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Southeastern Gasser Tour

Gassers a Hit at Southern Classic Thunder

By Bill Pratt
Photos by Roger Richards and Brian Wood
(hold your cursor over each photo to see the caption)

Ware Shoals hosted the inaugural Southern Classic Thunder event in front of a packed house. Photo by Roger Richards

The Stage: Ware Shoals Dragway, originally built as a dirt track in 1956, was one of the first drag strips built in the Southeast. The Gambrell family owned a Drive In restaurant up on Route 25 in Ware Shoals, SC. The smooth strip of pavement in front of the Drive In became the place for ‘50s era hot rodders to show their stuff. The senior Mr. Gambrell, who also owned all the land across the highway, built Ware Shoals Dragway to get the street racers off Highway 25.

Ware Shoals fans packed both sides of the track. Roger Richards photo

The Narrators: My co-announcer in this production was Dent Johnson, one of the grand old gentlemen of the South. He was a knowledgeable drag racing announcer and a gracious host. Before each event, Dent drives his golf cart around, meeting and greeting as many of the racers as he can. This time, he took me, and we spent a leisurely hour meeting racers and recording their information in a relaxed, neighborly manner.

The Players: 

The Ernie Walker "Jungle Jim Funny Car Show." Brian Wood photo

Nostalgia Funny Car: The Jungle Jim Funny Car Show, starring Ernie Walker as Jungle Jim, Lonnie Partane as Jake Crimmins, and Jungle Jessica as Jungle Pam. The Byron, GA, based team includes the Jungle Jim Vega and the Swensen and Lani Mustang with Jake Crimmins' name on the door. The show includes a traveling funny car museum (with magazine photos of history's great Funny Car drivers on display) and a golf cart with police lights and sirens, gigantic header flames, and "Guitarzan" pumping out at 800 watts. Whether Ernie has a right to use the Jungle Jim name or not (see the story in the sidebar), the fans did enjoy the act.

Todd Bauknecht and Rick Murry burnout prior to their first match. Brian Wood photo

Modern Top Alcohol Dragster: Two modern day Top Alcohol Dragsters provided a stark contrast to the nostalgia cars. Todd and Michelle Bauknecht came all the way from Cleveland, TN, to race their '95 Uyehara machine. With 526 inches of blown Keith Black power on board, Todd was aiming to meet or better their best times of 3.96 seconds at 186 mph. Todd's crew consists of Mitch, Jack, Kenny, Scott, and Jeff. Todd's own Bauknecht Excavating sponsors the team. 

Rick Murry and the Schild Racing team also came from Cleveland, TN, in their late model Top Alcohol Dragster to face hometown pal Bauknecht.

Cecil Roberson in the Trimmer Racing Corvette. Roger Richards photo

Modern Top Alcohol Funny Car: Cecil Roberson was on hand with his "Trimmer Racing" Corvette Funny Car. With 526 inches of KB on board (and Alan Johnson heads on top), Cecil was looking to do some damage to the field and perhaps to eclipse his previous best numbers of 4.01 at 180 if the weather held. By the way, Cecil is a trim carpenter, hence the name.

The Roddy Racing Corvette. Roger Richards photo

Don and Sharon Roddy brought their own 1990 Corvette Funny Car. Don and his All Girl Crew have already won on the Southern Fuel Coupes tour this year and were looking for more at Ware Shoals.

Jim Dickey's supercharged '23-T altered. Roger Richards photo

Jim Dickey came up from Fairburn, GA, with his My Favorite Charity supercharged altered. Dickey has been one of the local hitters at Ware Shoals and he came to town to ensure that

The Southeast Gasser Tour: The Gasser Tour arrived in full force with 14 cars participating in an exciting show.

Rickey Bowie's awesome NiteFire lived up to its name. Roger Richards photo

Ringleader Rickey Bowie of Greenwood, SC was on hand with his supercharged 355 inch NiteFire '48 Anglia. Rickey was looking to stay top dog of this pack with his five-second beast.

