Hot Rodding was a new sport where anyone with a car could prove how fast they were, if you loved cars this was the place for you! The American public was no stranger to Hot Rod Racing. Hot Rod Racing first became popular in California after World War II with newly coined words such as “stripped-down” and “souped-up”. This was a time for strictly thrills, not any more than that. These were serious young men, and some not-so-young men who spent hours rebuilding motors and listening to safety lectures and watching films on safe driving. On the Mississippi Gulf Coast during the 1950s car enthusiast and teen-aged kids formed Hot Rod Clubs such as the Chariots, Coasters, Road Rebels, and Pace Makers. What was the difference between the Chariots & Coasters? The Chariots were organized in January 1956, with the purpose of providing directed activities in the maintenance and operation of hot rods. The Coasters organized Oct 4, 1954. Holding a charter with the National Hot-Rod Association made up of Keesler Field Men. The club was organized for on-the-base military personnel and their dependents.
Before there was a drag strip nearby were one could find the Keesler Auto Club (Coasters) running on drag strips, such as state-wide drag races held at Jackson’s William’s Airport and in Florida. On July 30, 1955 the Keesler Auto Club entered five cars in the competition, and took first, second, and third places in the stock class, first place in sports car class, and first place in the modified class.
Drag Strips were needed for the increasing popularity of the sport. Also it is possible the Keesler Auto Club was tired of traveling such far distances. So what did they do? They liked what they saw at Jackson and did the same thing. On December 29, 1956 the first drag racing event in the Biloxi area was staged at Keesler Air Force Base. Quarter-mile speed runs were held on the Northeast-Southwest Runway. The event was a success pulling in as many racers as the Jackson races, and more. On February 23, 1957 a second drag race was held at Keesler with a 1903 Cadillac, and 1900 McIntyre entered by George Ohr of Biloxi.
A push for a permanent home for a drag strip had been in the making for years. Culminating four years of combined and united efforts by many Gulf Coast citizens, organized automobile, and motorcycle clubs a Drag Strip was constructed. The Gulf Coast Drag Strip was sanctioned by ministers, public officials and civic clubs. Earl C. Nolan lead the project as president of the drag strip and within two months the Gulf Coast Drag Strip was built for 30,000 dollars.
On Aug 18, 1957 the first event took place.
September 8, 1957 the Grand Opening took place, won by J.D. Gagliano of New Orleans, LA in his flame ’34 Hot Rod Coupe.
Ray Butterfield, manager of Radio Station WLOX, served as master of ceremonies, and Beat One Supervisor Dewey Lawrence cut the ribbon to officially open the racing program. Brig. Gen. John R. Sutherland, Keesler Air Force Base commander, Brig. Gen. John R. Fowler, Keesler AFB, Mayor Laz Quave and Commissioner Dominic Fallo of Biloxi, Deputy Sheriff George Rosetti, and Earl Nolan, president of Gulf Coast Drag Strip. Inc., were among those introduced to the crowd with a message about the facility.
Earl C. Nolan president, Gulf Coast Drag Strip, Inc. said: “Hundreds of boys in the State of Mississippi are overwhelmed with the desire to create and build their own car. This new Drag Strip was built for these budding young mechanics and engineers. Their skilled hands and scientific minds have created and produced machines which show outstanding ingenuity in action. They have desperately been searching for an organization or group of individuals to represent and assist them in their struggle for a Drag Strip and for acceptance of drag racing as the Newest of Sports. Boys can now safely drive to any speed within their capabilities with a feeling of confidence, on our new Standing Start Quarter-Mile Drag Strip. I wish to thank the many Coast residents and many others throughout the state for their great interest and unlimited assistance that they have given me and my colleagues.”
Little did they know what they were building… or the history they were creating, which all lead up to racing some of drag racing’s biggest stars, and many of the most legendary Hot-Rod machines of all time on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This is the story of the birth of drag racing in Mississippi, and the Biloxi Dragway, a stepping stone to Today’s Classic Cars and Hot Rod Popularity!