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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Marathon at Midway: Southern Classic Thunder II

By Bill Pratt
Photos by Brian Wood

Roger McConnell was the class of the gasser field at Midway with the nitrous assisted Mighty Mouse. Photo by Brian Wood
Roger McConnell was the class of the gasser field at Midway with the Mighty Mouse II.
Photo by Brian Wood

The Classic Thunder Nostalgia Drag Racing series came to Midway Drag Strip in Greeleyville, SC, on September 21 to host "Southern Classic Thunder II." The second race in the fledgling Classic Thunder series, the Midway event offered several challenges from timing system woes to breakage, but the chief challenge involved a lack of race fans to see the spectacle due to inadequate local promotion. Nonetheless, Classic Thunder racers put on a fantastic show for the fans.

Some new faces and cars joined the Classic Thunder "veterans" from the Ware Shoals race.

Red Coleman came up from Centerville, GA, with the former Gene O'Neil-owned Gene's Speed Shop Snidely Whiplash car (from Massachusetts). The '72 Cuda body features original paint and is draped over an original Rollie Linblad '72 chassis. The car is powered by a 468 Chevy on alcohol topped by an 8-71 blower in front of a Powerglide. Red claims best times of 7.80 at 170.

"Dangerous Don" Gatliff also came up from Centerville, GA, with his 400 cubic inch small block Chevy powered Monza. With 75 percent nitro in the tank and a 6-71 up on top, Don claims to be the world's fastest small block Chevy Fuel Funny Car.

Todd Wilson came up from Warner Robbins, GA, to race Ernie Walker's Swensen & Lani Mustang tribute car. Todd, who has taken the car to a shut off 6.32 best so far, is the son of long-time Shirl Greer partner Billy Wilson. Billy was part of the gang that won the 1974 NHRA World Funny Car championship with the Chained Lightning Mustang. As the 1996 Super Pro track champion at Silver Dollar Raceway, Todd looks to win his share of races right at the starting line.

Jack and Chris Muenzer came all the way from Largo, Florida, with their immaculate pair of 1950 Oldsmobiles. Both cars are black and flamed with different flame designs. Father Jack's Mondello Oldsmobile Performance Products machine features a 482 cubic inch Olds with two Holley Dominators on gas. Son Chris' "Back to the Future" machine also features a 482 inch Olds, but is Hilborn injected on alcohol.

George Wright from Cottageville, SC, showed up with an immaculate metal flake royal blue AA/Fuel Dragster with "Jungle George" lettered on the side. The car featured a "CMX" chassis, which is a new East Coast builder who works from Dave Tuttle blueprints. George said he had cranked up the big 454 Chevy only one time before. An earlier test session was rained out so this was the first time running the car. Crew chief on the car was the venerable Fred Bell, the Junior Fuel racer from Chicago. Fred and George planned to start on 30 percent nitro and tune up from there.

Asheville, NC's, Glen Sommers was at Ware Shoals, but we didn't catch his name. Glen's "Smokey Mountain Express" front engine dragster features a blown alcohol 358 inch Chevy with Dart heads and a 6-71. Glen says that the machine is Troy Green's old Top Fuel car.

Jim Holland showed up with a great looking 1950 Austin pickup. The flamed royal blue machine caught a lot of attention in the pits and on the track.

On display in the pits was the "March Wind" front engine dragster. The car is owned by Roger Elmore. Ronnie Benton is the fabricator, machinist, and shoe. The car started as a pile of moly tubing in August 2001. The chassis is Roger's design and Vinnie at CMX did the tin work and fuel tank. The motor is a blown 446 Chrysler Wedge on alky. The team hopes to shake down the car at Classic Thunder Darlington.

Ernie Walker kicked off the show with the Jungle Jim tribute Vega. With a fat tune-up for safety, Ernie laid down a LOUD 5.53 at 128 mph test pass. The Vega sings a whole new tune on 25 percent nitro.

An A/Factory Experimental match race was next. Mike Coger ran as a gasser at Ware Shoals, but since Locust, GA's, Paul Shelton was on hand also with a later model car, the two ran as FX machines. In the opening match, Coger's injected rat '69 Nova took out Shelton's '67 Camaro, 6.19/110 to 6.37/108.

Up next was the father/son battle of the '50 Oldsmobiles with Jack Muenzer facing son Chris. Dad won round one on a holeshot, 6.559 to 6.551, the Mondello machine barely holding off the Back to the Future car. These cars are bitchin'!

The rompin', stompin' Southeastern Gasser Tour was up next with a first round that also served as a qualifying session. Up first were Roger McConnell's nitrous injected Mighty Mouse II Anglia with a great 5.69, followed by Heath Daniel in the Mac Pressley-owned Hartsoe Bros. machine at a 5.883/118.50.

