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Pro Mods at Southern Dragway
RACE DATE: Memorial Day Weekend - May, 2002
FROM: Marvin T. Smith
EVENT: Pro Mods at Southern Dragway.
PHOTOS: Pro Mod Photos.
It's been many years since I attended a drag race at a small, eighth-mile track. I've seen Pro Mods run at NHRA national events, and Nitro Coupes at Super Chevy events, but nothing beats Pro Mod at a small strip! It's as close to 60s match racing as you can get these days.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, Southern Dragway in Douglas, Georgia put on an open Pro Mod show. Most of the cars were from the Southern Outlaw circuit, and the famed Gravedigger of Alan Pittman was also booked in. Pittman was a real hit with the fans, signing autographs and selling t-shirts. He is great with little kids, and is a true credit to the sport.
Southern Dragway is a first-class, IHRA sanctioned facility. The track has a long concrete pad, double guardrails, electronic scoreboards, and a large, multi-story, modern tower. For the spectator, there are permanent bleachers on both sides, a sit-down air conditioned snack bar with quality food, and clean rest rooms. The announcer was great, punctuating her remarks with loud hog-calling WhoooooWeeeees! This track has the family atmosphere that the major sanctioning bodies crave. There were kids kicking footballs, lots of families cooking out with their grills, and even a church van parked in the spectator area.
The racing was outstanding. The Pro Mods made two qualifying passes at roughly 4:00 and 6:00, with racing scheduled for 7:00. If there was a downside, it was the fact that only seven cars were present due to a number of Pro Mod shows in the Southeast over the Memorial Day weekend. However, the seven cars really put on a great show. Low qualifier was Bil Clanton, from Rome, Georgia, in his Big Money Studebaker powered by a blown hemi. Bil ran 4.09. Second spot was the blown Opel of Rodney Rosenthal at 4.21, while eventual winner R. E. Smith ran a 4.24 in his late model Corvette. None of these cars improved in the second qualifying round, but Bennie McDonald's radical PSI blown 57 Chevy doorstop stepped up to 4.38 to qualify fourth. The Alan Pittman Gravedigger Willys never did make a good run and ended up in the sixth position. The second qualifying session was punctuated when the Perkins Corvette blew its engine, causing a long cleanup and a lot of thrashing in the pits to replace the aluminum block.
There were also a lot of quality sportsman cars running at Southern Dragway. There were some great dragsters, street roadsters, altereds, and recent doorslammers, including some of the most immaculately prepared cars you can imagine. They put on a great show, and many ran right on their dial-ins.
Round one saw most of the top qualified cars prevail. Bil Clanton's Big Money looked like the car to beat running a single 4.14 at 182.07 mph. R.E. Smith took out the Gravedigger 4.27 to a much-improved 4.34 for the 'Digger. Alan Pittman was all over the track but gave it everything in a losing effort. Rosenthal's Opel ran a 4.25 to take out Ron Stokes 53 Corvette, and Perry Herring in the newly re-engined Perkins Corvette upset McDonald's 57 Chevy which fouled away a better 4.50.
Round two saw the Perkins Corvette improve to a 4.13 181.56 to upset the Big Money of Bil Clanton (4.38). R. E. Smith then downed the Opel of Rosenthal in a close one, 4.18 to 4.21. This left the two late-model Corvettes in the final. I was not able to stay for the much-delayed final, but according to results posted by pmfan78 on the ProModifieds.com web site, R.E. Smith ran 4.15 to down Perry Herring's red-lighting 4.30 in the rebuilt Perkins vette. What a comeback: from blown engine, to runner-up in one evening. If you had witnessed the pit thrash, you would know that the Perkins team really earned their money! I personally witnessed at least two of their opponents' teams helping with the engine swap. Sportsmanship is still alive and well in the Pro Mod world. They put on a great show. What a blast! The Pro Mods are coming back this fall. BEEE THEREEEE.