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NHRA still keeping guys off streets after 1,000 races

Before there was a Surfin’ Safari, there was a Drag Safari. The message was basically the same: “Let’s go racin’ now, everybody’s learnin’ how, come on a safari with me.”

“It was about getting guys off the streets,” said 93-year-old Chic Cannon — the only surviving member of the Drag Safari, which morphed into the NHRA Safety Safari and this weekend marks its 1,000th national race meeting at the Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In 1955, the four-man Safari comprised of Cannon, Bud Coons, Bud Evans and Eric Rickman would travel to hot rod meetings in a station wagon and camper trailer containing equipment to safely put pedal to metal.

The National Championship Drags began on an airstrip at the Great Bend, Kansas, Municipal Airport and finished on another landing strip near Phoenix weeks later after torrential rains washed out final runs.

Calvin Rice, a 25-year-old Californian, covered the quarter-mile in 10.3 seconds at 141.95 mph to become the sport’s first national champion.

Entry fee was $5 — significantly less than what it will cost for a cold beer at Sunday’s final eliminations at LVMS.

“In 1955, who thought it was possible for cars to go over 150 mph?” Cannon said from his home in San Jose, California. “Look at it now, over twice that speed over a distance 20 feet shorter. Thanks to Wally (Parks, the NHRA founder) for that. He was the one who had the dream. We just went out and did the work for him.”

In addition to serving as the NHRA’ s first safety inspector, Cannon — who only recently sold his customized 1932 pickup and now drives a Ford Escape “with all the bells and whistles” — also is a NHRA charter member. He said he sent away $2 for a membership card when he was fighting in the Korean War.

“The first 2,000 would be considered charter members, and I was number 1,426,” he said, showing that even at 93 he still has a sharp recall for detail.

Except, perhaps, when it comes to John Force’s age.

He said he had pulled the 16-time Funny Car champion out of more than one upside down wreck over the years, and marveled that Force still is competitive at 60-something years old.

Chic Cannon, a man who has seen it all when it comes to his sport, seemed genuinely surprised when told the drag racing Methuselah had won three times this year at age 72.

“No kidding? Well, good for him!” he said.

Around the horn

— The Las Vegas Bowl committee says it already has sold 30,000 tickets for the Dec. 30 game at Allegiant Stadium that will match teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12. To put that in perspective, the last Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium in 2019 (Washington vs. Boise State) attracted a crowd of 34,419 and was the 12th-most attended game in series history.

— There were 69 former Las Vegas 51s or Aviators who played in the major leagues in 2021 — including Travis d’Arnaud, who hit a double and a home run in the Atlanta Braves’ 2-0 victory over Houston in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday. Including rehab assignments, the catcher spent parts of six seasons at Cashman Field and was a semi-regular for the 51s in 2012 when he batted .333 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs in 67 games.

— Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman refused to take the winless Rebels straight up against UNR Friday night (smart lady), but was successful in getting 20½ points in a friendly wager with Reno counterpart Hillary Schieve. She still will wind up wearing a UNR jersey at a forthcoming city council meeting after the Wolf Pack retained the Fremont Cannon 51-20.


— To correct a recent email, UNLV is not the worst team in college football history — at least not by winning percentage. Starting Saturday, the Rebels were ranked 122nd among the NCAA’s 130 teams with an all-time success rate of .389 — ahead of Eastern Michigan, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Texas-El Paso, Charlotte, Florida International, Georgia State and New Mexico State.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.