Jim Holland then took his beautiful blue 50 Austin to a 5.852/118 as Jack Moore's Plum Gone pickup slowed to a 7.53 with troubles.

Rickey Bowie's incredible blown Nitefire machine then slammed a 5.605/116.13 as Gerald Baker broke his unique Plymouth.

Jim Guillen went 6.90/96 in his "Rolling Thunder" '57 Ford Popular as Jerry Curtis broke the Fat Rat '41 Willys.

Robert Ashley finished the round in his 302-powered "Super Cyclone" 1965 Comet Cyclone. Ashley put the big Merc through its paces at 7.146/95.09.

Round two kicked off with the fuel dragsters. Glen Sommers lined up the blown "Smokey Mountain Express" against Matt Stambaugh's "New Generation" injected big block. Sommers' screaming small block took the measure of the Virginia car, 4.74/150.00 to Matt's 5.68/119.

Up next was the debut of "Jungle George" Wright and his immaculate fuel dragster. With a super fat tune up, foot high header flames were blubbering out of the rat motor. At the hit, the showpiece went skyward! Wright got out of it and the car came slamming back down to the ground. Unfortunately, the frame was bent and the car couldn't come back for round two. But George Wright and wrench Fred Bell sure did make a memorable debut!

After Jack Moore took the Plum Gone Austin to a cool test run at 5.95/115, it was time for the nitro nostalgia funny cars! 

Making its competition debut was the small block Chevy powered '77 Monza of "Dangerous Don" Gatliff. Don, who crewed for Shirl Greer for many years, put together this mouse motored nitro car to compete in his Dixie Classic Funny Car association. 

Facing Don was Donnie Reaves. Donnie had impressed all in attendance at the Englishtown Funny Car Reunion with his period-correct 1968 Camaro flopper known as "Fascination." Donnie was battling a case of the flu, but drove five hours to Midway to meet his obligation. What a professional. Gatliff's mouse had enough for Reaves' rat, however, as Dangerous Don took the win, 5.542/134.13 to 6.621/104.68.

Red Coleman's antique Cuda, brought in as a back up car for the Gatliff/Reaves match, lined up against Cecil Roberson's 1990 Corvette Top Alcohol machine on a lark. Coleman rolled the beams and motored through, while Roberson took a stout 4.970/139.42 win.

The classic Olds were up next, and Chris Muenzer evened it up with dad Jack, nailing the old man with a 6.534/104.72 to 6.498/105 holeshot win.

Danny Austin was fretting early in the day. His '50 Anglia had no brakes! Danny's machine uses Olds pieces but there were none to be found in the pits. But somebody had some Chevy pieces... and an hour later, Austin was seen making short stops and starts in a staging lane to test his newly-machined solution. Ah, hot rodders! Austin used his second chance to good advantage, defeating Jim Guillen. Danny got no time, but Guillen lost at a 6.96. The Midway timing system experienced bugs all night and kept the track personnel hopping. 

Jim Holland took a 5.774/119.14 broke bye win, then Robert Ashley -- who also competed in Midway's bracket program -- laid a major holeshot on Ted Stiles and drove away, 7.117/95.23 to 7.730/88.11.

Jerry Curtis then laid down a career best run in his Fat Rat '41 Willys. The big blue machine ran a great 6.066/114.23 to knock a tenth off his best ever times and to avenge a recent loss to Gerald Baker, who had defeated him at Ware Shoals. Baker's Plymouth trailed at 6.989/76.31.

Heath Daniel got a win for the legendary Hartsoe Bros. machine at 5.809/119.72 when Jack Moore's Plum Gone skated all over the place to a  6.106/114.27.

Roger McConnell then pulled off an upset of Rickey Bowie with a big holeshot win, 5.599/128.04 to 5.549/127.91. Chalk one up for the nitrous guys!

The A/FX cars were next as Paul Shelton evened it up with a 6.316/109.72 to 6.339/104.36 win over Mike Coger.

Don Roddy and Jim Dickey then lined up in the outlaw blown alcohol battle of the Carolinas. Roddy led off with an eighth mile burnout and Jim laid down a similar effort. This was followed by a huge burndown with neither car wanting to enter the staging beams first. Finally, Dickey went in. At the green, it was all Jim Dickey, the supercharged altered making short work of the Corvette Funny Car, 4.473/158.49 to 5.372/128.41. The Roddy machine had definite mechanical problems and they rushed back to the pits to get busy.

