Bill Doner has always been famous for his outlandish, one-of-a-kind promotions. As President of International Raceway Parks Inc., in the 1970s, his corporation produced events at seven different race tracks throughout the west.
He personally voiced and produced all those creative radio ads from Seattle to Los Angeles, Irwindale to Fremont and Portland, along with a couple of other tracks up and down the West Coast. Even to this day, his rapid-fire, hard-hitting radio ads are often talked about and remembered as a great piece of Americana. Those ads have had a long-lasting impact.
An aerial photo of the Vanport area where the community of houses for WWII shipyard workers were once located. The dike on the perimeter broke, flooding the entire area in the 1950s and wiping out all the homes there. In the 1960s the vacant streets were used for street drag racing under the direction of Portland’s then-Mayor Terry Shrunk. His plan was to allow local “gear heads” a safe place to race instead of the continuing street racing that was taking place through-out the area. The program worked well and laid the groundwork for a future race track to be located within the park-like atmosphere that was developed at that site.
On the West Coast, the multitude of events always took different shapes but they were never short on ground-pounding excitement. There was the Professional Dragster Association series, huge Funny Car events, National Opens, Fox Hunts (all girls are free) and a long list of stunt shows included at drag racing events. Always controversial, but certainly never dull ... that was, and is, Bill Doner.
The Doner-style creativity is unparalleled in the sport, .and so was his ability to put together the seven-track trail leading from Seattle, in the Northwest, to Orange County in Southern California. From a pure business perspective the multiple bookings of the most popular cars in the sport was a perfect move throughout the West Coast.
He could offer race fans different race teams than they had ever seen before at their local drag strip. Big-league drag racing would take place right there in their own backyard. Talk about convenient; it was like going to the local movie theater to see a major presentation take place in the great outdoors. These motorsports presentations had those eye-watering nitro fumes and plenty of ground-pounding action, all in one evening where you could be home by 11 p.m.
For the racers it was a perfect scenario also. Doner could book them in several different tracks, and if one got rained out he could make it up to them at another track. They had some insurance if inclement weather spoiled their scheduled date as they all needed the income to survive.
The cash flow was very important. In those days, when the dollars stopped, the race teams simply and painfully came to a halt. Having one guy control nearly the entire West Coast made for good results on both sides of the picture, for the racer and for the race fans.
When it came time for the Portland to bring in a new promoter for drag racing they needed to look no farther than Seattle International Raceway, the home of Bill Doner and IRP. It was the perfect match-up for motorsports fans in the Northwest.
With the huge success that Doner had already had in Seattle, if he could just get Portland in line, the facility there would be the perfect steppingstone to that Seattle event. Similar to the concert venues, being able to double-date these race cars would allow for a dynamite local happening during summertime in each of these markets.
Seattle was already established, and adding Portland into the mix would really lock in the future for this unique program. There would be nothing like it anywhere else in the country.
Sure, there were several promoters in the U.S. producing large drag racing events, but certainly not on the scale that Doner was. He basically had the entire West Coast locked up in most of the major markets.
With Portland International Raceway coming into the IRP fold in 1973, a 32 Funny Car event was established there to give the touring cars another race date. More races in the Northwest would assist in covering their costs to travel to the Northwest.
Better quality of cars, the bigger the crowds. That was the plan for Portland on Saturday night in late July before Seattle's 64 Funny Cars.