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My Introduction to Drag Racing
by David W. Dilbeck
My earliest drag racing experiences happened in the mid to late 1960's. My first drag strip trip was to a 'track' in Fairburn, Ga. ( south of Atlanta ). A friend's older brother, recently home from Viet Nam, took my friend and me in his 1966 Impala SS 396.
Houston Brothers Drag Strip was an airstrip by day and dragstrip by Friday/Saturday nights. And, of course, there was a pond/lake at the shut down end of the track that occasionally collected a race car. Even though this track was not a major racing venue, it did have many nationally recognized modified/super stock competitors compete regularly.
Some of these drivers were Jabo Elam ( I have just learned that Jabo passed away in August, 2001- RIP Jabo ), Bob Callaham, Hood and Payne, Bill Tanner, Steve and Terry Earwood, the Houston Brothers, and many more.
Even though I did like the high revving Chevy modifieds, I came to love the hemi super stocks of Bill Tanner/Steve Bagwell (late model Cudas/Challengers). I suppose this is what started my lifelong fascination with hemi Mopars (along with being a car crazy kid witnessing the Muscle Car years).
Through these years, and into the early 1970's, my brother John carted me around to this track, Southeastern International Dragway (Dallas, GA), and Atlanta Speed Shop Dragway (Covington, GA). During these years, funny car and pro stock match racing was at its height and we witnessed most of the stars from the magazines race at these tracks.
Being a Mopar fan, Ronnie Sox became my hero.
I always got a kick out of Hubert Platt's open-door, wheelstanding burnouts in his Pro Stock Mavericks and Pintos. I think that Hubert always put on the best show of any of the Pro Stock drivers that I was able to see. Have you ever seen a Maverick Pro Stock with the headers exiting in front of the front tires? I have. Hubert was always one of my favorites.
Somewhere along the way, Reid Whisnant, who lived in the Atlanta area, became my favorite pro stock driver (probably seeing him win my first big pro stock race with a converted super stock hemi Dart in Covington). Since then, I have always been a fan of Reid, even after the hemis were factored out of competitiveness and he switched to Chevys. He now owns a pro stock truck that his son drives and his other children are involved with. Reid always had great-looking and well-prepared cars and he still does.
I will always be grateful for my brother's present (for the two of us) of a trip to the 1972 Gatornationals. I still remember being in awe of seeing so many of my heros at one place. Neither Reid or Sox won, but I did get to see Reid dump da Grump (Bill Jenkins in his Vega that revolutionized pro stock at that time) and go to the semis. He was stopped by a bad clutch from winning a race that I so badly wanted him to win. I did get to see the late Don Carlton win pro stock (in a Mopar!) and the quickest and fastest runs ever by Don Garlits in Top Fuel.
During this era, funny cars (see Funny Car) became my favorite class with the booked in shows at local tracks. The first time I saw them I couldn't believe how loud and fast they were. Remember, this was not a time of auto racing on TV ( especially drag racing ).
Another thrill of mine happened at Dallas, Ga. At a funny car show when I was about 12 years old, Tommy Grove's mechanic asked me to help pack his chute. Being a painfully shy kid, I didn't want to do it, but I did. I held the chute while the mechanic packed it. (I don't know his name, but it really was a thrill for me.) On his next run I was terrified that the chute wouldn't come out or open because of something that I did wrong. (Dallas had a notoriously short shut down area with an embankment to go off at the end of the track ) Boy, was I relieved when the parachute worked fine!
This era of funny cars (early 1970's), when ramp trucks and usually one crew member were state of the art, was the absolute best to me (maybe the excitement came from my young age or maybe because you could tell the different cars apart). Seeing such showman as Jungle Jim, Richard Tharp (Blue Max), Pat Minick (Chi Town Hustler), and so many others was a thrill that has lasted a lifetime!
It's hard to believe that today's pro stocks are running as quick as most of that era's funny cars. I remember when Leonard Hughes ran a 'fantastic' 6.80 at Indy in a funny car (I think 1970; the year that the Shoe won). The cars today are a lot faster, quicker, and safer but I think they have lost a lot of the character that they had.
But, Drag racing is still the most exciting motorsport in the world!
I'm looking for information/photos of Atlanta area dragstrips (and the drivers/owners that competed) in the 60's and 70's. If you have pics, info, ads, or stories from Houston Brothers Drag Strip (Fairburn, GA), Southeastern International Dragway (Dallas, GA), Atlanta Speed Shop Dragway (Covington, GA), Yellow River Dragstrip (Covington, GA), Jefco Dragway (Jefferson, GA), or Cumming Dragway (Cumming, GA), please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or david@GeorgiaDragRacing.com.
I'm also looking for pictures of Reid Whisnant's Pro Stock cars (Dart, Dusters, Charger, Daytona, and Camaro). Thanks!
If you have any affordable drag racing memorabilia from the 60's or 70's (drag racing trading cards of any year ), send details and price to me at my email address at the bottom of the page. I will consider any items that you offer.
Also, several people have emailed with similar stories of their youth. I have really enjoyed reading these and thank everyone that has sent one! I am considering publishing (on this site) personal stories of this nature or any drag racing experiences from this era. If you have any that you wish to share, please send an email (link at the bottom of the page ). I welcome all your trips down memory lane. None of your experiences will be posted without your consent.
Feel free to offer suggestions on how to improve this site. I will be adding to it as time and my hopefully improving skills allow.