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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Sparse but Speedy at the Classic
Thunder Southern Spring Nationals

By Bill Pratt

Alan Pope in Mike Coger's '39 Plymouth B/Gasser. Photo by Fantasy Photos
Alan Pope in Mike Coger's '39 Plymouth B/Gasser.
Photo by Fantasy Photos

Click to See More Ware Shoals Photos

After a rainout on May 17, the Classic Thunder tour returned to Ware Shoals Dragway for the Southern Spring Nationals. The sun shone brightly in Western South Carolina and the Classic Thunder teams put on a terrific race. Unfortunately, the crowd was relatively light, due in part to the rain date, and possibly due to several conflicting races in the region, including the world famous Super Chevy tour racing 80 miles away in Atlanta.

Ware Shoals was the scene of Classic Thunder's latest plan to pay pro racers a decent guaranteed payout. Unfortunately, only two altereds -- the consistently terrific Jim Dickey and Don Roddy teams -- and two front engine dragsters arrived to take advantage of the guaranteed payouts. Since Classic Thunder management had agreed to put up the money for the quickest 16 cars regardless of class, many of the Classic Gasser racers stepped up to their biggest ever paydays while several classic funny car, nostalgia dragster, and altered teams either stayed in the garage or bracket raced elsewhere. Full racer payouts appear in the sidebar. 

The Classic Thunder racers who did appear put on a phenomenal show. In addition to the two blown altereds and two front engine dragsters, the fans were treated to the antics of 18 rompin', stompin Classic Gassers.

The gassers came out for two qualifying rounds. In the Classic Thunder tradition, the quickest eight cars comprised the A/Gas field and the second eight comprised the B/Gas field. Two qualifying sessions produced the following lineups:


1. Robbie Draughon - 5.265
2. David Goodson - 5.419
3. Rickey Bowie - 5.467
4. Bailey Hastings - 6.041
5. Roger McConnell - 6.171
6. Steve Scott - 6.186
7. Chris Muenzer - 6.521
8. Jack Muenzer - 6.573


1. Alan Pope - 6.743
2. Gayland Durham - 6.759
3. Danny Austin - 6.857
4. Mac Pressley - 6.972
5. Jim Guillen - 7.133
6. Willie Wilson - 7.160
7. Robert Ashley - 7.293
8. Rob Bates - 7.388


9. Jerry Curtis - 8.054
10. Justus Daniel - 8.091

Round one kicked off with the B/Gassers and a race just for pride. Neither Jerry Curtis in his purple Fat Rat '41 Willys nor Justus Daniel in his brand new, still in primer Kaiser Henry J, qualified for the field. Nonetheless, they made exhibition runs in each competition round. Curtis, who had experienced severe handling woes in qualifying, got it all together to record a 6.11, 113 to defeat Daniel, who also improved at 7.60, 92.

Alan Pope, driving Mike Coger's wild, wheelstanding "Faded Memories" '39 Plymouth then kicked off the actual race in B/Gas with a close win over Jim Guillen's "Rolling Thunder" Ford Pop, 6.81, 94 to 7.06, 95.

New members Gayland Durham and Willie Wilson then locked horns. Durham took his first official Classic Thunder win with a 6.74, 89 to Willie's 7.03, 98. Both cars are show pieces. Durham's '41 Willys features a fogged silver paint job with see-through maroon flames. Gayland did all the fiberglass work and paint himself. Wilson's "Little Shakey" four door Ford Prefect is another fine piece out of Roger McConnell's shop. 

Up next was Mac Pressley in his Hartsoe Bros. machine taking on newcomer Rob "Snake" Bates in his '65 Ford. Mac has removed the blower from his car, hence the switch from A/Gas to B/Gas. Mac took the measure of the primered Ford, 6.41, 99 to 7.37, 101. 

Robert Ashley then took an upset win over Danny Austin when Austin's "Red Hot Ryder" machine took a turn towards the right guardrail on the launch. Austin corrected and got back on the throttle, but it was too late. Ashley's Comet Cyclone had defeated the Anglia, 7.32, 94 to 8.20 at 87 mph. 