Larry McClendon's Willys gasser. Brian Wood photo

Larry McClendon came from Ocala, FL with his ‘41 Willys. The car hits 7.20s and 7.30s in the eighth mile with a blown small block Chevy.

Mac Pressley's Hartsoe Bros. Anglia. Brian Wood photo

Mac Pressley came down from the Charlotte suburb of Stallings, NC, with the Hartsoe Bros. '48 Anglia. A blown 454 Chevy with carburetors provides the go power for driver Keith Davids. This car was the national record holder in 1970, 1971, and 1972, and the car still has the original paint it had when it set those records!

Jim Gullien's '57 Ford Pop. Roger Richards photo

Jim Guillen came down from Matthews, NC, with his great looking '57 Ford Popular known as "Rolling Thunder." Jim's car didn't reach the states until five years ago. It was brought over by an English schoolteacher. Jim's 385 inch Ford powered machine has run a best of 6.78 at 98 mph in the eighth.

Roger McConnell's Mighty Mouse. Brian Wood photo

Roger McConnell was there with the "Mighty Mouse II" '48 Anglia. The Mooresville, NC, racer uses a nitrous oxide injected 400-inch small block Chevy for power. The car has gone 5.24 on the juice, but can run 5.80s without it.

Danny Austin faces Jim Gullien. Roger Richards photo

Danny Austin from Locust, NC was on hand with his cherry '50 Anglia. Danny's car has been in storage for 17 years! He finally broke it out this year and lets a 355 inch small block Chevy do the pulling.

Mike Coger's injected Nova gasser. Roger Richards photo

Mike Coger from way down in Waynesville, GA (one hour north of Florida) had the newest car in the field. Mike's '69 Nova sported 477 cubic inches of Chevy Rat Motor on methanol. The car looked great with alternating read and yellow anodized injector stacks sticking out of the hood. Mike's big Chevy goes 5.80s and 5.90s in the eighth.

Dave Cox's Flattop II looked cool, but was shaking out the bugs. Roger Richards photo

Dave Cox came down from Dequila, GA (north of Atlanta) with his Flattop II – a '32 Ford with a 406 inch small block Chevy for power. On the roof of Dave's car were written the words "This Side Up," a reminder not to repeat a feat performed earlier this year.

Jerry Curtis and the Fat Rat. Brian Wood photo

Jerry Curtis brought the hot purple Fat Rat '41 Willys from Asheville, NC. The ‘Rat uses a 469 inch Chevrolet Rat (what else?) and has gone 6.15 at 112.

Gerald "It's a PLYMOUTH, dummy!" Baker was fun to watch. Brian Wood photo

Gerald Baker came down to stem the tide of Chevy powered entries with his 1941 Plymouth from Swannanoa, NC. The 451-inch Mopar powered beast has run a best of 6.08.

Ted Stiles' awesome Dodge pickup. Brian Wood photo

Ted Stiles was down from Raleigh, NC, with his unique '41 Dodge Pickup Truck. The 426 Max Wedge powered machine has a 7.03, 98 mph eighth mile pass to its credit and has seen the 11's in the quarter.

Robert Ashley's Mercury Comet. Brian Wood photo

Robert Ashley from right around Ware Shoals brought out his awesome Mercury Cyclone to take on all the visiting gassers.

Bailey Hastings, Jr. '33 Willys. Brian Wood photo

Local favorite Bailey Hastings, Jr., was on hand to turn back all the invaders with his rather modern '33 Willys.

Bailey Hastings, Sr., raced this cool straight axle '55 Ford. Roger Richards photo

Bailey Hastings, Sr., was on hand too, racing this awesome straight axle '55 Ford.

Plum Gone was plumb beautiful! Brian Wood photo

The Plum Gone car of Jack Moore was one terrific looking Austin Pickup Truck and it ran hard, too!

Matt Stambaugh driving the family's New Generation digger. Roger Richards photo

Nostalgia Front Engine Dragsters: Matt Stambaugh thrashed to make the Southern Classic Thunder event. As recently as the Thursday before the event, car owner Rick "Surf" Stambaugh reported that the car was still apart and the team did not know if they would make the show on time. But there they were, the New Generation digger now sporting an injected big block Chevy instead of the former blown small block.

