Fast Times at the Redding Dragstrip
By Jon Lewis
Need for Speed
April 2020Kool April Nites and the Redding Dragstrip are a match made in hot rod heaven.
By Jon Lewis
Photo by Heather Nickles
The car show, one of the biggest on the west coast and now in its 31st year, brings the classics and cruisers to town; the Redding Dragstrip, the oldest continuously operated National Hot Rod Association dragstrip in the country, gives those cars and drivers a way to safely satisfy that need for speed.
“For the dragstrip, Kool April Nites is a huge deal,” says Shirlene Bransom, head of the nonprofit incorporated to operate the track. “We have people who come to race and they bring their hot rods to get in the show, too. We feel it’s a huge benefit to the community if we work together.”
Kool April Nites week at the dragstrip begins with an afternoon show and shine car show on Wednesday, April 22, followed by racing at 6 pm. Last year’s show attracted more than 80 cars; this year, with a fully paved access road, Bramson says a lot more car buffs will be bringing their prized possessions to compete for various trophies and plaques.
Friday and Saturday are the big show nights with jet-powered dragsters, Funny Cars (exaggerated stock cars that burn an intoxicating brew of nitromethane and methanol), wheel-standers, an Ocho Loco grudge race and bracket racing (sportsman, pro, super pro and motorcycles) “for big bucks,” Bramson says. The weekend shows attract crowds of between 4,000 and 5,000, she adds.
While Bramson and the other dragstrip volunteers prepare for the Kool April Nites fun, they’re mindful of the fact that the throaty engine roars, checkered flags and cheering crowds would be absent if Bramson hadn’t stepped in to save the day in 2014.
The dragstrip, located just east of Redding Municipal Airport, belongs to the city of Redding. Its former operator, the late Bob Lidell, informed the city that 2013 would be his last year running the track. After Lidell’s death, negotiations for a new operating group sputtered and the city prepared to shutter the dragstrip.
That prospect did not sit well with Bramson, who enjoyed racing her ’56 Chevy and cheering on her two sons, Austin and Jake, who are avid drag racers as well. “I was so adamant about not letting it close for a year because I just knew it would not open again. That’s just the way those things seem to go,” Bramson says.
Instead, she established Redding Dragstrip Inc., had it registered as a nonprofit corporation, and received the Redding City Council’s blessing to keep the dragstrip open. “I thought it would be for one year and now I’m going on my seventh year,” she says.
Business at the dragstrip has doubled over that period, helped along by improvements like the paved entry road, new grandstands and a revamped snack bar that’s the new home for the iconic Gene’s Hamburgers sign. Restoration of the neon landmark was donated by McHale Sign Co., and Mike Nash, the former Gene’s owner, was kind enough to share the family recipes to ensure that authentic Gene burgers are available at the dragstrip.
Paul Warner, who credits Bramson with transforming the dragstrip “from a strip of asphalt with weeds into a quality facility,” is happy the track is still home for his extended family of drag racers. Warner, 78, picked up the drag racing bug in 1997 and soon had his sons, Eric and Gary, racing along with their children. “It’s a family of racers out there,” Warner says of the dragstrip scene. “There has been a lot of us for several years. We appreciate each other. It’s not super competitive. We go to enjoy the sport; to go fast safely.”
Warner currently races a ’73 Nova, the latest in a string of more than a dozen race cars, but says he’s made some concessions due to his senior status. His top speeds these days are 115 mph, down from the 150-mph marks in the past. “That’s fast enough.”
The youth movement is a big part of the Redding Dragstrip, Bramson says, with kids as young as 5 getting a start in the Junior Dragster program and free Saturday night racing for high school-aged drivers. “I love to see them out there and not out on Clear Creek Road,” says Warner of the Street Legal program. Teenagers develop confidence, learn to rely on their skills and pick up some valuable automotive knowhow, Warner adds. “I worry about high school kids who are not even able to change a tire.”
Redding Dragstrip • 6750 Old Oregon Trail, Redding • (530) 215-3003
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