Round three kicked off with the A/FX cars. Well, OK, so it didn't... The match between Mike Coger and Paul Shelton was a draw because it never happened. In a strange turn of events, the Midway starting line crew lined up Paul Shelton's Camaro against a local grudge race "No Time" car. Shelton tried to stay back in the water but the starter insisted! So Paul pulled into the beams and promptly blew the local guy away but of course got no times. An amused Mike Coger followed with a 6.062/112.74 single. I guess we'll settle this race another day.

Jerry Curtis then had a single in the Fat Rat, but he didn't take it easy. Curtis knocked yet another tenth off his ever times, finding the fives with a great 5.97/116.15.

Robert Ashley and Danny Austin then staged a terrific gasser battle. The big Merc and the Anglia were welded together down the eighth mile with Ashley squeaking out a 7.070 to 7.073 win.

Heath Daniel took the Hartsoe Bros. car to another win at 5.771 as Gerald Baker's troubles continued with a shut off run.

Roger McConnell then took a close decision over Jim Holland's gorgeous Austin pickup, 5.626 127.37 to 5.784 119.22.

The family feud between Jack and Chris Muenzer went to the younger generation when dad Jack broke. Son Chris took his awesome flamed Olds though the lights at 6.54/104 to win two out of three.

Jim Guillen's Ford Pop then took the measure of Ted Stine's 40 Dodge pickup, 6.852/96.95 to 7.676/88.45.

The final gasser race was anticlimactic. The normally rock solid Rickey Bowie broke on the line, sending Jack Moore's "Plum Gone" on a 6.029/111.68 single.

As happened at Ware Shoals, Matt Stambaugh wasn't the quickest dragster, but he apparently was the only one allowed to stay up past bedtime. With Jungle George on the trailer with a bent frame and Glen Sommers on the highway home, Nitrooo Matt lined his injected rat digger up against the next best thing: Cecil Roberson's flopper. Matt put up a gutsy fight, but in the end, the blown alcohol car nipped him, 5.005, 137.82 to 5.399, 125.67.

Nitro classic funny cars were next. After Donnie Reaves made a clean single at 6.162/113.87, Dangerous Don lined his mouse-powered Monza up against Red Coleman's Snidely Whiplash Cuda. The dangerous one laid down an awesome eighth mile burnout, followed by a '70s style high-speed backup to the line. Unfortunately, the Chevy had troubles on the dry hop and motored through the traps. 

Red Coleman then followed with a squirrelly 6.34-second ride that culminated in his taking out the top end speed lights. The precious '72 Cuda body was bashed a little and the first header pipe on the "driver's" side was crushed, but Red will be back. Of course, the already buggy timing system was down for another 20 minutes.

At the all clear signal, Ernie Walker laid down a header flame popping, smoky burnout that was a worthy tribute to Jungle Jim. Walker then strapped a 5.971/110.69 whuppin' on young Todd Wilson, wrestling the Vega down the left guardrail all the way. Wilson, in the Swensen & Lani/Jake Crimmins tribute machine, followed at 6.931/112.54.

The final run of the night brought the two big dogs together as Jim Dickey and Don Roddy faced off to determine the Outlaw Top Alcohol King of the Carolinas. Jim Dickey had grabbed the first round win while Don Roddy and the All Girl Crew desperately chased an air pressure problem in the fuel system. Dickey was looking to put the final nail in the coffin and it looked like he would do it on a single as the Roddys frantically worked on the yellow Corvette in the staging lanes. At the last second, Don Roddy fired up the 'Vette and it rolled up to meet Dickey's turquoise and purple 23-T at the line.

All the commotion to get the Corvette started must have taken its toll on Don's concentration because at the green, Jim Dickey shellacked him at the lights, .446 to an abysmal and uncharacteristic .807. It looked like all was lost for the Roddys as Dickey grabbed four car lengths and sped off. But Don's Corvette moved hard and actually started making up ground! Roddy ran out of racetrack on the eighth mile course, however, and Jim Dickey won the battle with a nice 4.307 at 166.92 for the win light. 

Don and Sharon Roddy signed lots of autographs after setting a new Midway track record. Photo by Brian Wood

Lost for a moment was the number Don Roddy had run in a losing effort: an incredible 4.084 at 177.51 mph! The run shattered the previous Midway Drag Strip track record and was a new personal best for Don as well. It's not too often you have a drag racing final with two winners, but while Jim Dickey clearly took the big win, you couldn't wipe the smile off of the Roddy team's faces for anything.

The next Classic Thunder event will be the two-day Classic Thunder Super Show at Darlington International Dragway on November 29 and 30. Complete details for the Friday/Saturday event will be posted in a couple of weeks. Keep up to date on Classic Thunder at http://www.classicthunder.net.

Click to See More Midway Photos!

Bill Pratt


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