HomeCar CultureLike El Mirage, except on a mile of paved airport runway

Like El Mirage, except on a mile of paved airport runway


There is a delicious irony in the fact that the East Coast Timing Association was founded to provide a place for speed-record runs east of the Mississippi River, but this year, like last, its events will be held in Blytheville, Arkansas.

Yes, Arkansas, which is west of the Mississippi, though ECTA owner Steve Strupp points out that the racing venue, a former military base, is only 5 miles west of the river. 

The ECTA plans three of its Arkansas 1-Mile Challenge events in 2019, the first from April 26-28.

East Coast Timing Association, Like El Mirage, except on a mile of paved airport runway, ClassicCars.com Journal
Cars line up awaiting their trips down the airport runway | ECTA photo

“The Fastest Iron Beasts East of the Rockies!” is the updated tagline for the racing group which was founded in 1995 by Tom Sarda and John Beckett, who often traveled west to seek top speed on the Bonneville Salt Flats and wanted to provide speed-record run experiences closer to home for those who might not be able to travel so far.

“Before Bonneville became the pre-eminent land speed racing venue it is today, Daytona Beach was the Land Speed Mecca,” the ECTA notes on its website. “Sir Malcolm Campbell ran there, and many of the high-speed records of the ’20s and ’30s were set on that eastern beach. 

“Forty years ago you could still run cars and bikes on the hard sand around Daytona and Ormand Beach. In fact, Hot Rod Magazine ran a project Plymouth there back in the early ’60s. 

“Bonneville had several advantages to the beach,” the narrative continues. “There were no tides to contend with, and it had a longer running surface. With all the California hot rodders looking for a place to race after World War II, and after the loss of Muroc to the Army, Bonneville was a wonderful alternative and became, with increased competition, the new Land Speed Mecca.”

East Coast Timing Association, Like El Mirage, except on a mile of paved airport runway, ClassicCars.com Journal
The Garage Shop plans to return with ‘Project 39,’ its 1939 Ford truck that has run 200.4 mph
East Coast Timing Association, Like El Mirage, except on a mile of paved airport runway, ClassicCars.com Journal
Garage Shop owner Aaron Brown is a former NASCAR engine developer and also plans to enter a 2018 Ford Fusion stock car from Roush Fenway Racing in the Arkansas speed trials.

But northern Utah also was a long way away for many would-be speed seekers. While speeds Back East wouldn’t approach those achieved on the long stretch of salt flat, Sarda and Beckett wanted to model the historic El Mirage dry lakes events staged in the post-war era near Los Angeles. 

They were able to secure use of a former WWII air base runway at Maxton, North Carolina. The site was 210 feet above sea level, and with the advantage of traction provided by the concrete runway, they figured speeds would be similar to those achieved on El Mirage’s dry desert lake bed.

Things were going well, until the area around the airport was developed and a new location was needed. A site in Ohio seemed promising, but plans changed, as did the ECTA ownership. There was no racing in 2017, though the Arkansas Aeroplex and its Blytheville International Airport were secured as a site for racing just before Strupp acquired ECTA ownership early in 2018.

Strupp is based near Evansville, Indiana, where he operates Strupp Services, an arrive-and-drive service for those racing in long-distance road races and in speed trials here and abroad.

Founded as the Blytheville Army Airfield in 1942, the facility was a military flight school until 1945. It closed in 1946 but in 1955 was re-opened by the Strategic Air Command, and in 1988 was renamed the Eaker Air Force Base after Gen. Ira Eaker, commander of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in World War II. 

The facility was active during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. It closed in December 1992 and was transformed into the Arkansas Aeroplex and Blytheville airport.

Its runway is 11,602 feet long and 150 feet wide.

Strupp said he expects as many as 150 vehicles to take part in the upcoming April speed runs. 

For more information, visit the ECTA website.


Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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