The Smokey Mountain Express was the quickest nostalgia dragster on hand. Brian Wood photo

In town to face the New Generation machine were three bad hombres. The blown Smokey Mountain Express machine was one of them.

John Ring's Mountain Glass machine gets the once over from the fans. Brian Wood photo

Two tough tunnel ram and carb equipped machines were on hand as well, including John Ring's Clayton, GA-based Mountain Glass rail.

Alan Pittman and the Westbrook Motorsports Grave Digger! Roger Richards photo

The Pro Mods: Alan Pittman and Westbrook Motorsports – The Grave Digger '41 Willys. This internationally known drag racing star got his start running right here at Ware Shoals. When Ken Westbrook and Alan Pittman heard about the Southern Classic Thunder event, they generously agreed to appear and make some runs to support the cause of Nostalgia Drag Racing in the South. One of the most popular Pro Modified teams on either the IHRA or NHRA trail, the Grave Digger team rightfully commands a hefty sum to appear at booked in shows. 

The Grave Digger gets ready to run. Brian Wood photo

In an incredible display of generosity, Ken and Alan agreed to run at Ware Shoals for no guarantee... if the fans came, they would take as much of their regular appearance fee as the promoters could pay them. If the fans didn't show, then they'd just consider these test runs. (The Classic Thunder promoters and Ware Shoals were proud to be able to pay the Grave Digger team its full appearance fee.)

Alan and the Grave Digger burn out before an early check out pass. Brian Wood photo

When local Top Sportsman/Pro Modified racer Anthony White heard that Alan Pittman and the Grave Digger were coming back home to lay claim to the Ware Shoals track doorslammer records, it forced him into doing something that perhaps no other drag racer in history had done. He became the home town boy who also won the long distance award!

Ken guides the Grave Digger back into its tracks. Brian Wood photo

Anthony did this because his employer had closed up shop in South Carolina and shipped him off to work in faraway Texas. When Anthony got word that Alan Pittman and the Grave Digger were coming, he made a call back home and told them to fire up his CWA-sponsored 1990 Corvette and have it ready to face the ‘Digger for local doorslammer bragging rights.

Nothing beats relaxing at the drags on a Saturday afternoon. Brian Wood photo

Rehearsals: Despite cloudy skies and reports of rain in all the surrounding areas, drag racing fans started streaming into Ware Shoals Dragway at around 3:00 p.m. Promoter Raford Gambrell began to cheer up. Just then, word came that the breaker box in the concession stand had blown! It was a write off. Raford was about to have the biggest crowd of the year and there would be no way to feed them! Raford headed off to nearby Greenwood to buy a new generator. It was the first of many challenges...

This photo tells many tales. Rick Murry's tire tracks shows his shaking and following Todd Bauknecht through the lights after Todd reset the brand new track records. Hey, I like that new scoreboard! Brian Wood photo

Nostalgia and grudge match cars of all shapes, sizes, and eras made time runs all day long. Finally, two of the show cars came up for a time run. The cars were the Top Alcohol Dragsters of Todd Bauknecht and Rick Murry in the Schild Racing machine. After two monster burnouts that seemed all the more impressive given the fans' close proximity to the track, Bauknecht laid solid claim to the Ware Shoals track records with a 3.978 second blast at 181.79 mph! In the other lane, Rick Murry shook the tires and actually crossed the centerline at the top end to get the closest look at Bauknecht's new record.

What looks like a parade down the track is actually the local VFD rushing to the seen of a grass fire that ignited when a racer blew a motor and pulled off the return road. Roger Richards photo

Shortly thereafter, a racer got into REAL trouble. A grudge racer blew his motor at the top end and his engine caught fire. The racer didn't realize it, however, until he had turned around and started driving down the return road. Instead of stopping on the asphalt, the racer pulled off into a dry grass field next to some woods. Track officials were on the scene immediately and discharged a fire bottle into engine compartment. At the same time, the ambulance rolled to the scene and verified that the racer was out of the car and OK. Another track official pulled two more fire bottles from the bottom of the timing tower and made his way down to the top end.

