RECORD-SETTING SHOW FOR SOUTHEAST GASSERS AT SHADYSIDE
Kenneth Phillips enjoyed a near-perfect day Apr. 14, as he qualified second, then went on to win the Southeast Gassers Association (SEGA) A/Gas final at Shadyside Dragway in Shelby, NC. Also victorious were Todd Blackwell in B/Gas and Jimmy Huff with his first-ever C/Gas title.
A record-setting crowd of more than 3,000 fans squeezed into the historic eighth-mile facility for the 2018 SEGA season opener and witnessed two fast-paced rounds of qualifying, followed by eliminations for all three classes. From a 2 p.m. start nearly non-stop, on-track action entertained the crowd for just over five hours.
SEGA founder and former A/G competitor Quain Stott, who last fall sold his iconic “Grand Illusion” ’41 Willys in order to better concentrate on promoting the series, declared the Shadyside event “our biggest and best yet,” then admitted, “I don’t even know how we could top this.”
Elapsed times are not revealed at Southeast Gassers events, but based on his first run Gary Cline and his “Tasmanian Devil” Willys took the top spot in A/Gas qualifying, while the ’58 Corvette of Phillips’ placed second in both sessions, though his later attempt represented a couple of hundredths improvement. Jeff Jacobson and his Wisconsin-based ’57 Ford “Skairlane” nailed down the third position, while Gabriel Burrell and Todd Owen rounded out the top five of 14 entries on the sheets.
In his first race out with “Double Down,” a new ’56 Chevy built specifically for SEGA competition, Oden outran Earl McLemore and his “Lil’ Varmint” Austin in round one, then narrowly beat Burrell’s “Southern Flyer” Comet in the quarter finals before sending Cline home from the semis to reach Phillips in the final round.
Phillips, meanwhile, easily handled the “Black & Blue” first-gen Barracuda of Robert Frazier before running his best pass of the day to win a much tighter race over “Spinny,” Steve Davis’ sharp Tri-5 Chevy. In the semis, Phillips advanced past Ben Christopher, who did a great job of driving to keep his yellow Anglia off the wall after it got loose approaching half-track and took out the 330-foot block between the lanes.
The A/G final saw Phillips and Oden leave side by side off the starting line, but 660 feet later it was the “Silver Streak II” Corvette that crossed the finish line first with about a car-length advantage. It marked the fourth SEGA win for Phillips and his Campobello, SC-based team after winning three races last year.
“In the semi-final it kind of was off a little bit, so I was a little worried going up there for the final round, but it come right back. Fortunately for me, the semis wasn’t as fast as the final so I could be off a little bit, but I needed it to run good in the final because he was right there with me, I think,” Phillips said.
“On the whole, everything went good; the car did its job and all I had to do was my job. And it’s really good to start off with a win because I want the championship this year,” he added. “We missed it last year, but that’s what I really want.”
The numbers one and two qualifiers eventually met with a battle of Chevy IIs in the B/Gas final round, where Blackwell, from nearby Spartanburg, SC, completed the sweep with his “Sling Shot” entry leading stripe to stripe over Danny Byrd.
“Going up against Danny Byrd and the “Junkyard Dog,” you have to respect the man because he’s been doing this a long, long time. He’s got all sorts of tricks up his sleeves and it’s a little intimidating going up there against him, but I just had to put all that out of my mind and just do the best job I can,” said Blackwell, who scored his first win last year as a SEGA rookie at Clay City, KY.
“Fortunately, it all worked out. I let the clutch out and from then on it was in the good Lord’s hands. The car ran good and I never did see Danny. He made a good run, but I think I treed him and that’s what made the difference in the end.”
After one round of C/Gas qualifying Josh Pruitt and his “Young Blood” Comet sat first, followed by the “Hoopty Wagon” of SEGA veteran Huff; however, when the second and final session was over the order had reversed and it was Huff that led the way into eliminations for 19 entries.
That jump from second to first proved very valuable to the Loganville, GA-based racer as it gave Huff not only an opening-round bye run, but another bye from the semis into the final round where he met number-four starter Larry Noel and his ’56 Chevy.
A self-proclaimed “true-blue Ford guy,” Huff emphasized his destroked 351C engine uses a Ford block with a Ford crank and topped by Ford heads. “It’s actually an old Pro Stock-style engine from the ‘70s,” he said.
For the final, Huff said he “brought it up to about 10-thousand (RPMs), let the clutch out, and went for it!” He never saw Noel’s car the entire way down the track and recalled a wave of relief and elation when his win light came on. “I’ve been doing this Southeast Gassers thing since the second year, but this was my first win. It feels good, I can tell you that.”
In addition to all the head-to-head racing going on at Shadyside, the Southeast Gassers presented two pairs of exhibition racers making several passes throughout the day.
Going up against one another in H/Gas Exhibition were Pennsylvania’s Nick Ruhl out for the first time with his 6-cylinder ’37 Chevy Sedan and Paul Combest out of Jamestown, KY, with “Sour Kraut,” a ’65 VW Beetle reminiscent of the famous “Inch Pincher” H/G dominator of the 1960s. Both Ruhl and Combest are hoping their appearance will inspire other racers to build H/G entries to create a new official SEGA class.
And as with most SEGA events, Georgia-based brothers Rusty and Allen Platt were on hand and going heads-up with recreations of their famous fathers’ A/FX rides: Huston Platt’s “Dixie Twister” fastback Nova and Hubert Platt’s “Georgia Shaker III” Comet, respectively. Their final run late on Saturday afternoon wrapped up with a slow return straight down the Shadyside track and culminated with a handshake and salute to the crowd on the starting line.
The second stop on the 11-event 2018 Southeast Gassers Association tour is scheduled for May 5, at Mountain Park Dragway in Clay City, KY.