As hot rodding moved into the cities, the urge to have races and speed contests remained. No one wanted to drive all the way out to the desert to do a land speed run on a dry lake bed that would gum up the paint though, so people raced on the streets instead. People would gather on long, open straightaway streets and test their cars and themselves. Weekend nights on streets such as Wilshire Blvd in downtown LA would be filled with the sound of screeching tires and roaring engines. In addition to racing in straight lines, some even more daring individuals would take to the Hollywood Hills and race along Mulholland Drive. Before and after races, people would gather at fast food joints like In-N-Out Burger and show off their cars--an image that still holds true today with local cruise in gatherings and numerous examples of pop art from and representing the era.
These fete's of speed and demonstrations of testosterone addled invincibility were often accompanied by personal injury and property damage for the drivers and those around them. This bad boy, rebellious image became attached the hotrod. To try to stem this association, some hot rodders formed organizations to conduct short distance speed trials under safer, sanctioned conditions. The most important of these organizations was the National Hot Rod Association. By defining the structure under which drag racing, including 1/4 mile and 1/8 mile trials, was to be conducted and facilitating the creation of safe tracks to perform the races on, the NHRA began a tradition of safely conducting speed trials that it continues today.
Hot rod drag racing still had plenty of rebels racing on the streets long after the 1951 establishment of the NHRA, of course. We still have street races today all over the country. But for the most part, drag racing moved to the track. Even still, pop culture had its go at glorifying the rebellious teen drag racers in such movies as the previously mentioned American Graffiti as well as songs by the Beach Boys like Little Deuce Coupe and Shut Down.
Next time I'll explore the growth of the Kustom and Beatnik rods.
Pictured is the famous "Little Deuce Coupe" from the Beach Boys 1963 album of the same name.