Editor's Column: Oak Harbor drag show brings back fond memories

I regret having missed the Oak Harbor drag show the night of May 8 because of the many fond memories I have of drag shows.

In my time it was Arlington, not Oak Harbor, that was the mecca of drag. The Arlington airport had what seemed like an endless supply of asphalt and dragsters from miles around would show up to see who was fastest.

High school kid showed up to drag, many against their parents’ wishes as dragging was frowned upon by most elders. It was different, it was expensive, and it was dangerous. But still, the kids dragged in droves.

There were old vehicles creatively crafted into dragsters, such as a ‘34 Ford Roadster, but most were stock or souped-up modern muscle cars, like Mustangs with their high performance 289 engines, Camaros, GTO’s, Road Runners, Firebirds and numerous others. Many a mother fainted to see her son sitting in a drag car, a sight that would set the neighbors chatting about how poorly he must have been raised to waste his time and money on such an unseemly activity.

Of course, the kids’ cars were just the preliminaries. What the crowd really showed up for was the professional drags stars whose very image would make girls swoon and guys green with envy. They’d line up their dragsters side-by-side, wait for the starter’s flag to be waved, and then gun it, leaving behind burning rubber and a trail of smoke that looked like a BP oil rig blowout.

The guy who attracted the most devoted following in these parts was named Jerry Ruth, King of the Northwest Dragsters. His rig could crack the 200 mph barrier in the quarter-mile, something virtually unheard of in those days. Once I saw him hit 202 at the Arlington track and I felt like I’d seen Roger Maris hit his 60th home run or Johnny Unitas throw the NFL championship winning TD pass. Ruth’s drag fame grew beyond the Northwest. He was drag racing’s Bill Muncey, King of the Hydros. When it came to drag shows, the Northwest was as fast as any place in the county.

It wasn’t long before drag queens came along, with women showing men they too could stomp on a gas pedal and control a speeding, burning hunk of metal through a quarter mile of terror on wheels. The best was Shirley Muldowney, the Queen of Drag Racing, who may have been the greatest of them all.

That’s why I feel so badly about missing Oak Harbor’s drag show. Maybe Queen Muldowney was there, or perhaps King Ruth. It kind of chokes me up that the college kids who staged the drag show still honor the greats of racing. At least, that’s what I’m hoping the show was about.

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