2004 "99" Schedule 

Drag strip memories still roar

By Neil Gonzales
Record Staff Writer
Published Saturday, August 21, 2004

Kingdon2_C LODI -- Every time Arlene Gifford drives along Interstate 5 and spots Kingdon Road, she returns to her teenage summer days in the 1950s, rooting for speedsters zooming across an asphalt strip in the middle of nowhere.

"It brings back memories and all the fun we had," said Gifford, 65, of Acampo. "It was hot. You were dusty and dirty. But we had a good time watching the drag and meeting different people."

The drag is now Kingdon Airpark, a three-quarter-mile stretch of pavement among farm fields west of Lodi.

Nowadays, the windswept strip serves crop-dusters and general aviation.

The privately owned public airpark stays busy, but it used to draw more crowds, color and flash in its heyday as the legendary Kingdon Drag Strip.

The connection between Kingdon as an airport and Kingdon as a drag strip remains strong, however.

Quite a few folks who fly in and out of Kingdon or work there these days raced their cars on the strip as youngsters.

Take Stockton pilot Larry Gaines, who brought his Beechcraft to Quality Aero Maintenance at Kingdon this week for the plane's annual inspection.

"I raced here with my dog in my car" in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Gaines said.

His hot rod then? "My mom's Chrysler Imperial," Gaines said, laughing.

Years later, he came back to Kingdon as an adult for something else. "I learned to fly here," he said.

Albert Troglin, manager and co-owner of Kingdon, also raced the strip back in the day.

"I used to drag race out there in '72 and '73," Troglin said. "I had a little dune buggy I built."

The first manager of the Kingdon drag strip was Robert Lee Cress, a Stockton police officer and auto-racing aficionado.

In the early 1950s, Cress helped make Kingdon a spot where people could race their cars legally.

Now and again, Cress encouraged people whom he had stopped to issue speeding tickets to check out the drag strip.

"Kingdon was designed to get kids off the street for organized racing and enhance the camaraderie for all these racers," said Frank Mauro, owner of Stockton Wheel Service, who first visited the raceway as a spectator in 1959 at age 14. "In the '50s and '60s, it was very grass-roots."

Mauro recalled that the strip eventually became part of the National Hot Rod Association circuit and brought in big racing names such as "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, "TV Tommy" Ivo, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and Connie Kalitta.

Over its racing years, the strip saw any and all vehicles, from high-powered dragsters and Corvettes to mom-and-pop station wagons and cars such as Gaines' Chrysler.

Kingdon spectators sometimes got more to watch when the site operated as both a raceway and an airport.

Stockton's Gary Cox, manager of Kingdon in its last years as a drag strip, remembered small planes having to land there while some 2,000 people were watching the races.

"We had to move everything off the raceway," Cox said. "It added another show that you don't normally see at any other drag."

In 1978, Kingdon finally converted to a full-time airport, reverting to its original purpose. Kingdon was built in the 1940s for military flight training.

Today, Kingdon is a little more low-key but still active with its flights of crop-dusters and small, private planes used for business and recreation.

Troglin predicts Kingdon will see more businesses use the airpark to get into and out of the Stockton area quickly.

Kingdon also is expecting major improvements soon, Troglin added, declining to elaborate for now.

But for many, Kingdon always will be the drag.

As a Livermore teen in the 1950s, Gifford traveled to Kingdon with her boyfriend and another couple most summer weekends.

"We stopped at a deli, got drinks and drove up here," she said. "We would sit along the strip on top of the hood of our car and watch the races all day. Sometimes, the dragsters would get out of control and head for us. We'd jump off and run. It was a lot of fun."

BIG RACING NAMES: Above, a Cadillac pushes "TV Tommy" Ivo and dragster at the Kingdon Drag Strip in 1960. Top, an aerial view of today's Kingdon Airpark airport west of Lodi. The drag strip was once part of the National Hot Rod Association circuit and brought in big racing names, such as "Big Daddy" Don Garlits and Ivo., Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and Connie Kalitta.


KNOWS THE STRIP: Albert Troglin, co-owner of Kingdon Airpark, used to drag race at the strip, which is now an airport. He raced a dune buggy he built.


Record photo by MICHAEL McCOLLUM

Note: The origional owner of Kingdon was Billy Hunefeld, who also was the first promoter and an owner of Stockton 99 Speedway, which the Hunefeld Family still owns!!

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