The local VFD was on the scene in ten minutes, then stayed for the remainder of the race. Roger Richards photo

By this time, however, the grass under the car had ignited and the fire was starting to move towards the woods. The call came over the walkie-talkie to get the starting line fire extinguisher and to get the local Volunteer Fire Department on the phone. The three additional fire extinguishers had little chance against the rapidly spreading grass fire and the car fire. The VFD was there within ten minutes and got the top end blaze out, but unfortunately, the racer's car was a loss. With all but a few small fire bottles depleted, Raford worked a deal with the VFD fire truck to stick around for the remainder of the race after that. There were no further incidents.

The racer's ride was burned up, but he was OK to race another day. Roger Richards photo

Soon after that, of course, the skies opened up. It couldn't have rained when they were trying to put out the grass fire! Fans scrambled for their cars, but an hour later, everybody came back out. Almost nobody had left! The Ware Shoals crew commenced drying the track and it finally was time for the show to begin.

Bruce Dillion's Asphalt Hustler won the first round of Nostalgia Super Stock. Brian Wood photo

Act One: Things kicked off with Danny Goveia from Charlotte, NC, in the Carolina Thunder 409 '62 Bel Air Nostalgia Super Stock taking on Bruce Dillon from Jamestown, NC, in his Asphalt Hustler '63 Plymouth Super Stock with a mighty Max Wedge 426 under the hood. The Super Stock cars were not a planned feature, but made a terrific addition to the show. After lots of starting line antics, the Super Stocks were wheels up and rolling! Mopar got to chalk one up in the first round as Dillon's Plymouth took a close one over the bubble top, 6.69 at 104 mph to 7.03 at 98 mph.

Guillen takes the measure of McClendon in round one. Roger Richards photo

The rompin', stompin' Southeast Gasser Tour came out next with six B/Gassers and eight A/Gassers on tap. The B/Gas cars led things off with Jim Guillen's Rolling Thunder car taking a 6.72 to 7.414 win over Larry McClendon's big red Willys. 

Danny Austin (look close!) defeated Ted Stiles in round one. Roger Richards photo

Up next, Danny Austin took his red Anglia to a 7.02 to 7.52 decision over Ted Stiles' pretty yellow Dodge pickup. 

Ashley takes a close one over Hastings, Sr. Roger Richards photo

In a battle of local heroes, Robert Ashley's red Comet Cyclone took a close 7.22 to 7.336 decision over Bailey Hastings, Sr. in his great looking, straight axle '55 Ford.

Gerald Baker burns out before facing Keith Davids; Davids won. Roger Richards photo

The A/Gassers were next. First up, Keith Davids took the Hartsoe Bros. car to a stout 5.81 to handle Gerald Baker's unique '41 Plymouth at 7.20. 

Plum Crazy did not have enough to handle Mike Coger's big Nova in round one. Roger Richards photo

Mike Coger then lined up his massive (in comparison) injected '69 Nova against Jack Moore in the beautiful but diminutive "Plum Gone" '48 Austin pickup truck. It was Coger's turn to be Plum Gone, however, as the big red Chevy took a 6.01 to 6.579 decision. 

Rickie Bowie took a first round win over Roger McConnell. Roger Richards photo

Rickey Bowie then lined up his awesome blown "NiteFire" '48 Anglia against Roger McConnell's nitrous assisted machine. McConnell got the jump at the line with a great .410 light, but wheelstood right into the left guardrail, forcing him to lift. In the other lane, Bowie was laying down a backbreaking 5.55 second, 127 mph pass. 

Bailey Hasting's Jr. got a broke bye to the second round. Roger Richards photo

Local racer Bailey Hastings, Jr then brought out his '33 Willys for a broke bye and went 6.03 at 112 mph.

