The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2011. NASCAR Sprint Media Tour participants visited with guests from that sanctioning body on Thursday. The panel included NHRA President Tom Compton, Charlotte Motor Speedway President and General Manager Marcus Smith, 2010 NHRA Top Fuel Champion Larry Dixon and drag racing legend Shirley Muldowney.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since we sat here and talked about building the Bellagio of drag racing,” Compton said. “At our awards ceremony last November, we presented Bruton [Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI)] with a ‘Wally’ trophy for what he’s done for our sport. We’ve never honored a non-driver like that before.”

Compton said that the NHRA will celebrate its 60th season in 2011 with “an homage to hot rods and our fans.” The celebration will include a number of special events, such as vintage car shows, cacklefests, tribute car races, meet-and-greets with legends and displays of the most famous cars to ever run in NHRA competition.

“The NHRA Legends program is how we will introduce our young fans to the glory of the past at races,” said Compton. “Those Legends will participate in special media events before and during races. A very special one is the Walk the Track program, where a lucky group of fans will get to walk the track before final eliminations on Sunday with one of the legends of our sport.”

The 60th anniversary celebration will begin in Pomona, Calif., at the 51st running of the Feb. 24-27 Kragen O’Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals. At that race, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme will be honored and a collection of his race cars will be on display in “The Snake Pit.”

“This year, we have compiled a list of the 60 greatest moments in NHRA history in chronological order,” said Compton. “We’re going to ask our fans throughout the season to exercise their expertise and passion to come up with the ranking of items on this list.”

Compton said Muldowney is on the list of 60 highlights. This summer marks the 35th anniversary of her becoming the first woman to win in Top Fuel in NHRA competition, which she did in Columbus, Ohio, in 1976.

“It wasn’t as hard as people might think [to be a woman in NHRA] because NHRA was the first sanctioning body in any sport to accept women as equal to men,” Muldowney said. “The media supported me from day one. I can’t even remember a bad experience with any member of the media.”

Muldowney will be the featured legendary driver at zMAX Dragway’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals April 14-17. She will sign autographs and there will be more than 20 historic race cars on display.

Dixon turned in a perfect final-round record on his way to becoming the 2010 champion. He commented on the buildup to the championship.

“It was certainly more than you can ever expect or imagine,” Dixon said. “I really didn’t think about it too much until we got to Indianapolis for the U.S. Nationals. We were nine for nine at that point. I thought, ‘Gosh, if I lose this one, nine out of 10 isn’t bad,’ but I did not want to lose Indy. We had the best light of the day and took it.

“My dad raced Top Fuel cars, not on the full tour like Shirley and Snake and Garlits. Ever since I was a little kid, all I wanted to do was drive Top Fuel cars. I was in Columbus watching when Shirley won her first race. I thought, ‘How cool is that? Not have to have a real job?’ That’s what I was about.”

A reporter asked Marcus Smith how his father Bruton got involved in building dragstrips for NHRA competition.

“He loves cars,” Marcus said. “He loves racing. Jeff Byrd [former general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway] was probably the reason he got involved in drag racing – he had all that experience with NHRA. When we bought Bristol, Byrd said we ought to build a dragway. Dad did it. They built Thunder Valley. Ever since then, it’s become another love of his in racing.

“I grew up in the NASCAR world, but now, it’s fantastic [to be involved with NHRA]. If you haven’t been there, you have to experience it. I haven’t been to a cacklefest before, so I’ll have to see one of those.
“We see the fan base. We see the excitement of the racing. There has been a lot of growth in the last 10 years. SMI has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in NHRA.”

Compton also announced the creation of a limited-edition pewter version of the Wally trophy that will be awarded during the 60th anniversary season.