Updated: Mar 15, 2020
There is no better motivation for doing something than the thought that you can do it better. Really the foundation of America is just that… an attitude that “we” could do it better. Nestled within the row crop fields of Green County Arkansas there is a place that originated with just that sentiment. George Ray’s Wildcat Dragstrip.
Like a great portion of dragstrips whether still in operation or lost to time, George Ray’s got its start in the early 60’s opening in October of 1961 as a manifestation of George’s idea that he could in fact do it better. George was a hot rodder, mechanic and car salesman. Drag strips were a magnet for his type and the nearest track to George was in Halls TN. That meant an 87 mile pilgrimage that included a ferry ride across the Mississipi River. In his trips to the track in Halls however George did not see eye to eye with the management and did not feel that he was being treated fairly.
That’s when he had an idea that would change his life and the history of Pragould Arkansas forever. George Ray’s Wildcat Hot Rod Dragstrip.
In preparing to write this I went back. Back to some folks who were there to experience on a personal level the happenings at this place. Charles Jolliff was one of those folks. Charles worked for George starting in 1973 and is a de facto historian for the track. I also spoke with George’s widow Bonnie Ray who held down the ticket booth and the business end of the track from the day she married George in 1986. Bonnie still owns the track and it is managed by her grandson Tyler Russom.
The original name for the track was “George Ray’s Wildcat Hot Rod Dragstrip”. Somewhere along the line the “Hot Rod” was dropped. In the early days it was a ¼ mile track with no lighting, flag starts and an “eye ball” finish line. It would cost you $1.50 to get in and nothing extra to run. Over the years George did secure a hand me down timing system but the track never lost its mystique. The NHRA Safety Safari showed up in 1962 and 1964 trying to get George to sanction his track but in true George Ray fashion, he decided against it opting for his own rules. As cars got faster in 1967 the finish line was moved to 1000 feet and then in 1972 the track was changed to its current configuration as a 1/8 mile dragstrip.
As we at HRS continue to try to promote and preserve our hot rod heritage, it’s only natural that we feature George Ray’s Wildcat dragstrip. A place that time seems to have forgotten and a place where we belong.
What goes hand in hand with a vintage, historical dragstrip? A vintage drags event of course! You don’t want to miss this place and what may grow to be one of the premier vintage events in the country. The date has been set for May 8-10 2020. Step back to a simpler time in this magical place. We’ll see you there!
Photo Credit: Nate Luke, Charles Joliff, Glen Ellyn
NT HRS ‘19