When there were far fewer people around, far fewer laws and regulations, when the legal speed limit was 75 mph, when gas was cheap, when driving was a pleasure, if you owned a hot machine you could point the grill down an empty road and go!

Ray Van Dorn’s Dragster

Drag racing got started in Oregon in Eugene in 1949 and at the Scappoose strip in 1952; the cars ranged from hot coupes and roadsters to late model stockers. There were no dragsters until 1953, when several guys showed up with stripped-down cars with big engines built solely for covering the quarter-mile as quickly as possible.

Ray Van Dorn of Portland had been racing his 1950 Ford coupe with a 276 flathead. He decided he wanted to go faster and knew he could get the fastest speed out of a car like the one the Bean Bandits were running in So-Cal. Don “Duck” Collins was a race car builder in Portland and he built a chassis using Shelby tubing, Ford front and rear end, center steering and the engine moved back several inches. Van Dorn put his 276 Merc in the dragster and race the car at the Scappoose quarter-mile drags and the Madras half-mile runs; he said it went straight as an arrow.

In 1954 Van Dorn had Bill Peterson build a light, streamlined body for the car. Peterson adapted the front part of a surplus drop tank for the nose. The dragster was painted orange with white trim; it was the first dragster to have a sponsor. It ran 128 mph at Scappoose and 138 mph at Madras. In 1955 Van Dorn borrowed Don Ellis’ supercharged Studebaker V-8 engine. When the Drag Safari came to Oregon Van Dorn won his class, turning 127 mph on gas.
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.
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