A/Gas competition began with Bailey Hastings taking on Jack Muenzer. Bailey and his '33 Willys are local to Ware Shoals. Jack Muenzer and his Mondello Performance Parts '50 Olds is decidedly NOT local! He came all the way from Florida to race with Classic Thunder. Both racers improved from their qualifying times, but Hastings defeated the big, black Olds, 6.00, 112 to 6.49, 106.

Up next were Rickey Bowie and his wicked "Nitefire" blown small block Anglia taking on Chris Muenzer's "Back to the Future" '50 Olds. Bowie took the decision, 5.82, 110 to 6.56, 104. The father and son team of Jack and Chris Muenzer were surprised to find themselves in the A/Gas field. They usually match race each other, but they had a good time in competition.

The next race featured a match-up of two amazing cars. David Goodson's red, flamed Alabama Outlaw '69 Camaro roadster faced off against brand new member Steve Scott and his flawless '50 Henry J all the way from Tallahassee, Florida! Steve's machine is also hot red with orange and yellow metalflake flames that are best appreciated up close. Goodson's Camaro features a normally aspirated 500 plus cubic inch rat motor. Scott's machine features a screaming blown small block. After two killer burnouts (for which Goodson won the All Square Technology burnout contest), Goodson took a 5.29, 131 to 5.63, 125 decision.

The final A/Gasser match featured low qualifier Robbie Draughon and his slammed lemon yellow Thames panel truck taking on Roger McConnell in the nitrous assisted Mighty Mouse Anglia. Draughon had set the pace in qualifying with a 5.26. McConnell, who usually starts in the top two or three, had experienced problems and only qualified fifth. Things looked rough for Mighty Mouse, but when all seemed lost, the super rodent came through with a enormous holeshot to take the win! McConnell got off the line first, .064 to an extremely late .382, then held on for dear life as his 5.52, 129 beat Draughon's fast closing 5.33, 134. 

Only two nostalgia dragsters showed up to race in Ware Shoals. Roger Elmore has had his car at every Classic Thunder event since Midway last year, although it was not ready to run until this race. Ronnie Benton was finally going to get some track time in the blown Chrysler Wedge powered March Wind machine. Roanoke, Virginia's Pat Malloy showed up with a brand new California Chassis Engineering machine (a real Tuttle machine, not a kit). The small block Chevy powered Junior Fueler had never made a pass. The team worked feverishly to get a baseline tune-up into the motor in preparation for the first round. With only two machines on hand, Classic Thunder directors lined them up for a two out of three match race.

In the race, the blown March Wind blasted off the line with a 1.18 60 foot time and had the injected Chevy covered by a car length right off the line. Halfway down the track, however, the Chrysler machine slowed abruptly and the Chevy blew by for the first win, 5.50, 134 to 6.61, 72. Later analysis revealed that the March Wind had eaten its transmission. Unfortunately, the damage was not repairable and the Elmore team was through for the night. Malloy went on to take the default win via two singles.

The round ended with the amazing supercharged altereds of Jim Dickey and Don Roddy. These teams have really synchronized their acts, from side by side eighth mile burnouts to the staging "games" they employ in an attempt to rattle each other at the line. After their burnout and staging battle show, Dickey's KB powered '23-T put a win on the board with a terrific 4.23, 165. Roddy's Chevy powered '48 Fiat went 4.45, 158 in the loss.

Round two kicked off with match race runs by the losing first round gassers, followed by the actual gasser eliminations. These guys just like to race! The Muenzer team Oldsmobiles faced familiar opponents in the first match: each other! Son Chris defeated dad Jack on a holeshot, 6.51, 106 to 6.47, 106.

Jerry Curtis continued to show improvement over his initial qualifying numbers as the Fat Rat took a 6.05, 114 decision over Willie Wilson, who also found the sixes at 6.86, 103. Willie and his family were having a ball as they proudly carried on the tradition of African American gasser racers in the spirit of Stone, Woods & Cook and others.

