• Steven Day

The First NHRA Nationals

CR's Cal Carter wanted to race in the big time


After World War II the servicemen returning from the war were looking for excitement. Some turned to motorcycles while others started building hot rods. And it was inevitable that when you get two hot rods together the owners want to see which car is faster. This led to a fast growing problem of street racing and the hot rodders soon earned a reputation of being hoodlums.


The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) was founded by Wally Parks in 1951. The NHRA’s purpose was to structure the new sport of drag racing and to promote organized racing on dedicated drag strips to help eradicate the dangerous street racing. In 1955 the NHRA held the First Annual National Championship Drags in centrally located Great Bend, Kansas. Great Bend is around 250 miles west of Kansas City and had an airfield built for training WWII pilots. The unused airfield is where the First US Nationals was held.


The first event drew many spectators and racers from all over the United States. And among the racers was young Dale Calvin “Cal” Carter from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Cal was a member of the Road Knights Car Club in Cedar Rapids and decided to make the long trek to Great Bend to race at the First US National Drags. And why not? Racing at the First National Championship Drags was being part of hot rod history and a dream come true for a young hot rodder in the 1950s.


Cal’s car was a 1930 Ford Model A that still had the original 4 cylinder engine. His car’s ¼ mile elapsed times and top speed were in the 18 second and 70 mph range. Cal returned for the Second Annual National Championships Drag Races in 1956 that were now held in Kansas City, Missouri. Cal passed away in 2001 after a long career in the electronics industry. Cal was not the fastest or quickest car at Great Bend, but he had as much fun racing there as the fastest car did. And the young man from Cedar Rapids was there helping to make hot rod history.

Note – I was unable to find a photo of Cal’s Ford Model A that he raced. Anyone out there have a photo of Cal’s Model A that they can post and share?



Steven Day lives in Cedar Rapids a few blocks from where he was born and raised. His father was a hot rodder and he was brought up in that life style. He's been involved in kart, sports car, stock car and drag racing over the years and restored numerous muscle cars. Now retired he spends time researching and writing about Iowa’s car and motorcycle history, collecting skateboards, and helping run charity car shows. He also heads the Hawkeye Downs Wall of Fame. And he's still building hot rods and custom cars in his garage.