his inaugural Winternationals was held on seven nights, February 7-13, 1960, at the Flagler-Bunnell Airport, a few miles north of Daytona Beach, just minutes from the new Daytona International Speedway. The seven-night schedule paralleled racing at the new oval track and also addressed a problem facing the entire Speedweek schedule.
Like NHRA itself, this first “Winter Nationals” grew out of the need to eliminate dangerous, illegal street racing. During previous Speedweek races, after-hours street racing on the old beach course and on city streets quickly earned an unsavory reputation with police, civic officials and citizens. Wild, often drunken young people were creating a potentially lethal situation, jeopardizing the fledgling Daytona 500 and the new speedway itself! It became apparent that more than increased law enforcement was needed. Sanctioned, insured and supervised drag racing was the answer, and both NHRA and NASCAR considered developing an alternative.
Sanctioned drag racing events were hardly a novelty. In fact, drag racing had made substantial progress in Florida. This was due largely to the efforts of a Miami-based organization patterned after the Southern California Timing Association. The Miami group even called itself the “South Florida Timing Association”, or “SFTA”.
In California, organized drag racing grew from the efforts of Wally Parks, founder of the National Hot Rod Association. In Florida, Wally’s alter ego was a young man named George E. Schorb, “Ernie”, as racers knew him. Wally and Ernie thought very much alike, enough so that Wally was quick to enlist Ernie’s assistance in organizing and sanctioning, under the NHRA banner, racers and tracks in early 1950’s Florida.
Other notable racers competing at the first Winter Nationals included Shirl Greer, George Weiler, Ollie Olsen, Dick Griffin, Charlie Seabrook, and Sam Gellner. All went on to successful NHRA racing careers.
Don Garlits had only recently recovered from burns suffered in a dragster engine explosion and fire. He returned to competition at the Winter Nationals, driving his brother Ed’s gas burning, (NHRA’s fuel ban was in effect) blown Chrysler dragster to Top Speed honors at 165+ mph. Unlike Carden, Garlits didn’t run all seven nights of competition. When the results were announced, Garlits hotly protested, countering that his many 160+ runs and 165 mph Top Speed performance should have earned him the event’s overall honors. Carden, having run all seven nights with more TE wins, was declared the official overall winner. Carden did record a best of 9.55 at 141.95 mph, good for a B/Dragster in 1960. Carden’s final win came over Joe Jacono, in a Buick powered A/Modified Roadster.
Middle Eliminator honors went to another racer who would become familiar to East Coast fans. Arnie Swenson, from Milltown, New Jersey, would be known for his driving skills in the wild-handling Swenson & Lanni AA/Altered and early nitro Funny Cars. He won the Winter Nationals title in his Buick powered ’30 Ford pickup.
Stock Eliminator was won by an Illinois farmer destined for future drag racing legend status. Arnie Beswick, of Morrison, Illinois, drove his 1960, 389″ tri-power, four-speed equipped, Pontiac Catalina to the Stock win over Harold Ramsey’s ’57 Chevy, winner of the ’59 NHRA Nationals.