Up next was "Snake" Bates with an improved 7.14, 100 in his brand new Ford. Snake reports that the car's primer pallor will give way to yellow or white pretty soon.

Jim Guillen and Danny Austin then faced off in what looked like a good one, but Guillen's team had to push back "Rolling Thunder" after it lost fire. This sent Danny on a 6.77, 99 single. Moments later, the Guillen team got their car fired and Jim recorded a 6.99 at 96 that only could have been more fun to watch if it had happened next to Austin's 6.77!

Robbie Draughon took his screaming yellow panel truck to a 5.21, 135 decision over Steve Scott's Henry J at 5.96, 119, and it was time for the consolation runs to cease and the eliminations to recommence.

In B/Gas competition, Alan Pope and Mike Coger's '39 Plymouth outlasted Robert Ashley's 289 Comet Cyclone, 6.71, 95 to 7.25, 94. Then, newcomer Gayland Durham took the next race in a double breakout over Mac Pressley. Double breakout? Hey, isn't Classic Thunder all heads up racing? Yes, except for B/Gas. The way it works is, 16 gassers qualify. The quick eight form the A/Gas field and the second eight form the B/Gas field. To prevent faster cars from sandbagging in order to race the slower B/Gassers, an index is established. The index is equal to one tenth quicker than the overall ninth qualifier (or the number one B/Gas qualifier). Tonight, that was Alan Pope at 6.74, so the B/Gas index was 6.64 seconds. Got it? Well, Mac Pressley took the former Hartsoe Bros. machine to a great 6.37, 107, but that was actually too quick and Durham's pretty Willys took the win at 6.50, 104. Also too quick, but not as bad as Mac!

In A/Gas competition, David Goodson took the measure of Bailey Hastings, 5.30, 132 to 6.03, 112. Roger McConnell then conducted his SECOND giant killing of the night on another massive holeshot. He left the line .030 seconds after the light turned green, compared to Bowie's .250 light. That was all Roger needed, as the Mighty Mouse ran away and hid from Nitefire, 5.50, 132 to a quicker 5.38, 130. The margin of victory: one tenth of a second - just over a car length!

After Pat Malloy made a 5.55, 140 single in his injected digger, Jim Dickey and Don Roddy lined up for round two of their titanic blown altered match-up. Roddy had tuned up the Chevy to try to narrow the two tenths of a second gap that Dickey enjoyed in round one. At the green, Roddy leapt off the line first, .086 to .134 for Dickey's purple and black machine. Dickey joined in hot pursuit, however, recording a great .998 60 foot time. The Ware Shoals starting line had teeth! It was neck and neck until about 500 feet, when Roddy's yellow Fiat became enveloped in a fine smoke or mist. It looked like it was hazing its tires or worse. Dickey zoomed by for the win with bracket-like consistency, 4.24, 172 to 4.51 at only 136. It was later discovered that Roddy's fuel line had shaken loose and popped off. The fine mist was methanol. Of course, that killed the motor immediately. Luckily, a test of all cylinders revealed no apparent problems, and Roddy began tuning up the rat for one last shot at Dickey's Hemi.

The final round kicked off with Danny Austin's Red Hot Ryder facing Jim Guillen's Rolling Thunder. The two drivers (who were supposed to meet in the previous round but ran singles when Guillen could not fire) finally got their match. Austin's orange machine took the win with his best run of the night. His 6.74, 99 not only beat Jim's 7.23, 96, it also qualified as the 16th quickest run of the day, netting Danny extra bucks!

Next, Robbie Draughon and Rickey Bowie matched up. The two favorites to meet in the actual final were here only to impress the fans, as Roger McConnell's work at the tree took both of them out earlier in the night. Draughon and his Top Sportsman truck took the measure of the Nitefire machine in this one, setting low ET for the gassers (and third quickest ET overall) with a 5.19, 135 over Rickey's game 5.39, 131. 

