Ames Drag Strip

A drag race is underway at the Ames Drag Strip in this photo from 1957.  The Ames club, the Nightcrawlers, operated the track that was located south of town on the east side of Highway 69 behind the Solar Inn.  The hot rods raced east towards the Skunk River on the land once used as a landing strip by the Gerbracht Aeronautic Corporation.  An adult advisory board helped direct the high school and college age racers.  View more photos of the Ames Drag Strip.


Ames Tribune, June 2, 1958

Safety, education and fun -- in that order -- is a terse summary of what participants  "get out" of drag racing.  No longer is the scream of tires, the roar of souped-up engines on dangerous gravel roads, curving highways or dark streets a true picture of a drag race.

The sport of drag racing -- and it is truly a sport -- has gained considerable respectability since its post-war birth under conditions which caused many accidents and personal injuries.  Today, "dragsters" across the country hold races on strips sanctioned by national organizations which insist upon full compliance with some 30 basic rules of safety.  The Ames drag strip is no exception.

As a building is the showplace for the architect, so the drag strip is the showplace for those who race cars.  Though few actually build their cars from scratch, more often than not a car that is expected to win a drag is modified to some degree.  It is in working with cars that a considerable part of the educational portion of the overall picture comes into view.

Because of the interest in cars so many boys have shown, the Ames school system includes a course of study in Auto mechanics in its curriculum.

As Leonard Bengtson, the instructor of the twelve-week course points out, "The aim of the course is to teach; to teach the boys how the car works and how to make the simple repairs that every car owner can use" to gain more economic output for the vehicle.

Part of the course time is spent in the class room studying from a text and part in the back shop and outside seeing in practice what has been studied.  "We have had excellent cooperation from the administration and very little objection from outside the school to our working on cars in the school yard during the class period," Bengtson said.  However, he pointed out that the course did not teach the boys everything about a car.  He stressed that the course teaches only the basic operations of the automobile.  From this, there is no limit to what boys can learn from experimentation and books, he continued.  To assure the boys of up to date dependable reading material the high school library provided numerous references which are continuously consulted according to Mrs. Russell Dickenson, school librarian.


Safety is learned through participation and through the club local enthusiasts have formed.  The safety rules followed during the race come from the national headquarters of the Automobile Timing Association of America (ATAA).  All participants are required to submit their car to an inspection by a technical committee before they are allowed to race.  The cars are checked on 30 specified points ranging from roadworthiness to fire extinguishers to windshields.

In an actual contest a pair of cars race over a quarter mile divided strip and slow down in a half mile chute designed for that purpose.  "nothing could be safer than dragging," according to Margaret White, 2003 Green Briar Circle, member of the local advisory board for the strip.  "Both cars are going in the same direction over a well-cared-for strip that is fenced off from the spectators."

To help promote safety on the highway as well as the drag strip, a number of the students from Iowa State College and local boys organized the Nightcrawlers club. Each Nightcrawler club member carries a membership - courtesy card identifying himself as a member of good standing in an organization pledged to encourage traffic safety and driver courtesy.

An excellent example of the club's work is expressed by K. H. Erickson, advertising manager for Northrup King and Co., a nationwide firm, to chief of police O. L. Erickson, after he had passed through Ames late one evening and had mechanical failure in the starter of his car.

Some members of the club "urged that they be permitted to help and went out of their way to see that we got our car started and were able to continue our trip," he wrote.  "Their most refreshing courtesy and thoughtfulness," he continued, "is a very wholesome and desirable attitude on the part of these young men."

To those who work with the club and the drag strip as advisers, this was as equally rewarding as it was to the club members.  "The purpose of the club is being reached and a contagious attitude is being developed," as one advisor said.

The high school subscribes to five magazines in the automobile field, Motor Trend and Hot Rod being the most popular.  Last year the library also purchased "everything in the way of books that was available" that boys considered to be reliable and worthwhile, the librarian said.

Working on the advisory board, donation their time and services, the Dr. W. A. Owens, head, department of psychology, I.S.C.;  Dr. Glen Murphy, head, department of theoretical and applied mechanics, I.S.C.;  Prof. H. M. Black, head, Mechanical engineering, I.S.C.; J. D. Armstrong, city council; Everit Ritland, boys adviser, Ames High School; Dr. E. W. Remley, minister, Presbyterian church; Herman Arrasmith, in charge of Christian education, Presbyterian church; the Rev. John Galigher, St. Cecilia church; Fred White, former head, Iowa Highway Commission; Charlie Barr, Ames Reliable Feed; O. J. Erickson, chief of police; Margaret White, chairman of the group.

The Ames drag strip, located on the J. D. Armstrong property two miles south of Ames and owned by Bud Overland is, for all practical purposes, run by the Nightcrawlers with the assistance of Overland and the advisory of the above named committee.  The strip, open every Sunday of the summer at 11 a.m., is supported by its gate receipts.

Although the strip is safe for racing as it now exists, an unlimited amount of money could be spent on extension of the pavement on the strip and for spectator facilities.  Prior to this year's opening the club members, with the help of local business establishments, added 200 feet of concrete to the original sixty feet at the head of the strip.  It is the hope of the club that soon they will be able to pave the entire quarter mile.