Matt "Nitrooo" Stambaugh lines up the New Generation for a match against the Smokey Mountain Express. Roger Richards photo

It was time for front engined nostalgia dragsters. Rick Stambaugh lined up the hastily prepared New Generation injected big block car against the supercharged small block Smokey Mountain Express machine. At the green, the ‘Express took off like a shot and recorded a 4.95, 123 mph to 5.519, 123.92 mph win over the injected car. 

John Ring backs up from his burnout prior to a first round win. Roger Richards photo

Next, John Ring took the Clayton, GA-based Mountain Glass digger to a 5.705, 126.65 mph win when his opponent broke.

Lonnie Partane and Ernie Walker prepare to fire up as "Jungle Jessica" looks on. Roger Richards photo

The Nostalgia Funnies were next with the Ernie Walker Jungle Jim tribute machine facing the Lonnie Partane Swensen & Lani tribute machine. The Vega is rigged up with a huge flame throwing device that shoots flames about twenty feet in the air when the car is first fired. Walker also has a second set of plugs routed to the headers to increase the appearance of header flames (an old Rickey Bowie trick, still in use on the NiteFire). 

"Jungle Jessica" lines up Ernie Walker after his burnout. Roger Richards photo

Playing Jungle Pam this evening was 14-year-old cutie Jungle Jessica, who was instructed in some of the moves of the great Ms. Hardy beforehand. Neither car got too much smoke on its burnout. Walker later attributed this to the cars running on pure methanol when they are used to a diet of 25 percent nitro. On the actual run, the Vega won handily, 6.43 at 103 to 7.35 at 83, as Partane continues to shake out the S&L Mustang.

Don Roddy and his All Girl Crew took the measure of Cecil Roberson in their first round match. Roger Richards photo

A battle of 1990 Corvette funny cars was up next. Don Roddy and his All Girl Crew machine faced Cecil Roberson and the Trimmer Racing flopper. After great burnouts that got the fans on their feet, Roddy took a 4.455, 163.81 to 5.519, 114 decision as Roberson broke something at the top end.

Jim Dickey had his blown 23-T on hand, but who would race him? Roger Richards photo

Three-time Southern Fuel Coupes champion Jim Dickey was on hand with the My Favorite Charity blown 23-T. Dickey was set to make a single run in the first round, but instead, Classic Thunder announcer Bill Pratt put out the call to see if there were any local grudge racers tough enough to face the blown altered. Sure enough, local dragster racer Larry Roberts stepped up to the challenge. 

Local racer Larry Roberts stepped up to the challenge of facing Jim Dickey's awesome altered. Roger Richards photo

Roberts' wife cranked up the nitrous a bit on the big block Chevy dragster and sent her husband to the line. All were ready for Roberts to post a respectable, but losing time. But the place went nuts when Roberts actually BEAT Dickey, the dragster driver recording his best ever run at 4.513, 154.63 mph to defeat Dickey's off pace 4.630, 142.46. Dickey later revealed that he had broken on that pass, but WOW, what an upset!

Rick Murry and the Schild Racing machine again had troubles hooking up and lost to Todd Bauknecht. Roger Richards photo

Todd Bauknecht and Rick Murry then lined up their Tennessee TADs once again, switching lanes this time. Bauknecht again took the measure of Murry, who again could not hook up the Schild Racing car. The times were 4.319, 147.94 to 5.055, 160.

With blood red eyes glowing, the Grave Digger took the measure of Anthony White's Corvette. Roger Richards photo

It then was time for the car all the fans were waiting for: the Grave Digger! As it came around the corner onto the track, its blood red eyes pierced the night. Every fan in the house was on his or her feet. Following a monster burnout, Alan Pittman lined up the green and black machine against game local hero Anthony White. After an even launch, Pittman pulled the Westbrook Motorsports machine to a clear lead, despite hazing the tires down the entire eighth mile. Score one for the Grave Digger, 4.53, 164.49 to 5.283, 111.79.