Mac Pressley then took the Hartsoe Bros. Anglia (with original 1970 paint!) to a win over Willie Wilson's four-door Prefect, 6.45, 107 to 6.89, 104.

Bailey Hastings and Jerry Curtis then faced off in a battle of Willys, Hastings in his burnt orange '33 machine and Curtis in his purple '41. It was a terrific race with Hastings holding off Curtis by the slimmest of margins, 5.98, 112 to 6.03, 115.

In the first final of the evening, Alan Pope in Mike Coger's "Faded Memories" B/Gas '39 Plymouth (complete with '41 Willys front end) faced Gayland Durham's true 1941 Willys. Pope's Classic Thunder debut had been a good one, as his wheelstanding antics had the fans on the edge of their seats all day. Durham had impressed all with his terrific looking and running home built car. At the green, Pope exploded off the line with a telepathic .003 reaction time. Durham was clearly late with a .181, but he took off after the fleeing Mopar. In the lights, it was too close to call, but the win light came on in Pope's lane. His 6.68, 101 had held off Durham's quicker but losing 6.55, 105. The margin of victory was a scant .056 seconds - about eight and a half feet!

In A/Gas, David Goodson's hot orange Alabama Outlaw '69 Camaro roadster had been killing them with 5.20s and 5.30s all day. Roger McConnell had used 5.50s and some amazing holeshots to take out two of the best. Did he have one more giant killing up his sleeve? At the green, McConnell did grab the holeshot, but Goodson was on his game, too. The lights were .035 for McConnell and .056 for Goodson. The race was close, but the Outlaw punched out the Mouse in a close one, 5.30, 132 to 5.41, 131. The two cars were .089 seconds apart in the lights -- about a car length.

Pat Malloy took what amounted to another test pass in his brand new rail. The injected Junior Fueler went 5.76, 124 as the team continued to shake out the new car. Pat left Ware Shoals happy and vows to return.

The final race of the night featured the two big dogs of every Classic Thunder event, Don Roddy versus Jim Dickey. Chevy versus Mopar. Rat versus Keith Black. Fiat versus '23 Model T. After another side by side eighth mile burnout, the two combatants dry hopped towards the line. At the green, the Chevy again left first, but Dickey was a blink behind, .045 to .060. The two stayed welded together all the way down the track, their motors screaming through the dense evening air. Only the electronic eye knew the winner. The light flashed in Dickey's lane. The Hemi had beaten the Chevy three straight. But what a battle it was. Dickey ran low ET and Top Speed of the Meet with a 4.220 at 175.10 mph. Roddy's Untouchables Fiat was a heartbeat behind at 4.273, 163.82. The margin of victory: .038 seconds... the closest race of the day in ANY category.

The Classic Thunder Southern Nationals at Ware Shoals was a fun race, but was somewhat disappointing in the turnout of the faster cars. The series promoters put up $8000 in guaranteed performance bonus money and paid it all (the happy recipients of which were a number of gasser racers who finally got their due). Once again, the Classic Thunder Gassers proved to be the heart and soul of the organization and this race proved that 16 gassers and two killer blown altereds make a terrific show by themselves. Hopefully, once word of full payouts hits the garage gossip circuit, more fast cars will come and try to get them. 

Sparse also were the fans. About 500 of them showed up. Impromptu polls in the pits cited several reasons for the light turnout: It was a rain date. Super Chevy Atlanta was 80 miles away (and was VERY well attended - we went down to have a look on Sunday). The bracket classes had been converted to Index classes and most local racers voted their disapproval by racing elsewhere. There were several other possible reasons, big and small. All lessons lived and learned.

Classic Southern Thunder - the second annual version of our amazing inaugural event - will return to Ware Shoals on August 9. All the lessons learned at this event will be put into place for that race. In the meantime, the Classic Gassers have several dates by themselves, including events in Douglas, GA, on June 7, Fayetteville, NC, on July 4, Wilkesboro, NC, on July 19, and even the Willys Home Run in Buffalo, NY, on August 2. Various Classic Thunder members also will trek to the National Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, KY, on June 21.

