Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Cowpasture Nationals, an Ardmore Dragway Tradition

The historic Cowpasture Nationals returns for the 48th year at Ardmore Dragway. Chase Huffman details the history of the event and the famous racing facility.

We often get lost in the hustle and bustle of $10,000, $15,000 $20,000, $50,000, $100,000, $500,000, $525,000 and $1,000,000 to win races and we lose site on the main reason we started racing to begin with. Most of us did not start racing as a career choice, even though it has turned into that for a select few.

We ALL started racing because, either our family did it or we found it fun. When we all first started we would race any chance we had even if it was for $20, a cheeseburger, and a dinky trophy.

Floyd Gaither and Darryle Warren cowpasture nationals
Floyd Gaither and Darrell Warren (Corvette)

But now, there are many that won’t even pull out of the driveway for anything less than $20,000, or we wait to enter a race to see how many cars are there and if it will make a full payout.

Racing used to be fun, relaxing, and enjoyable. Now we are more worried about being .000 and taking .000, no splits (except at Dairy Queen), large payouts, and flickering the bulb.

We all need to take a step back to a simpler time, when racing was fun. Trust me, the big payouts are nice, especially with today’s rigs. But again the car and rig you have is all up to you.

The Carrell Family and the entire staff at Ardmore Dragway strive to put the fun and passion back into bracket racing, bringing back the memories of our younger days.

Holding the title of “The Longest Continuously Ran Drag Strip in the Country,” Ardmore Dragway is full of history. Long before delay boxes, programmable ignition boxes and digital dial boards, Ardmore Dragway started one of the most legendary events to ever be held.

The Cowpasture Nationals is not a large payout race but more of a race for the “weekend warrior.” Dubbed “one of the all time best names for a race,” by Jared Pennington. The 48th Annual Cowpasture Nationals makes its return to Ardmore Dragway on October 4-6, 2019.

The History of Ardmore Dragway

In the era of NHRA helping car clubs get off the streets and to organize local drag races, a young Ardmore Dragway was born. Started in 1954 by the SlowPokes Car Club on the North end of Lake Murray on the South end of Ardmore city limits, the first SlowPokes Car Club President Norman Flowers and other supporters convinced the State of Oklahoma to use the land to drag race.

Norman and other members can still be seen from time to time at the current location of the track. In the early days, racing was held every Sunday afternoon, there was no charge for spectators but donations were accepted. The crowds at the time were large crowds.

Jim Ragland first cowpasture nationals winner
Jim Ragland First Cowpasture Nationals Winner

Former Ardmore Dragway owner and historian Johnnie Laird states, “I remember it as just grudge type racing. Just line up beside who ever and keep trying until you found someone you could beat, my experience anyway. Most of the cars were driven to and from the track. There were a few on tow bars.”

In 1959, three of the club members decided to pep up the racing activities and leased the property where the strip is today. The three individuals were J.R. Shaw, Dennis Lavers, and Joe Neil Carrell, the new group was incorporated as the Ardmore Timing Association.

J.R. was a speed shop owner in town, Dennis Lavers was a draftsman at Samedan Oil Company, and Joe Neil Carrell was the operator of a service station in town and father of the current track owner Rick Carrell. The club members worked together to get the new track race ready, the new track was actually the former Ardmore Air Park which was the city’s municipal airport.

Ken Dotson dragster vs Darryle Modesto Camaro
Ken Dotson Dragster vs Darryle Modesto Camaro

Races were still held every Sunday afternoon, but at that time the price for spectators had increased to $1. Racing started to begin to be divided into classes at this time. Dennis Lavers fabricated a large chart that calculated the et difference or the “spot” between classes.

The track was marked off in 1 foot increments. One class car would get “X’ feet ahead of another class car, then the flagman would start the race. A handful of guys would watch from the quarter mile finish line to determine the winner and then wave the flag for the winning lane.

The early days were good times but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any controversy, many thought racers would under claim their engines or not fully disclose their modifications. But the racing was still FUN!

Farmer George Simmons and Randy Cramer
Farmer George Simmons and Randy Cramer

Laird and Sears Take Over

In 1970, Johnnie Laird and Lonnie Sears took over ownership of Ardmore Dragway, electronic wizard Jerry Mathews actually invented the first set of working win lights at Ardmore Dragway. These 100 watt light bulbs were mounted on top of two poles located on either side of the starting line.

The racer that crossed the line first would have their light turned on. Great in theory but remember we are still in the 70’s, and electronic technology is still years away. The biggest problem of all was the static interference they endured.

No matter which lane won, the left lane would always come on first then go out and the true winning lane displayed. In 1979 Johnnie Laird and new partner Jerry Mathews installed a new state of the art Chrondex win light system.

Dillon dragster cowpasture nationals

In 1995, Johnnie and Susan Laird became the sole owners until the current owners purchased the facility. Johnnie Laird was an owner or operator with partners of the track for over 37 years, and he still races at the current track.

Until 2003 the property was owned by the City of Ardmore, after being on a pretty ‘iffy’ lease all those years Johnnie and Susan Laird purchased the track. The City had always leased the grass to different people that ran cows on the same property of the track.

All the old timers will remember scooping the cow patties off the track every morning.  The track would have to take two 20 minutes breaks each day. Once mid morning while the cows were crossing the track and once late afternoon while they were crossing back. Just about like clock work.

The Carrell Family

Carrell Family ardmore dragway
The Carrell Family

The Carrell family took over Ardmore Dragway in 2008 in an effort to keep the track from ending up like many great facilities that have closed their doors. Since purchasing the track, the entire Carrell Family have put their heart and soul into the track.

The track just recently took on NHRA sanctioning, going the majority of its life as an “outlaw” facility, but still known to follow strict safety rules.

