The U.S. Nationals, Then And Now

INDIANAPOLIS – The sixty fourth edition of the National Hot Rod Association’s (NHRA) Chevrolet Performance US Nationals will take place at Lucas Oil Raceway Park, located just west of Indianapolis, over Labor Day weekend. It has been billed as the biggest and most historic drag race in the world. It also remains as the most prestigious event on the NHRA’s 24 race schedule. To further the importance of this race, it is now the final race before the Countdown to the Championship.

Often called “The fastest sport in the world,” the event will be six straight days of non stop action with speeds well over 300 miles per hour in the top two nitro classes. The event will reach its conclusion on Labor Day making it the longest running Labor Day Motorsports event in the United States. With that said, here is a brief history of the US Nationals since its first event in 1955.

That first event in 1955 was held at the Great Bend Municipal Airport in Great Bend, Kansas and remained there for three years. In 1958 the event was moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds for just one year. In 1959 and 1960, the event was located at the Detroit Dragway in Detroit, Michigan on a two year deal.

In 1961, the event was moved to Indianapolis Raceway Park (IRP) located just west of Indianapolis near the town of Brownsburg, Indiana and remains there today. The facility was and still is a multi-purpose complex comprised of an oval, road course and the drag strip.

In 1979 the NHRA bought the facility and still retains ownership today. In 2006, O’Reilly Auto Parts purchased the naming rights and it was renamed O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis. Just four years later, Lucas Oil purchased the naming rights and it was then renamed Lucas Oil Raceway Park at Indianapolis which still retains that name today.

Back to 1961, the city of Indianapolis still had the reputation of being a slow and not very exciting place to live. There was little in the way of downtown activities at night and was given the nickname “ naptown” because the city closed down so early. The original term “naptown” was used by jazz musicians in the 1930’s and the nickname stuck.

Prior to the US Nationals coming to town over Labor Day weekend the two major motor sports events were the Indianapolis 500 in May and the Hoosier 100, held at the Indiana State Fairs dirt track, in September. The racing itself was totally different to the Indianapolis area race fan because the racers raced in a straight line for only a quarter mile instead racing on the traditional oval race track.

Before the drag racers came to Indianapolis Labor Day weekend was just a three day holiday for many families. The weekend marked the end of summer, before the kids went back to school. It was also the final weekend of the Indiana State fair.

Today, Indianapolis has a thriving downtown social scene along with its many sporting events that take place in the Indianapolis metropolitan area. It is no longer called “naptown” and every Labor Day weekend it becomes the center of the drag racing world.

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