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 “bare” and “improved.” This was a time strictly for emotions, nothing more than that. They were serious youngsters and some not so youngsters who spent hours rebuilding engines and listening to safety lectures and watching safe driving movies. 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 and Coasters? The Chariots were organized in January 1956, for 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 made up of Keesler Field Men. The club was organized for the military personnel on the base and their dependents.
Before there was a race track nearby, the Keesler Auto Club (Coasters) could be found racing at race tracks, such as 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 placed first, second, and third in the standard class, first in the sports car class, and first in the modified class.
Drag Strips were needed 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 in the Biloxi area was held 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 runs, and more. A second drag race was held at Keesler on February 23, 1957 with a 1903 Cadillac and a 1900 McIntyre entered by George Ohr of Biloxi.
For years a push for a permanent home for a race track had been building. As the culmination of four years of combined and united efforts by many Gulf Coast citizens, organized automobile 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 president of the speedway, and within two months the $30,000 Gulf Coast Speedway was built.
On August 18, 1957, the first event took place.
The Grand Opening took place on September 8, 1957, won by JD Gagliano of New Orleans, LA in his flame ’34 Hot Rod Coupe.
Ray Butterfield, manager of radio station WLOX, acted as master of ceremonies, and Beat One supervisor Dewey Lawrence cut the ribbon to officially open the racing show. Brig. Gen. John R. Sutherland, commander of Keesler Air Force Base, Brig. Gen. John R. Fowler, Keesler AFB, Mayor Laz Quave and Commissioner Dominic Fallo of Biloxi, Deputy Sheriff George Rosetti, and Earl Nolan, Chairman of the Gulf Coast Drag Strip. Inc., were among those presented to 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 with the desire to create and build their own automobile. This new Drag Strip was built for these young mechanics and budding engineers. Their skilled hands and scientific minds have created and produced machines that show exceptional ingenuity in action. They have been desperately searching for an organization or group of people to represent them and help them in their fight for a Drag Strip and for acceptance. of drag racing as the Newest in Sports.Kids can now drive safely at any speed within their abilities with a feeling of confidence, on our new permanent starting quarter mile drag track.Wish thank the many residents of the coast and many others throughout the state for their great interest and the unlimited assistance they have given me and my colleagues.”
Little did they know what they were building…or the history they were creating, which saw them race some of drag racing’s biggest stars and many of the most legendary Hot-Rod machines of all time on the coast. of the Mississippi Gulf. This is the story of the birth of drag racing in Mississippi, and the Biloxi Dragway, a springboard to the popularity of classic cars and race cars today!