Rick Carrell ardmore dragway
Rick Carrell

The Beginning of the Cowpasture Nationals

The year is 1972, the last U.S. ground troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, the Dallas Cowboys won their first Superbowl title, Don McLean’s America Pie song soared to the top of the charts, and the first Cowpasture Nationals were held.

With the rising popularity of NHRA National events the name Cowpasture Nationals was originally given the name as a joke. In the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s NHRA only had 2 “National Events” and then they started adding them all over the country. The staff of Ardmore Dragway thought, “if NHRA could have all those ‘National’ events we could too.”

The winner of the inaugural event was Jim Ragland, one of the few that has been to every event since 1972. Jim’s son Rob has won his fair share of Cowpasture titles, along with Rob’s son and Jim’s Grandson Ross. The Raglands hope to continue the winning ways and have young Race and Rhett in the winner’s circle at the Cowpastures when their time comes.

Reher Morrison Shepherd cowpasture nationals

Over the years, the Cowpastures has taken on many different formats and special guests. At one time the event was a 150 racer invitational only. In the early years the event was always raced in the day time only, no lights.  It had grown so big that is was a problem getting it run before dark. 

The staff decided that limiting the entries was the only way to keep it fun for everyone and that’s what they did. For a few years, you had to qualify on Saturday to race on Sunday of the event. They even ran ¼ mile in the early days of the event, the archives show that in 1993 it took a 11.03 ET on the long track to qualify for Sunday’s event.

The event saw the likes of Reher, Morrison & Shepard race team, family reunions, and event a quick 8 Alcohol Funny Car shootout.

Throughout the years the Cowpasture Nationals became very established, enough so that other local tracks would keep that date clear of other races so their local racers and employees could go race at the Cowpasture Nationals.

Johnnie and Susan saw that it had turned into more of a reunion than a race, so that’s what we started calling it the ‘The CowPasture Reunion’. The Carrell family went back to the Cowpasture Nationals name when they took the facility over.

Ardmore Funny Cars

The Cowpastures Nationals is probably the one event that helped put Ardmore Dragway on the map. Will Carrell and the whole Carrell Family start the planning for the next years Cowpastures even before the current event is completed. To say it is an important event and a staple in the Ardmore Dragway schedule year after year is an understatement!

“The Carrell Family cares about the racers and bracket racing. I have been to many tracks and events in my lifetime and they are by far the most caring bracket race promoters in the nation,” states Ardmore Dragway competition director Ryan Gleghorn.

Many don’t know it but the Carrell Siblings, Will Carrell and Danieal Carrell-Belt, are 3rd generation Ardmore Racers, and their kids; Kasen Belt, Greycee Belt, Blane Carrell, and Ella Carrell are 4th generation racers. The legacy and tradition continues on through many racers and employees at the track as well.

Over the years the Carrell family has kept with interesting names for races; the Windmill Nationals and the Oil Patch Nationals are some other great events at Ardmore Dragway. But the Cowpastures will remain legendary and the event that made Ardmore Dragway famous.

cowpasture nationals flyer pg 1
cowpasture nationals flyer pg 2

What the Racers are Saying

Aaron Brown Cowpasture Nationals
Aaron Brown

“It’s always been the biggest race of the year, the bad boys come from all areas to race this race. It’s always a full house and you better bring your A game,” states 4-time Ardmore Dragway track champion Aaron Brown. Having attended every Cowpasture Nationals since 1998, and doubling up in No Electronics at the event in 1999, Aaron Brown looks to add another Cowpasture Nationals trophy to his current collection of 4 at this years 2019 event.

Ryan Gleghorn ardmore dragway
Ryan Gleghorn

“I get excited for this race each year. There’s so much history with this event in the 48 years it’s been around and there’s a lot of people who show up to Ardmore each year just to be apart of that history and that’s pretty cool to me. Cowpasture’s brings out a different feel around here and I can’t wait to open the gates and do it again this year,” states Ryan Gleghorn as he goes into his 7th Cowpasture event.

Tripp West ardmore dragway
Tripp West

“To the local guys around here the Cowpasture’s is the race they circle on the calendars every single year, if you ask what race they want to win at the beginning of the year they’ll answer “the Cowpasture’s” every time. There is so much history around this race, it’s really something special. There’s people who only race one time a year, and that’s the Cowpasture’s. You’ll see people that haven’t raced in years get their stuff ready for that race and that race only!” explained multi-time Cowpasture National attendee and Ardmore Dragway announcer Tripp West

Nick Smith cowpasture nationals
Nick Smith

“The cow really did hit me first. Even before that and for nearly 50 years, the Cowpasture’s have been a staple for big money bracket racing in this area in a great family oriented environment,” explains Nick Smith as he relives his 2016 trip to Ardmore Dragway where he earned the name “cow crusher”

Jake Howard cowpasture nationals
Jake Howard

The man that seems to have won pretty much everything in the Texas & Oklahoma area, as well as many other events across the country. Jake Howard looks to go one round further in 2019 and seal the deal. Being a bridesmaid 3 times in the past, once in Super Pro and twice in Footbrake, Howard has a new outlook for 2019 and plans to seal the deal and walk away with the trophy.

Chase Huffman DragChamp Racer Blog Photo

About the Author: Chase Huffman currently competes in his Super Comp dragster and Super Street Camaro.  Having grown up around racing, Chase climbed into a junior dragster at the age of eight.  At sixteen, Chase moved into the big cars eventually winning the NHRA Fall Nationals in Dallas.  On most weekends, you’ll find Chase at the track with family and friends.

You can connect with Chase on Facebook @chasendad or email at Chase@dragchamp.com.

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