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Wayne Pierce, the voice of 99, announced for the Kingdon Event.

Racing returns to Lodi's Kingdon drag strip

Record Staff Writer
Published Sunday, Oct 8, 2006

Drag racing enthusiasts gathered at Kingdon Airstrip on Saturday. Kingdon was one of the top drag strips on the West coast.

Credit: Craig Sanders/The Record

LODISteve Grant had spent many days listening to customers at his restaurant reminisce about the glory days of the Kingdon drag strip.

Grant finally found out what they were talking about Saturday, along with thousands of his fellow drag racing drivers and enthusiasts.

Grant’s white 1963 Ford Falcon was one of the 1,000 vehicles at Kingdon Airport for “Return To Kingdon,” an event dedicated to the memory of racing at the old drag strip, located at the intersection of Devries Road and Armstrong Road.

Event organizers estimated approximately 4,000 people showed up to wade through the sea of muscle cars, visit vendors and watch races at a track that was once one of the most prominent drag strips on the West Coast. But the airport hasn’t been used as a track on a regular basis in 28 years.

“I was just a kid when this place was going, but I can afford better toys now,” said Grant, 51. “Who would have thought this would get so big? This was amazing.”

Joe Nemie of the Central Valley Cruisers car club, which organized the event, said he began to realize it would be a bigger event than he first anticipated a few weeks ago.

“But it’s still much bigger than I imagined,” Nemie said. “It really caught on, and hopefully we can do it again in the future. It’s been a lot of fun to honor the history of this place.”

Some owners were there just for the car show, while other were at Kingdon to race. Cars were lined up through out the day for a chance to speed down the quarter-mile course.

“This is an awesome day,” said Tami Hanson of Linden, who brought her sons Cody, 10, and Nick 5, and her nephew Ryan, 11. “I’m a huge drag racing fan and I’d hear a lot about Kingdon’s past, so I had to come.”

Grant said he was thrilled to finally get a chance to step on the pedal at the old track. He owns a restaurant in Stockton, Chuck’s, and he has often heard his patrons talk about the good old days at Kingdon.

One of his customers is Walter Orr of Stockton, a local racing legend who competed at Kingdon during its entire 34-year run. Now 77, Orr was once again standing at Kingdon and he brought along his 1933 Ford Two-Door, known as “The Fossil.”

“This brings back a lot of memories,” Orr said. “I was out here every Tuesday night, and on the weekends. It’s hard to describe what made this place different, except that it had a different atmosphere.”

Racing began at Kingdon in 1954 and was discontinued in 1978. Through the years, some of the best in the sport, including “Big Daddy” Don Garlitts, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Connie Kalitta, raced at the track. But racing at Kingdon was primarily a community event.

It was not unusual for a student at one high school to challenge a driver from another high school to a “grudge race.”

“Kingdon was about the young people having a place to race and stay out of trouble,” said Stockton’s Lee Barnard, 77, who brought his blue 1939 Ford Deluxe Coupe to the event. “It was just a great situation for the kids who wanted to race.”

High school racers were back at the track on Saturday. Kevin Palumbo, 18, is a senior at St. Mary’s who raced in his 1969 Plymouth Satellite.

“I heard about this from a friend (Saturday morning), and I had to come because it had not been open in my lifetime,” Palumbo said. “It was a great experience.”

The only incident of the day occurred when Bill Bass of Sacramento spun out and tipped over his dragster, but he was not injured.

Nemie said he hopes to hold another event and will discuss the situation wit the airport’s owners, David Arnaiz and Rick Grewall.

“I think there’s the potential for some kind of annual event,” Arnaiz said. “We’re just glad everyone had a good time.”

According to those who know about the history of Kingdon, having a good time has never been a problem.

“It’s always a fun day at Kingdon,” Barnard said.

Contact reporter Scott Linesburgh at (209) 546-8281 or

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