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Old Drag Racer's Reunion 2002

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Old Drag Racer's Reunion 2002
September 27-29, 2002

by David Dilbeck

After sweating out Hurricane Isadore's path all week, the much-anticipated trip to attend Sol and Anne Stewart's Old Drag Racer's Reunion in Panama City Beach, Florida was undertaken Friday morning (September 27) in the dreaded RAIN! Much to my relief, a couple of hours into the trip the clouds broke up and bright sunshine filled the sky. I knew Sol and Anne had worked many hours putting this event together and I hoped for the best.

Upon arrival at the beautiful beach front location in Panama City Beach, with almost perfect weather conditions, I had the pleasure to finally meet Mr. and Mrs. Stewart. Sol and Anne are former drag racers and they also operated Sunshine Drag Strip in Panama City, Florida for several years.

I also met up with my co-author (on our upcoming book Atlanta Drag Racing: The Golden Years) Marvin T. Smith. This was both a pleasure trip and a research trip for Marvin and myself.

It was great to see many drag racing greats from the early years filing in for registration Friday afternoon.

I had the opportunity Friday afternoon to meet a drag racing legend from Georgia that I had previously talked to several times on the phone. Hoyt Grimes, who was racing dragsters before I was born, made the trip down from Atlanta with his sons Garry and Larry. These are some of the nicest (and most knowledgeable) people that you could ever meet. Mr. Hoyt Grimes is nearly 80 years old and he still works everyday!

Another Georgia drag racing great, Randy Mr. Big Stuff Payne (Randy Payne) also came in Friday afternoon and we had a chance to visit again.

I also had the chance to finally meet FE Bob Fermier, a former drag racer (Fermier Bros) with whom I had been communicating via phone and emails for the last year or so. It was a pleasure to finally meet you, Bob!

Funny car great, Larry Reyes, attended and I enjoyed being able to meet and talk with another of my childhood heroes!

On Friday evening, James Finch hosted a reception/private open house at his Phoenix Racing NASCAR shop. Live entertainment, food, and drink were provided for the packed event. Mr. Finch's Winston Cup and Busch race cars along with several of Mr. Finch's personal vehicles were also on display! He has a Ford Falcon with a late model, 510 horsepower engine that you had to see to believe- what an amazing car! Everyone seemed to have a great time and appreciated Mr. Finch's generosity. Thank you, Mr. Finch, for allowing us to check out your operation!

Marvin and Sol had previously arranged an interview session for Marvin and myself with Dyno Don Nicholson (Don Nicholson) for early Saturday morning. Mr. Nicholson had flown in from California on Friday evening for the reunion. We had an enjoyable time talking to Mr. Nicholson about his Atlanta drag racing days.

Saturday morning was also time for the car show portion of the event. Unfortunately, the unpredictable weather conditions in the southeastern United States during the previous week had a detrimental effect on the number of cars that were displayed. The car count may not have been large, but the quality of the cars that were there was excellent! From T-Bolts and the Chicken Picker Willys, to currently campaigned drag cars and nice street machines, the car show was a hit with the fans. J.C. Johnson did a nice job with the car show and he also brought some of his cars along!

FE Bob Fermier brought along some of his great photos for a slide show and many other people brought scrapbooks and photo albums. The photos that I saw included some of the greatest drag racers and drag racing ever! I'm sorry that I didn't have the time to look at each one.

The ceremony began with Mr. Stewart (and others) remembering many drag racers that are no longer with us. I had seen many of these people race in my younger years and I think that Sol should be commended for taking the time to recognize these pioneers.

Mr. Frank Moring was awarded the annual Good Sportsmanship Award and Mr. Stewart announced the formation of the Southeastern Drag Racers Hall of Fame. The first four members inducted were: Jack Cooley, J. C. Sizemore, Billy Big Deal Jacobs, and Emmitt Rattlsnake Austin. Congratulations to these well deserving honorees!

(See, also, the Southeastern Drag Racers Hall of Fame.)

The directors of the Southeastern Drag Racers Hall of Fame will be Mr. Cooley, Mr. Sizemore, Mr. Jacobs, Mr. Austin, Mr. James Finch, and Mr. Sol Stewart. This will be a great and anticipated feature every year!

I had the chance to visit with Bobby Watson (former racer and Phenix City drag strip operator) after the ceremony was over and had a very informative and entertaining conversation. Mr. Watson was also responsible for the great looking reunion T-Shirts that were designed by Joel Naprstek of Race Car Art.

The Second Annual Old Drag Racer's Reunion was one of the best experiences that I've had. Over 300 people attended and, if not for the uncertainty of the weather, I'm sure even more people would have attended! Too many people attended to list, but thanks again to everyone involved in organizing and attending the reunion. A special thank you to Mr. Stewart for inviting me. I'm already looking forward to next year's reunion and you'll be missing out on something special if you don't attend the 2003 Old Drag Racer's Reunion! Stay tuned to for next year's date.

More photos from the Second Annual Old Drag Racer's Reunion are on on and in our Photo Album.