Vintage World War II fighter planes, experimental airplanes, firefighting air tankers, helicopters, tours of the Air Traffic Control Tower, the Classic Rotors Helicopter Museum, the U.S. Forest Service Helitac Base, the Cal Fire Air Attack Base and a Kids' Zone with face painting, crafts and visits from Smokey Bear are part of the free family-friendly fun planned at the Ramona Airport Open House at the airport, 2926 Montecito Road, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7. The county airport is celebrating its 56th anniversary, and all are welcome.
By Bill Tamburrino
A Props and Rods Show will be a part of Ramona Airport Open House 2013 on Saturday.
Why Props and Rods? Drag racing has been a part of the Ramona Airport since the original strip was poured in World War II.
“The airport was an emergency landing strip in WWII for planes that were running low on fuel and couldn’t make it to the coast,” said longtime Ramona resident and car buff Andy Smith.
Smith is not only a knowledgeable historian on the airport and the drag strip that emerged from the airport, he is a part of that history.
“I used to attend the drag races there,” he said. “Dave Scully was the announcer at the drag races. When Dave Scully left to work at an airport in Carlsbad, I took over as announcer.”
Smith remembers the financial impact that the drag races had on the town of Ramona.
“The races resulted in a greater increase in business like the gas stations and restaurants,” he said. “I remember
going to Ramona Café at midnight after the races were over.”
After WWII the airport was used as a California Department of Forestry, now Cal Fire, base to fight fires. Torpedo bombers that were used in the war were modified to fire bombers.
“At first there was just a windsock and the planes couldn’t communicate with the tower,” said Smith. "But there were continual upgrades. In 1949 Wally Parks, the founder of Hot Rod Magazine and NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) heard about the strip and flew down here from LA to see if there was enough room on the airstrip for the dragsters to brake...From the beginning of the war until 1949 most cars were just changed cosmetically. In ‘49 the cars got bigger engines and as a result went much faster. The strip was great, but there were concerns that there wouldn’t be enough room for the cars to brake safely. There was, and Ramona became a nationally renowned drag strip.”
The drag strip was called San Diego Raceway and was built as a result of the 1960 El Cajon Boulevard drag riots, said Smith. There was a pit area, a few grandstands, a timing tower and a strip that was safe for amateurs and professionals to race.
Smith thinks that a part of the original airstrip and drag strip remain near the Chuck Hall Hangar on the south end of the airport.
Hence, The Props and Rods Show.
“Our show is not about prizes,” said Shane Becker, Props and Rods Show organizer. “It is about having a good time, hanging out, relaxing, telling stories and having fun. It doesn’t make much sense for an individual to put $50,000 in a custom car to get a $10 trophy.”
A trip to the Props and Rods Show at the Ramona Airport Open House 2013 promises to be enjoyable and entertaining, and maybe a former drag racer or two will be on hand to tell some interesting stories about Ramona’s past.
The show will be from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is open to all makes, models and years for cars, trucks, big rigs and motorcycles.
Admission is free for the Airport Open House and Props and Rods Show. The Props and Rods Show entry fee of $25 for participants includes a T-shirt.
The fee is payable to A.A.M.T.F., which supports the Aerial Firefighters Memorial Fund.
For more information call Becker at 760-594-2924.