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East Coast Drag Times Reunion 2002

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East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame and 2002 Reunion
October 4-6, 2002

(or how a 44-year-old man was transformed
into a 7-year-old child for a weekend!)

by David Dilbeck

I knew it was going to be a special weekend as soon as I pulled into my motel parking lot early Friday afternoon (October 4th). My childhood drag racing hero, Ronnie Sox, was exiting his race car trailer as my wife and I drove in!

After checking into the motel, my wife, Vicki, and I were waiting for the elevator and Ronnie Sox walked up and introduced himself to us! Vicki said that I looked like a 7-year-old little boy as I was talking to Mr. Sox. Well, I thought it couldn't get any better than this, but I was wrong.

Ronnie Sox had an appearance scheduled for that evening at Superior Chrysler, Dodge & Jeep and I was not going to miss it. I had brought some old photos and memorabilia to have autographed, so off to Superior I went. Mr. Sox graciously signed my items and chatted about his newest car, a 1965 Plymouth with a fuel injected Hemi recreated as the Paper Tiger. The stance of the car is much lower than the original, and it is built with current technology, but I think it looks great.

Other drag racing celebrities that I saw at Superior Chrysler included Herb McCandless, Mr. and Mrs. Bud Faubel, Jack Redd, and Julio Marra.

While there, I finally got to meet Nancy Wilson after months of email and telephone correspondence. Nancy is the director of the Vance County Tourism Department (and a former drag racer) and she had organized the Show, Shine, Swine, and Dine car show scheduled for Saturday and the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame and 2002 Reunion that was scheduled for Sunday.

The local newspaper, the Henderson Dispatch, was also on hand for Ronnie's appearance. I was lucky enough to be in one of the photos that the newspaper shot and I was asked a few questions about driving up from Georgia to see Mr. Sox and the weekend's events. I was told that the photo might be in the paper Saturday or Sunday. I figured that would be the end of that.

While at Superior Chrysler, the sky darkened and it looked as though it would probably rain. Mr. Sox had told me earlier that he was by himself until Saturday morning, so I had volunteered to help if he needed any assistance. Ronnie moved the car behind the trailer and attached the winch cable to save time if it rained. Ronnie asked me to let him know if it started to rain (he was under an awning and busy signing autographs, etc.).

A few minutes later a downpour started and I alerted Ronnie. He ran to his trailer, and since no one else went with him, I ran through the rain to help. We were both drenched during the short run across he parking lot! Ronnie started to winch the car into the trailer, but as it wasn't perfectly straight. I got my chance to help! Ronnie handed me the winch control and went to turn the front wheels on the car so that it would come in straight.

Well, I can't tell you how excited I was. I believe my wife was correct - I felt like a kid again! I was helping my childhood drag racing hero load his car. Imagine, just Ronnie and I drying off his car (lettered with the famous Sox & Martin logo and painted the familiar red, white, and blue) during a downpour! To tell the truth, I was almost afraid to touch his car. I could have driven back to Atlanta after this and been perfectly happy with my trip!

A quick trip back to our room to put on a dry shirt was followed by the reception at the Jameson Inn. Originally, it was to have been held pool-side, but rain forced the reception indoors. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and I had an especially nice time talking to Herb McCandless and several other participants. Two of my highlights from the reception were talking to Charles Wilson (Nancy's husband) and seeing Nancy's surprise when flowers were delivered to her. (Jack Redd had sent the flowers.)

Saturday morning brought sunshine and more heat and humidity than I prefer, but everyone was relieved that it wasn't raining.

After a short trip to the downtown business section, an amazing sight was in front of us. The downtown section had been blocked off and cars of all kind lined the streets. Restored drag cars, current drag cars, muscle cars, classics, sports cars, street rods, and just about any type of car that you could imagine were on display!

Rick DeMarco's Candymatic Dodge and The Virginian AWB were displayed next to Ronnie Sox's car.

On the other side of the street was a nice Fairlane along with the Little Georgia Shaker Ford Thunderbolt formerly driven by Hubert Platt (and Lee Malkemes).

The Hemi-Hunter team had their great looking Chevy powered FE Top Fueler on display and across the street was another nice Nostalgia Top Fuel dragster that was Hemi-powered.

I had the pleasure to meet 1974 NHRA Funny Car World Champion Shirl Greer after talking to him on the phone several times earlier in the year. Mr. Greer brought along his not quite completed Mustang II funny car to display. The car is a clone of one of his previous rides and it looks great! Shirl plans on making exhibition passes with the car next year.