If you get a chance to see a Classic Thunder show, take the time to go. It might just make you remember why you fell in love with drag racing in the first place.

Bill Pratt

Payouts, Participation, and Happy Gassers

Classic Thunder guaranteed an $8,000 payout. Unfortunately, the crowd supported only 60 percent of that. The Classic Thunder directors made up the remainder. It should also be noted that track owner Bryan Butler accepted only 30 percent of his standard track leasing fee in order to contribute to the full payout to the racers. 

To recap, the Classic Thunder Southern Spring Nationals payout was based on a guaranteed $100 for each pro racer and each qualified gasser racer who made at least three runs. Above that, performance bonuses were paid to the quickest 16 cars, regardless of category. As many dragster, funny car, and altered racers opted to participate elsewhere or to sit home, the gasser racers swooped down for an unexpected (but well deserved) bonanza. The following list shows the payouts from Ware Shoals. Congratulations to all these racers and thanks for their participation. Racers listed by position, name, category, quickest elapsed time, and winnings. 

1. Jim Dickey, blown altered, 4.220, $1,000
2. Don Roddy, blown altered, 4.273, $900
3. Robbie Draughon, A/Gasser, 5.199, $800
4. David Goodson, A/Gasser, 5.298, $700
5. Rickey Bowie, A/Gasser, 5.385, $600 (waived)
6. Roger McConnell, A/Gasser, 5.416, $500
7. Pat Malloy, Classic Dragster, 5.509, $400
8. Steve Scott, A/Gasser, 5.630, $400
9. Bailey Hastings, A/Gasser, 5.985, $300
10. Mac Pressley, B/Gasser, 6.379, $300
11. Jack Muenzer, A/Gasser, 6.475, $250
12. Gayland Durham, B/Gasser, 6.509, $250
13. Chris Muenzer, A/Gasser, 6.514, $200
14. Ronnie Benton, Classic Dragster, 6.612, $200 (reduced to 30% since he made only one run - $60)
15. Alan Pope, B/Gasser, 6.681, $150
16. Danny Austin, B/Gasser, 6.744, $150

The following racers were not one of the quickest 16, but they all qualified in the gasser show and received their minimum guaranteed payment of $100: Rob Bates, Robert Ashley, Willie Wilson, and Jim Guillen.

Jerry Curtis and his Fat Rat '41 Willys gave the Classic Thunder directors a dilemma of conscience. The rules clearly stated that Gassers had to qualify to earn their guaranteed $100 payment. Jerry did not qualify, suffering handling difficulties on two attempts and finishing with a sub par 8.05. However, Jerry raced as a fan bonus in all three rounds. In round one, he dropped nearly two seconds with an amazing 6.113! He followed that effort with a 6.055 in round two, and finally, a 6.036 in the final round (the gassers raced in each of three rounds, even after being eliminated from the race). The 6.036 made him the tenth quickest racer in attendance, but since he did not qualify for the original show, Jerry was not eligible for the quick 16 bonus money. As one of the Classic Thunder directors, fifth quickest racer Rickey Bowie waived his award, but not before giving $100 of it to Jerry for his awesome performances.

That left one racer who did not finish in the quick 16 or did not qualify. With coffers in the negative zone already, there was no money to offer Justus Daniel, but for his participation, he was awarded a free Classic Thunder membership, valued at $65.

Classic Thunder directors Bob Gettys, Bill Pratt, and Rickey Bowie guaranteed the payout and they provided the full purse, but they had help. Bob and Debra Walker of Hot Heads Research and Racing kindly put up $1000 for Classic Thunder to use as needed. Unfortunately, it had to be used to help guarantee the payout instead of being used to augment the payout. Thanks to Bob and Debra for their generous support of Classic Thunder drag racing.

