organize professional races at Santa Ana after he and business partner Creighton Hunter had conducted clandestine races on an abandoned Navy airfield, now Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley. When they were chased off by Marines, Hart decided there ought to be a place where cars could race legally.
There wasn't much in Orange County then - just a lot of trees and bean fields and the occasional house. And a small airport with runways that weren't even used.
Eddie Martin's Airfield had an adjacent paved strip to taxi to the runways, and it was used for the first drag races when CJ Hart had the first race there, on June 19, 1950, it is considered the first commercial competition / organized dragstrip.
CJ Hart ran a gas station in Santa Ana, and was quick to be fed up with the drive out to El Mirage, so motivated to find a place closer to home, organized a drag race location at Martin's Airfield, and became the sole owner of a drag strip within the first month of operation.
His first goal was to establish a distance for the cars to race. This way elapsed time could be measured and a real winner could be discovered. He decided to use the Quarter-Mile based upon its accepted use in quarter horse racing.
He then established different classes of cars based upon their abilities in order to make races fair. The cars were split up according to axle ratios, year, make, engine displacements, and safety equipment.
Wally Parks was earlier to racing when he founded the Road Runners Club in 1937, and then worked on creating the NHRA. In April 1953 he had it all together, and had the 1st sanctioned (whatever the hell that means) drag races at Pomona at the LA County Fairgrounds, and that is one reason that Pomona has the 1st and last races of the year.
The 1st nationals were in Great Bend Kansas in 1955
In 1949 Cobb raced Hernandez at Goleta, in a closed off access road leading to the airport. That is regarded as the 1st official drag race.
Hernandez was the shop manager for Vic Edelbrock, and buddies with Isky and Lou Baney, and Cobb was hanging out with Engle and Hilborn. Yup, some major pioneering gearheads were involved from the start and stuck around the sport a very long time
Paved roads were few and far between in the early days of motoring so the main “drag” or road
through town could have been the setting for early races.
By the way, the 1st slingshot is credited by Wikipedia as having been made by Mickey Thompson