The modern NHRA is a racing juggernaut. Claiming the position of the largest motorsports sanctioning body in the world, the NHRA boasts 40,000 drivers, 80,000 members, 140 tracks and more than 35,000 licensed competitors. Those big numbers are a far cry from the original sanctioning body and that first NHRA championship race at Pomona.
In April 1953, the Southern California Championship Drags were held as a joint venture between the new National Hot Rod Association, the Pomona Valley Timing Association and local car clubs at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona, California. The NHRA had been founded in 1951 by Wally Parks as a sanctioning body to organize and support drag racing, and by 1953, the NHRA was actively holding races in So Cal.
Drag racing was a big deal, and the Championship race was proving that out. Crowds were estimated at 15,000 to 16,000 on the final day, and people gathered trackside—far closer than modern standards would allow– to watch early racing stars putting down record runs. One of the standouts was the Bean Bandit Mark II, a modified roadster/dragster driven by Carlos Ramirez from the Bean Bandits car club out of San Diego. Powered by a 275 Mercury Flathead, the Bean Bandits’ car had the fastest time of the weekend with a top speed of 132.35.
Two years later, an NHRA sponsored national event would be held in Great Bend, Kansas, kicking off 50 years of leading the nation in drag racing competition. But on that beautiful spring weekend, everyone’s expectations were exceeded and the Wally Parks’s fledgling organization started rolling on a path of national racing domination, kicked off and ended every year in Pomona, CA.