|Drag strip memories still
By Neil Gonzales
Record Staff Writer
Published Saturday, August 21, 2004
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.
windswept strip serves crop-dusters and general aviation.
owned public airpark stays busy, but it used to draw more
crowds, color and flash in its heyday as the legendary Kingdon
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.
pilot Larry Gaines, who brought his Beechcraft to Quality Aero
Maintenance at Kingdon this week for the plane's annual
"I raced here
with my dog in my car" in the late 1960s and early 1970s,
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.
manager and co-owner of Kingdon, also raced the strip back in
"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.
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."
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.
spectators sometimes got more to watch when the site operated
as both a raceway and an airport.
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
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
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