“Watch out taking a photo of that car!” a caution rang out over the dusty staging lane. “It’s so ugly it might break your lens!” A mustached man was leaning out of the window of his 1957 Chevrolet gasser, looking back at the beige Studebaker Lark gasser behind him in the staging lanes with a scornful expression. At my uncertain silence his face broke into a smile and he elaborated; “I built that car for my best friend. He made me do it!” His friend grinned at the teasing and they got ready to square up against each other again.
“We bought it with the paint, figure it was done in the ‘70s or ‘80s”, a racer explained of his maroon 1940s Ford Anglia with airbrushed murals of Pegasus on both doors and the horse’s rump on the trunk lid. He looked ruefully at the bare metal and grinding marks all over the B-pillar and recalled, “But two years ago we rolled it twice here so we had to weld it up to bring it back out!”
“We don’t do anything with this car but Eagle Field.” A lanky man responded to my silent inquiry as I photographed the light blue and rust colored Mercury Comet with its nose pointing towards the sky. “It just sits in the garage covered with junk the rest of the year and we clean it off to bring it out here. I should really take it apart and go through it but it just keeps working!”
Eagle Field Drags celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2019. The event is no secret; drag racers bring their pre-’73 metal from all over California and as far as Oregon to tear up the old WW2-era training airfield with head-to-head 1/8th mile passes. But even that popularity hasn’t robbed Eagle Field of its loose grassroots atmosphere, still more reminiscent of a local test and tune than a semi-regional multi-day event.
The 2019 field included an eclectic mix of homebuilt dragsters, period correct gassers, and pro street style muscle cars. Patina and nostalgia were in good supply; many of the cars presented serious barn-find street cred or a surviving style from some distinctive period in the history of drag racing. With such a breadth of time represented in the paddock, Eagle Field felt more like a Hall of Fame or a historical reenactment than a competitive race.
The most numerous of the broad range of cars present were 1960s muscle cars with some level of patina and speed parts. All clean survivors but none too nice to not belong on a dusty strip. A handful of pre-’73 cars were built in a modern style, joined by 1980s and 1990s brethren on Sunday when the Door Slammer class opened up the field. But the most unique cars were the even odder builds that would fit in nowhere but Eagle Field. Small-body cars like Ford Anglias and Henry Js were stuffed with big blocks and bigger tires, hearkening back to a long-dormant recipe for impressive power to weight ratios. Gassers of all shapes towered over the field on vintage mag wheels, canted at various angles and rakes. Pro-street cars in various shades of highlighter neon reminded of the ‘80s and ‘90s before pro-touring ate into the muscle car scene. Freshly built H.A.M.B. rail-jobs designed for cost and style mixed with the period correct dragsters laying down punishing ETs.
The driver’s meeting consisted of only a few shouted admonishments about safety before the field dispersed to their cockpits. V8s blew cobwebs out of headers and stumbled to the staging lanes on lumpy idles propped up by peaky camshafts. Downwards facing exhaust tips began to raise the dust cloud that would provide the day’s only shelter from the sun. The volley of tire punishing launches ramped up and laid siege to the Central Valley, bombarding the surrounding farms with regularity for the rest of the day.
By the second morning the pits felt like a reunion of old friends. The grudge matches were friendly and the professional race teams were treating the weekend like a test and tune. The biggest drama of the weekend was a spectator deciding to do some donuts in his C10 on the way out of the venue before he was promptly chased down and banned. There was more than enough drama happening on the 1/8th mile of historic asphalt and no more was needed.
Eagle Field is the best outcome of the lunatics running the asylum. A culture and community pervaded the paddock, a common understanding of what everyone had come to achieve. Hijinx were the point of the weekend but acceptable bounds were known by all. Fun was had but limits were respected and grandstanding never became dangerous. Conversation flowed easily; even as I peered around my camera and scurried from car to car I was always offered a hello and often a story. Eagle Field Drags is a day at the races among friends, which are always the best days at the races.