Lions Drag Strip was in Wilmington, California located between downtown Los Angeles and Los Angeles/ Long Beach Harbor Area. The track was called the Lions Associated Drag Strip named after its sponsor, Lions Club International. All the profits were donated through the Lions across several community charities including providing glasses for the blind. Racing legend Mickey Thompson was notably the force behind developing Lions Drag Strip with the help of local officials to see the project through completion and provide legalized drag racing to Southern California.
October 9, 1955 was opening day, Mickey and his staff prepared for a crowd of 2500 attendees but received over 10,000 attendee’s and over 400 cars. The overwhelming success of Lions enabled the initial loans to build the facility to be paid off in less then two years.
Lions enjoined the success of many first for drag racing. In 1957 Mickey added lights and started promoting Saturday Night “Date Night: which doubled Lions attendance. The flag start was replaced by a Christmas Tree starting system. In 1965, CJ Pappy Hart took over track management and created the Junior Fuel, Bracket and Grudge Racing groupings. Hart also improved Lions’ traction by adding traction coating for extra bite.
In 1972 Steve Evans, Lions’ third track manager, renovated the facility and secured it as a sanctioned NHRA track and held the Grand Premiere. The Grand Premiere was notably the most successful events in the history of Lions. With the success of Lions popularity came additional noise complaints from nearby residents as the population increase. As a result of noise complaints, the Harbor Commission revocked the operating permit that Lions had been operating under for 18 years.
The Last Drag Race - December 2, 1972
Lions with its record-breaking open day in 1955, ended its reign with the same vigor. Over 20,000 attendees arrived at Lions, tearing down the gates to get a last glimpse of competition before the lights were to be turned off for the last time. Racers from across North America came to compete for the last time at Lions. Gary Beck, Jeb Allen, Jerry Ruth, Carl Olson, Don Moody, Dennis Baca, Mike Snively, Tom McEwen, Jim Dunn, Sush Matsubara, Don Prudhomme, Omar Carruthers, Dave Condit, Bil Leavitt and Billy Meyer. The final four in the finals was included Don “The Snake” Prudhomme against Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen in Funny Car and Jeb Allen and Carl Olson in Top Fuel. Visit the Lions Drag Strip Museum for additional stories told by those that raced at “The Beach”.
Lions in Pop Culture
- The television series The Munsters filmed most of the episode "Hot Rod Herman", (aired on May 27, 1965) at Lions Drag Strip.
- The track announcer for many races in the late 1960s and early 1970s was broadcast personality and motorsports announcer Larry Huffman, whose frenetic announcing style was later spoofed by countless stand-up comedians.
- The television series MadMen mentions the Lions Drag Strip in "The Mountain King", (Season 2, Episode 12).