Marco DeCesaris' lightweight 1963 Bob Ford car was on hand, and I also had the pleasure to meet former NHRA Division I Director Darwin Doll while looking over the cars. Mr. Doll, along with Bill Stiles, was the organizer for the York US 30 show held earlier this year in York, PA.

Some of the other drag racing greats that I visited with were Hoyt Grimes (Atlanta dragster pioneer), Hubert Platt (The Georgia Shaker), Lee Malkemes, Billy West, and Dee Simmons.

Approximately 300 cars were parked on the streets, and just about all of them were exceptionally nice! I could have spent a week looking over all of the great looking cars.

The Pork Meet Cook Off was held during the car show and it was sponsored by the Henderson Downtown Development Commission. Two different bands entertained the visitors from stages that were erected in the streets. Vendors also were on hand for food and drink purchases.

One of the highlights for me was watching Mr. and Mrs. Bud Faubel dancing in the street during Russell Henry's tribute to The Drifters!

Nancy Wilson and her team really know how to put an event together!

After the car show awards were presented, the much anticipated burnouts on the streets of Henderson, NC were performed. A few competition cars were involved, but as smoke filled the air in front of the Sheriff's Department, the street machines stole the show!

Saturday evening, Vicki and I tagged along to dinner with Hubert Platt, Billy West, and some of their family and friends! It was fun catching up with my friends, Fred Simmons and Bob Beasley, who had traveled to Henderson with Hubert Platt.

Later, back at the motel, I went by Jack Redd's room. Jack, the former editor of East Coast Drag News, was "holding court" and he told several amusing stories about the early years of drag racing. I had the chance to talk to photographer Jeff Tinsley and thoroughly enjoyed meeting him (along with several others). Another great day in Henderson!

On Sunday morning, I bought a local newspaper to check the coverage of the weekend. Much to my surprise, the photo of Ronnie Sox and me (along with an article) was on the front page of the sports section!

It was then time for the short drive to the Vance-Granville Civic Center for the much anticipated East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame & 2002 Reunion! We arrived at the Civic Center well before the scheduled start time and several cars were already displayed. The itinerary called for a couple of hours of visitation, autograph signing, and bench racing followed by the awards ceremony.

I had a chance to talk to several drivers (and get a few autographs), including Ronnie Sox (I had to have that newspaper autographed), Shirl Greer, Dale Theirer, Harold Denton, Hoyt Grimes, Hubert Platt, and Pee Wee Wallace before the ceremony. I had a terrific time talking to several drag racers that I knew and meeting quite a few others for the first time.

The Awards Ceremony started off with entertainment by songwriter Archie Jordan and then the Awards Panel and Award Recipients were introduced.

The Awards Panel consisted of Jack Redd, Bob Wilberger, Darwin Doll, Nancy Wilson, Terry Earwood, and Ray Bullock.

The awards were presented to the late Dave Strickler, Tom Sneden, Ronnie Sox, Pee Wee Wallace, Bud Faubel, Hubert Platt, Shirl Greer, Herb McCandless, Butch Mori, Gene Mori, Dee Simmons, Billy West, Bob Bernardon, Jerri Ball, Harold Denton, Linwood Craft, Terry Earwood, the Hemi Hunter Team, Jack Redd, Jeff Tinsley, John H. Garrett, Al Gore, Darwin Doll, Sam Auxier, Bill Jeunette, Hoyt Grimes, Julio Marra, Gene Hinson, Dave Reitz, Johnny Kelly, Rick Demarco, Don Fezell, Marco DeCesaris, Nancy Wilson, and Lee Malkemes.

It was a fun, sometimes emotional, and very entertaining ceremony with several of the award winners near 80 years of age (or older)! I would love to hear more of the stories that these guys hinted at during their acceptance speeches!

The Awards panel did a great job and Darwin Doll gave an especially touching talk on the importance of preserving the history of drag racing. Terry Earwood kept the audience laughing with his wild and wacky ways during the ceremony.

I won't disclose the person's name, but a panel member publicly said this about Terry, "I've heard a lot of people that could talk faster than me, but I've never before heard anyone that could talk faster than I could listen."

It was quite a show!

Thanks to Nancy Wilson, Charles Wilson, Norman Dickerson, Jack Redd, the Vance County Tourism Dept., Superior Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep, the City of Henderson, the local law enforcement personnel, and everyone else that was involved for making this a superb event. I also want to thank all of the residents of Henderson for their hospitality during our weekend stay. I believe that they were some of the nicest and friendliest people that I've ever had the pleasure to meet.

I'm already counting the days until the 2003 reunion!

More photos from the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame and 2002 Reunion are on on and in our Photo Album.