The North Carolina-based South-East Gassers Association (SEGA) visited Paradise Drag Strip in Calhoun, GA, Sep. 8, a first in the series' seven-year history. Built in 1961, Paradise Drag Strip was originally a quarter-mile facility, but now operates solely as an eighth-miler backed up by a significant uphill shutdown area.
Approximately 1,800 fans lined both sides of the historic track, where 16 cars qualified for each of three heads-up fields. Shannon Smith eventually prevailed in A/Gas, Todd Blackwell won in B/Gas, and Josh Pruitt took home the honors in C/Gas.
SEGA founder and promoter Quain Stott conducts a typical driver's meeting prior to the start of qualifying at each event.
"This is exactly the kind of place we love to race at," SEGA founder and promoter Quain Stott declared after the race wrapped up. "There's just so much history here, you can actually feel it as soon as you come in the gate. Our racers love it here and it's pretty obvious the fans do, too."
No elapsed times or speeds are displayed or conveyed to the crowd at SEGA events, though racers do receive the usual timeslips. Stott feels keeping the numbers under wraps focuses the fans' attention on close competition and the nostalgic spectacle of the event itself.
"It means you don't have to have the fastest car to be a crowd favorite. People like the cars just for what they are, how they look and how they sound," he explained. "I honestly think if we turned on the clocks it would just turn into another big horsepower show and people would lose interest. The way it is now, we can go to the small tracks like this one and pack the place with just 50 cars on the grounds.
(L) The only woman competing with SEGA at Paradise Drag Strip, Cynthia Phillips first had to overcome shifter problems in her "Flower Power" Chevy to qualify an impressive 6th in C/Gas. She narrowly made it past Johnny Royals and his "Fiddle Picker" Studebaker in round one, but was unable to answer the call to stage in round two against eventual race winner Josh Pruitt.
(R) Just in case you need directions!
"And that helps to keep our events short, too. We don't have any filler classes, nothing to break the spell of watching period-correct Gassers. Look, it's just after 9 (p.m.) and we're all done. Our whole show, qualifying, racing, from start to finish, takes about six hours. It's family friendly."
Serving as Grand Marshal for the event was original A/Gas driver Bogan Renfroe, who reminisced on racing his "Cat Skinner" '41 Willys at Paradise throughout the 1960s and early-'70s against fellow original Gene Cromer, who joined him in a pre-race ceremony on the starting line.
Following pre-race ceremonies, SEGA event Grand Marshal Bogan Renfroe (left, back seat) was joined by fellow A/Gas pioneer
Gene Cromer and several of SEGA's best BUGs (Back Up Girls) for a nostalgic cruise down Paradise Drag Strip.
"When Bogan was asked what he liked most about being here and he said it was like he'd just traveled back in time, that it felt just like the old days, well, that's all I needed to hear," said Stott, who enforces a strict adherence to period-correct Gasser construction.
"That was the biggest compliment I could ever get because that's exactly what we're trying to do here, to show people what it was really like back in the day when you could see and hear these guys going through the gears and racing heads-up, first one to the finish line wins."
The South-East Gassers will next be in action Sep. 29, at Mooresville (NC) Dragway, where NASCAR Hall of Fame member Ray Evernham will serve as Grand Marshal.