Junor Dragster grudge match winner Ty Randolph got to pose with his hero in the pits. There's a shot to treasure. Roger Richards photo

Intermission: Between pro rounds, the heavens opened up once again, not with a flood, but with a steady, bothersome drizzle that was just enough to put a damper on things and to slow down the program. After an hour, it was clear that we would not be able to complete all three planned pro rounds. Eventually, the skies cleared, the tired Ware Shoals crew dried off the track, and the second round commenced. This time, we did lose about half the crowd, but the fans that stayed witnessed more magic.

Goveia evened up the match with a single when Dillion couldn't show (photo from the first round). Roger Richards photo

Act Two: In Nostalgia Super Stock, only Danny Goveia could return after the rain delay. Bruce Dillon broke the big Mopar and had to hit the highway. Goveia evened up the match with another entertaining, 45 degree angle, chassis twisting launch, followed by a loud bang back to the pavement and a 7.73 second pass at 93 mph.

Ashley over McClendon in round two. Roger Richards photo

The Southeast Gasser Tour was up next and didn't disappoint. Robert Ashley's big red Mercury Cyclone claimed another victim as it defeated Larry McClendon's Willys, 7.18 to 7.40. 

Jim Guillen took a close win over Danny Austin in round two. Roger Richards photo

Jim Guillen's turquoise Rolling Thunder Ford Pop then took a 6.92 to 7.05 decision over Danny Austin's great looking red Anglia. 

The rugrats were in for free and enjoying every minute of the spectacle. Roger Richards photo

Gerald Baker was up next (thanks to the break rule) and won a 6.263, 119.80 decision over Jerry Curtis and the Fat Rat Willys at 6.66. 

The usually-tough Mighty Mouse was off the pace, lost to Plum Gone. Roger Richards photo

Up next, Jack Moore's purple Plum Gone Austin pickup grabbed a 5.88 second win as Roger McConnell's troubles continued in the Mighty Mouse. The ‘Mouse slowed to an uncharacteristic 6.68. 

Rickie Bowie has perfected the art of creating header flames at night. Roger Richards photo

Rickey Bowie was up next with the NiteFire Anglia. This car does the best burnouts and those methanol header flames are AWESOME. Every nostalgia funny car and gasser in the country should call Rickey immediately to find out how to implement this setup. In fact, all the Top Alcohol cars in the country should give him a call, too... 

Keith Davids made it close, but Rickie Bowie defeated the Hartsoe Bros. machine. Roger Richards photo

Rickey followed up the burnout and flame show with a stout 5.478, 129.33 win over the Mac Pressley-owned Hartsoe Bros. machine at a close 5.84 at 120.

Bailey Hastings, Jr. lauches, but Mike Coger is already gone to take a holeshot win. Roger Richards photo

Mike Coger then put the big Nova up on its tail at the tree and marched to a holeshot win at the expense of Bailey Hastings, Jr. and his slick '33 Willys, 6.010 to 5.997.

Another telling photo. Matt Stambaugh is nowhere to be seen, well on his way to a 5.53 to 5.44 holeshot win over John Ring. Roger Richards photo

The nostalgia digger finals were next. It was down to Matt Stambaugh in the fuel injected New Generation machine against John Ring in the carbureted Mountain Glass rail. (Stambaugh was back in the show after the Smokey Mountain Express driver packed up and hit the highway as soon as the second set of rain showers came through). "Nitroooo" Matt Stambaugh got the better of John Ring at the tree and won the nostalgia dragster title on a 5.537, 123 mph to 5.44, 128 mph holeshot.

The Ernie Walker machine did this once by accident, now does it for every show. Roger Richards photo

Ernie Walker and Lonnie Partane brought their nostalgia funnies back out with similar results, the Vega defeating the Mustang, 6.29 at 107 to 7.10 at 77.

Ernie Walker took a second straight decision over Lonnie Patane. Roger Richards photo

With Cecil Roberson broken, the final two matches were supposed to be Don Roddy's funny car versus Anthony White's doorslammer, followed by Jim Dickey versus Alan Pittman in an all out battle for Ware Shoals bragging rights. It was not to be, however, as SFC champ Dickey also broke on the first run.

