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Santa Ana Drags and Beyond: America’s First Official Drag Strip
July 1, 2023 – September 4, 2023

SANTA ANA, CALIFORNIA, JUNE 19, 2023 – Lyon Air Museum, a world class showcase of historic aircraft and vintage automobiles, to host never-before-seen exhibit, Santa Ana Drags and Beyond: America’s First Official Drag Strip. This exclusive exhibit takes place adjacent to the site of the very first commercial drag racing venue in the nation, which opened during the Summer of 1959, and is now overlaid with the modern runways at John Wayne Airport. A collection of vintage race cars relating to the old Santa Ana Drag Strip, along with other period vehicles, compliment the historic World War II and Korean War-era aircraft currently on display in the Museum. The exhibit runs July 1 through September 4, 2023 at Lyon Air Museum, located on the west side of John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California.


Shortly before WWII, Southern California became an epicenter of auto racing culture, so much so it is known as the birthplace of the “Hot Rod.” Following the war, returning veterans eager to use the mechanical skills they had learned while in the service, began modifying their cars in an effort to make them go faster. On weekend nights, custom creations cruised the streets and popular hangouts, their owners looking to prove their car was the fastest. These thrill-seeking drivers pitted their often hopped-up machines against each other in a duel of pure speed. Some of these spontaneous and illicit speed matches ended tragically and, as the sport continued to grow, so did calls to bring organization and regulation to what had become popularly known as “Drag Racing.”

In June 1950, Santa Ana local C.J. “Pappy” Hart struck a deal with the County of Orange. Pappy could use a portion of an unused runway at Orange County Airport provided he agreed to share 10% of the proceeds with the County. The first race was a huge success and for the next nine years, hundreds of racers and thousands of enthusiastic fans descended upon what was called “Santa Ana Drag Strip.” Racing was held every Sunday, generally from dawn to dusk. The last race was held on Sunday, June 21, 1959. This marked the end of a special era in Orange County history, but not before “Pappy” Hart, the “Father of Organized Drag Racing,” had left an indelible imprint on the sport. 

Joining the history-making drag racing cars on display during the Santa Ana Drags and Beyond exhibit is the famed Bean Bandit Dragster. The Bean Bandits was one of the earliest drag racing teams, originally organizing in San Diego in 1949 to pool its member resources in order to afford to go racing. Known for its Mexican membership, the club in reality consisted of multiple ethnic groups. It included, among others, Anglo, African-American, Asian, and Lebanese members, brought together by their common passion for racing. A few months after Santa Ana Drag Strip opened, the Bean Bandit Dragster was built. Within a short period, the dragster was winning races at Santa Ana Drag Strip, as well as all over California. The Bean Bandits went on to win hundreds of races and are still racing on the dry lakes, salt flats, and select drag strips where they continue their tradition of breaking records.

Saturday, July 22, 2023, Lyon Air Museum is further celebrating hot rod history where hot rod history was made. From 10:00AM to 1:00PM, Hot Rods on the Tarmac will be open to the public showcasing a display of approximately 100 visiting period-authentic hot rods from the 1940’s and 1950’s era.

Lyon Air Museum represents the realization of General William Lyon’s dream. Founder of the museum, a former combat pilot, and ultimately serving as Chief of the U.S. Air Force Reserve from 1975 to 1979, General Lyon’s passion for aviation history and youth education was the driving force behind his dream and vision. In establishing the museum, General Lyon created a world-class destination, offering educational tours and displays inspiring youth while celebrating our veterans. Lyon Air Museum is home to some of the world’s most rare operational historic aircraft and vehicles.

Lyon Air Museum is located at 19300 Ike Jones Road, Santa Ana, CA 92707

P: 714.210.4585.    E:   W:


Daily Hours of Operation: 10:00AM - 4:00PM

Media Contact: Jamie Howren

                             Lyon Air Museum



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