All Square Technology Computer Sales put up $100 for the best gasser burnout. David Goodson won that portion of the show with a long smoker in his Alabama Outlaw '69 Camaro. Thanks to All Square Technology for their support.

As part of the booking arrangement with Classic Thunder for this race, Ware Shoals track owner Bryan Butler agreed to accept only 30 percent of his normal track leasing fee in the event of lower than expected attendance. Bryan made no money on this event, but covered only the most minimum of expenses. Classic Thunder wishes to thank Bryan Butler for partnering with us to bring classic drag racing to Ware Shoals fans.

Going forward, the Classic Thunder organization will again look at the payout structure to see what makes sense. The seemingly conflicting goals are to offer an attractive payout to Classic Thunder racers while minimizing financial risk for the track owner and for the organization. Hindsight is 20/20, but looking at this race, it is apparent that in preparation for compensating faster, more expensive cars, we ended up paying racers considerably more than they would otherwise have received on a standard booked in show.

Do we have to do what "Berserko Bob" Doerrer has done at the annual Englishtown Funny Car Reunion? Do we need to establish strict performance levels for payment? The time may be coming. Our reasons for not doing so were that we did not want to impose an undue burden on racers that would have reduced participation. But if the racers aren't coming anyway, why guarantee the payout? Taking the question further, if the racers aren't coming anyway, why are we here? 

If a promoter were to call Classic Thunder tomorrow and ask what cars we could guarantee for an event, our answer would be "two killer blown altereds and 8 to 16 gassers." Those are the cars we know will come and race. With a few notable exceptions, we have no idea where we stand with the classic dragsters and the classic funny cars. Right now Classic Thunder could provide any track in the Southeast with a fantastic show consisting of our two blown altereds and 16 gassers. And we could do it for roughly half to 60 percent of payout for Ware Shoals. In fact, if we had been using that format, we could have escaped this weekend without another loss on the balance sheets and most of the gasser racers STILL would have made more than they've ever made. But a deal is a deal and we paid out according to our guarantee.

Regrettably, Classic Thunder's payout guarantee did not result in wider participation in the funny car, altered, and dragster ranks. So, it's back to the drawing board. A new payout scheme and class structure has been developed and will be announced shortly.

One thing Classic Thunder continues to pursue is an overall series sponsor who could underwrite all or part of the payouts and possibly the promotion for each event. With such sponsorship, Classic Thunder would post purses for each category, including winner, runner up, semifinalists, and first round losers. Then the racers could come and get it or not. We would give it a few events and if one or more of the categories did not receive increased participation, then it would be time to drop the category. 

As for now, the next Ware Shoals event will be different than this one. Nothing is set in stone at this time, so anything can change. But unless a white knight steps in, Classic Thunder is going to have to take steps to radically reduce our financial risk for the return to Ware Shoals. 

Again, details on this will be announced soon. In the meantime, constructive input from Classic Thunder members is welcome. bp

From the "Before You Read it On the Message Boards" department...

An incident appeared to go from scary to horrifying during Classic Thunder time runs, but it turned out to be less a potential disaster than a father's concern. Jim Guillen's son took an 8.09 second single pass in their new blown Fiat altered. At the top end, the young man got into severe tire shake. While reaching for the brake, he inadvertently hit the transmission lever, temporarily popping the car into and out of reverse. This sent the Fiat into a wild ride that ended with the young man spinning the car out on the top end. The crowd had just caught their breath after that when the next car in the staging lanes -- a gasser -- launched and headed down the same lane! Fans watched panic stricken as the gasser approached the top end, where the altered and a track official on an ATV sat. The gasser slowed down and stopped at the scene, eliciting a huge sigh of relief from the crowd. Then came the word over the walkie-talkie -- the gasser had not been sent on a run by the starter. The starter was the track official who rode to the top end on the ATV. The gasser was actually Jim Guillen, who was lined up to make a pass and who had just witnessed his son spin out. Jim merely used the quickest means at his disposal to get to his son -- the gasser he was strapped into! Jim's son was alright and will race another day with a lesson under his belt. bp

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