The All Girl Crew gets Don Roddy ready for his match with Larry Roberts. Brian Wood photo

What to do? The call went out once again for the "The Giant Killer," Larry Roberts. While Don Roddy and the All Girl Crew lowered the body on the screaming yellow Corvette funny car, Larry Roberts' "All Woman Crew" (his wife) helped him prepare the nitrous dragster. Roddy did a blazing, half track burnout. Roberts did a modest one that just did cross the starting line. After all that, the digger lined up next to the flopper and... HE DID IT AGAIN!!! Roberts once again put out one of the show cars when Roddy inexplicably redlighted away a 4.539, 158.47 mph run. Roberts tooled through at a coasting, but winning, 4.95 at 107.

With the Jolly Roger flying, the Grave Digger does an eighth mile burnout! Roger Richards photo

Alan Pittman did a crowd pleasing, eighth mile burnout, then lined up the blown Grave Digger Willys against Anthony White in the nitrous-injected CWA Corvette. Pittman was vulnerable, hazing the tires all the way down the track to a 4.737, 158.22 mph pass, but White couldn't capitalize, the Corvette following the Willys through the traps at 5.035, 123.

Cecil Roberson and crew thrashed hard to make one more pass for the fans. Roger Richards photo

All that was left was the finals of the Southeast Gasser Tour, but the fans got a bonus. Cecil Roberson and his crew kept on thrashing on the Corvette funny car and got it back together. They came out to make a run for the fans. After a nice launch, the Trimmer Racing Corvette made a 500 foot blast and then hit the chutes on a 5.53, 106 never say die effort.

Mike Coger is already in motion on a redlight as Rickey Bowie prepares to run him down for the win. Roger Richards photo

The Southeast Gasser Tour final was between the crushing blown NiteFire Anglia of Rickey Bowie and the massive '69 Nova of Mike Coger. Bowie had a clear performance advantage, but Coger was chopping down the tree all day and looked to make it close. Mike chopped a little too close in the final, however, getting a redlight for his efforts and tossing away a fine 5.548, 117. Bowie chased the Nova all the way through the traps to capture the event title with a 5.471 at 129.85 mph blast.

The South Carolina skies were putting on a show for free. Brian Wood photo

Epilogue: Despite a number of challenges, the inaugural Southern Classic Thunder event was a huge success.

The fans packed Ware Shoals and really enjoyed the action. Brian Wood photo

The fans (more than 1,850 paid tickets) were overflowing and happy. (Plus kids under 12 were admitted free and local racers could get crewmembers in for free). That means there were well over 2,000 people stuffed into tiny Ware Shoals Dragway. I don't know where we would have fit any more.

The Grave Digger pits were a popular hangout all day long. Brian Wood photo

The Ware Shoals track owner was happy. It was his biggest event in recent memory. He will be using part of his take for track upgrades.

The Southeast Gasser Tour did themselves proud, both in attendance and in performance. Brian Wood photo

The show racers all got paid and were happy. In fact, of the promoters' portion of the gate, 71.4 percent was paid out to the show cars. Most of the racers received more appearance money than they ever had before.

It rained everywhere else, but luckily, the Ware Shoals crew only had to do this twice. Brian Wood photo

By the way, the Southern Classic Thunder promoters got this crowd despite rain storms all day in the surrounding areas that certainly held down the crowd. (The phone in the timing tower rang off the HOOK with folks asking if the race was still on.) It also rained twice at the track that day, and the fans waited patiently (the first time, anyway).

Thanks again to Ken Westbrook and Alan Pittman for helping to make the inaugural Southern Classic Thunder event a success! Roger Richards photo

According to the manager of the Cross Creek Mall, the Friday night car show the most well-attended event the mall had ever had. By the way, all this was accomplished with less than one month's worth of promotion. 

All this bodes very well for the Classic Southern Thunder series and for nostalgia drag racing in the southeast.

Bill Pratt

Brian Wood
Roger Richards

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