Hot Rodding was a new sport where anyone with a car could show 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 like “naked” and “rigged.” This was a time for strict emotions, nothing more than that. These were serious young people and some not so young who spent hours rebuilding engines and listening to safety lectures and watching movies on safe driving. On the Mississippi Gulf Coast during the 1950s, car enthusiasts and teenage boys formed Hot Rod Clubs such as Chariots, Coasters, Road Rebels, and Pace Makers. What was the difference between Chariots & Coasters? The Chariots were organized in January 1956, with the purpose of providing activities directed at the maintenance and operation of hot rods. The Coasters were organized on October 4, 1954. Holding a charter with the National Hot-Rod Association formed by Keesler Field Men. The club was organized for the military personnel on the base and their dependents.
Before there was a drag track nearby, one could find the Keesler Auto Club (Coasters) racing on drag tracks, like the statewide drag races held at Jackson’s William Airport and in Florida. On July 30, 1955, the Keesler Auto Club entered five cars in the competition and took first, second, and third place in the standard class, first place in the sports car class, and first place in the modified class.
Drag strips were necessary for the growing popularity of the sport. It is also possible that the Keesler Auto Club was tired of traveling such long distances. So what did they do? They liked what they saw in Jackson and did the same. On December 29, 1956, the first drag racing event was held in the Biloxi area at Keesler Air Force Base. Quarter-mile sprints were held on the northeast-southwest track. The event was a success attracting as many runners as Jackson races, and more. On February 23, 1957 a second endurance race was held at Keesler in a 1903 Cadillac, and the 1900 McIntyre entered by George Ohr of Biloxi.
A push for a permanent home for a skid row had been brewing for years. After four years of the combined and united efforts of many Gulf Coast citizens, organized auto and motorcycle clubs, a Drag Strip was built. The Gulf Coast Drag Strip was sanctioned by ministers, public officials, and civic clubs. Earl C. Nolan led the project as skid steer president, and in two months the Gulf Coast skid row was built for $ 30,000.
On August 18, 1957, the first event took place.
On September 8, 1957 the Grand Opening took place, won by JD 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 kick off 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 the Gulf Coast Drag Strip. Inc., were among those who presented the crowd with a message about the facility.
Earl C. Nolan, President of Gulf Coast Drag Strip, Inc. said: “Hundreds of children in the state of Mississippi are overwhelmed by the desire to create and build their own car. This new Drag Strip was built for these young mechanics and engineers. Their skilled hands and scientific minds have created and produced machines that display exceptional ingenuity in action. They have been desperately looking for an organization or group of people to represent and assist them in their fight for a Drag Strip and for the acceptance of racing. drag racing as the newest of sports. Kids can now drive safely at any speed within their capabilities with a feeling of confidence, on our new quarter mile Standing Start drag track. I want to thank the many residents from the coast and many others throughout the state for their interest and unlimited assistance to me and my colleagues. “
Little did they know what they were building … or the story they were creating, leading to competing with some of the biggest stars in drag racing and many of the most legendary Hot-Rod machines of all time on the coast of the Gulf of Mississippi. 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 the popularity of the Hot Rod.