Part 4: The 1957 National Championship Drags
For the second year, the National Championship Drag Races would have a new home, with Oklahoma City succeeding Kansas City, Mo., which had succeeded Great Bend, Kan., the site of the first Nationals in 1955. While the event had moved from Great Bend to Kansas City for its bigger facility, the move from K.C. came in part because of hard feelings after NHRA was stuck with an unexpected $10,000 cost to repave the strip. That shortfall also contributed to keeping the Safety Safari on the sidelines in 1957.
Sponsored by NHRA in conjunction with the Oklahoma City Jaycees and the Oklahoma City Timing Association, the 1957 Nationals again was scheduled to take place over Labor Day weekend on the city's beautiful and spacious State Fairgrounds. Boasting ample paved areas, separate participant and spectator parking, a cafeteria, dormitories ($25 for four days!), seating accommodations for thousands, and a wide and smooth dragstrip with a paved return road, the venue certainly fit into NHRA's vision of a modern facility worthy of hosting its premier event. Also, it was just 260 miles south of the exact geographical center of the United States. The event tied in nicely with Oklahoma's celebration of 50 years of statehood.
The new class format dictated by the season's new Stock rules and the gasoline-only mandate were tried out at the Midwest Regional Championships in Grand Island, Neb., under the watchful eye of regional advisors that included future Division 5 Director Darrell Zimmerman. To ensure compliance, before the event, all fuel tanks were drained and filled with Mobilgas. George Dahir defeated Zimmerman in the gas dragster runoff then took Top Eliminator over Henry Williams. The famed Florida course at Sebring also hosted a Regional Championships event on the air terminal course in late June, where, among others, contestants included famed Floridians Don Garlits (who had top time) and Harvey Crane. (Later that winter, Florida hosted its Championship drags at Amelia Earhart field near Miami, where Garlits and brother Ed won B Dragster and Bud Damrom, father of future Super Comp world champ Kurt won D/Gas.)
Despite the newly instituted fuel ban, 450 entrants from at least 38 states took part over the course of the four-day National Championship Drags, during which speed records were set in 17 of the 30 contested classes. Art Arfons set top speed with the Rolls Royce-powered "Green Monster" at 152.54 mph, an all-time record for a gas-burning entry. Among others setting records were James "Red" Dyer in Raymond Godman's "Bo-Weevil" "A" Modified Roadster '25 Ford T pickup; Leland Kolb in the Howard Cam Special '29 Ford "A" Roadster; Gene Adams in his B/Gas '50 Olds; and future dragster pilot Glen Ward in an A/Gas '33 Ford.
Two Chryslers and one each Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet, and Oldsmobile comprised the powerplants for the six class finalists for Top Eliminator. LeRoy Mackey, at the wheel of the Mackey & Dordy Club Special, a Chrysler-engined, Bantam-bodied "A" Competition Coupe from Corpus Christi, Texas, opened Top Eliminator racing, running 11.50 to oust the Dode Martin/Jim Nelson Masters Auto Supply Dragliner, a Chevrolet-engined "C" Dragster from Oceanside, Calif. The Reno Plating Special, a Cadillac-powered "B" Dragster from Reno, Nev., then fell before the charge of the Buddy Sampson-driven 462-inch Olds-powered, aluminum-bodied Money Oldsmobile Special, which charged to a 10.66 victory. Carl Grimes' Phoenix-based Buick-powered Fiat coupe, the "A" Altered class winner, then bested Kolb and the Chrysler-powered Howard Cams entry from Los Angeles with an 11.44 pass.
Sampson received the bye into the final while LeRoy Mackey defeated Grimes for the right to face Phoenix-based Sampson and "Arizona Wrecking Crew" teammates "Lefty" Mudersbach and Joe Dillon. Mackey got the better leave in the final, only to watch Sampson's yellow dragster streak by to win with a 10.42, low e.t. of the meet.
In addition to a new fuel-injected 1957 Chevrolet engine, Sampson also took home an unusual prize as "Mr. Eliminator": a brand-new Norge AW 28-2 top-line "automatic washing machine"; Norge was a division of automotive giant Borg-Warner, and the bonus prize was given "in recognition of the wives, mothers, and girlfriends unsung partners in many a drag racing project."