Tom Macklin and Bruce Pascale '72 Cadillac Eldorado.

If hot rodders and street racers are the granddaddies of drag racing, its fathers are the land speed racers of southern California’s dry lakes. Beginning in the 1920s, stripped down jalopies, homemade hot rods, sophisticated racecars, and autos straight off a dealer’s lot made their way over the mountains and onto the long, flat surfaces of ancient lakes. There, pioneering drivers pushed their cars as fast as they would go. Top speed was all that mattered. Set a record and you won the respect of your peers. Prize money? Out of the question.

In the 1930s, one of those speed-obsessed Californians was a young man named Wally Parks. By 1937, he was editing the newsletter of the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), the newly formed sanctioning body that was organizing the dry lakes races. Just over a decade later, Parks saw the need for another racing association, one for drivers who wanted to go fast in a straight line, but didn’t want to go out into the desert to do it. They were the first drag racers, and you’ve heard of the organization that Parks created to rope them in -- the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA).

Drag racing quickly became more popular than land speed racing. Tracks could be located close to the cities and towns in which most hot rodders lived. Racing on them was safer than street racing, and -- good news to some, bad news to others -- it was legal.
But land speed racing -- on the dry lakes, the Bonneville salt flats, and temporary airport tracks -- never went away. Some say that it’s stronger than ever. That’s certainly the case on the southeast, where the East Coast Timing Association’s (ECTA) Maxton Mile land speed races have become highly anticipated events.
Pulling into the pits at the North Carolina’s Laurinburg/Maxton Airport, a former World War II training base that the ECTA uses for its races, is like stepping back in time. They’re all here -- hot rods, racecars, homemade specials, cars that look almost stock, and plenty of motorcycles, too. Also on hand are the men and women who race, own, and crew them. As with the land speed races of old, there is no prize money to be won or trophies to be earned. The racers and their crews make the pilgrimage because they’re obsessed with speed, passionate about racing, and in love with the challenge of building a machine that can legitimately chase a record. Besides, they know a good time when they see one.
On April 10-11, the ECTA’s 2010 season opened in spectacular fashion, with over 60 new top speed records being set on Maxton’s one-mile course. The highlights were undoubtedly the new absolute top speed records that were set for both cars and motorcycles. On the 10th, Mike Reichen ran his ‘94 Mitsubishi Evo II through the timing traps at 237.63474 miles per hour. No car had ever gone faster at Maxton, and that’s petty darned stout for a car with the aerodynamics of a brick and is fully licensed and insured for the street.