SOUTH EAST GASSERS OPEN 2019 SEASON IN STYLE AT SHADYSIDE
With its 2019 season starter postponed two weeks due to rain, the South East Gassers Association (SEGA) finally opened with a sold-out show Apr. 27, at Shadyside Dragway. An announced crowd of 2,800 fans packed the historic eighth-mile facility in Shelby, NC, to watch nearly 60 entries (though more than 80 were on the grounds) do battle in four official SEGA classes.
When the clutch dust finally settled, visiting the Shadyside winner's circle were Alan Gaulden in A/Gas, Tim Bailey in B/Gas, Tim Hall in C/Gas, and Mark Hackett as the first official winner of the new-for-this-year Super Stock division.
Open only to 1967 and earlier body styles, SEGA rules stipulate traditional Gasser construction, including engines, transmissions and chassis set-ups, with some leeway allowed only for safety-related issues. Also unique to the series are no elapsed times or speeds displayed on track scoreboards in order to focus attention on the close, side-by-side, heads-up racing, according to SEGA founder and promoter Quain Stott.
"This is not No Time racing, though," Stott stressed. "We do time everything and race according to the qualifying order and then lane choice goes to the quicker car in eliminations. We just think it helps add to the atmosphere if everyone is just cheering for the car they like and not the numbers they see on the scoreboard. My goal is to take everyone here back to 1967 and let them see the way Gassers really ran back in the day."
Gaulden qualified his Florida-based "Frequent Flyer" '61 Corvette second in A/Gas behind Ken Phillips in a similar ride, with Todd Oden third in the 19-car, all-run field. Notably, Phillips and his "Silver Streak II" '58 Vette set a new SEGA elapsed time record during a solo pass for the opening round of A/G eliminations.
Meanwhile, Gaulden defeated Gary McLemore and his "Atom Smasher" Chevy II in round one, then took down "Agent Orange," another '66 Chevy II driven by Dean Jonas, before making a bye run to reach the semis against Phillips.
"That was really the race for me. I was there to kind of get payback against Phillips because he beat me in the final at the last race last year. I was looking for a little revenge," Gaulden admitted.
Gaulden left on Phillips with a half-car lead by the 60-foot marker. Regardless, the clutch in Phillips' car failed before it reached half track and nearly put the classic Vette into the right guardwall while Gaulden advanced to the final.
In another significant driveline failure during A/Gas qualifying, Tony Turner was fortunate to emerge unscathed after the clutch essentially exploded and shot a clutch disc straight up and embedded into the dash of his "Quick and Dirty" '39 Dodge. The trouble started on the top end, just as Turner made his three-four shift and it remained unclear at the track what caused the initial failure.
The A/G final saw Gaulden face off against Steve Davis in "Spinny," yet another Chevy II.
"So we went into the final with a good car, a good engine and a good set-up, but at the same time everyone is a good competitor out here," Gaulden said. "And to be honest, I had no idea the guy was going to be as fast as he was in the other lane. I mean, I wasn't taking him lightly, but he ran quite a bit faster than I was anticipating."
Fortunately for Gaulden, he was again sharp on the tree and held on for a close, side-by-side win at the 660-foot stripe.
"Oh yeah, I knew he was right there the whole time. When he was still there halfway down the track I was thinking, 'Holy cow,' but when I pulled high gear I was barely able to edge him out. It was a lot closer than I expected," he said.
The top spot in B/Gas qualifying went to Doug Dobbins in the "Medicine Man" Nova, with Jerry Birch and eventual race winner Bailey rounding out the top three in a 17-car field.
Bailey said he enjoyed "a nice smooth weekend" with his "Alley Cat II" '57 Corvette, opening with a solo pass after Shaun McLemore couldn't answer the opening-round call. He then took out Michael Walters in round two before making a bye run to reach the semis against T.J. York and his tire-frying "Greenhorn Hillbilly" '56 Chevy.
After dispatching York, Bailey faced off against Jeff Madden in the "Miss Leeding" Chevy II, taking advantage off the start and holding it for the full eighth mile to pick up his second career SEGA victory.
"I think I had about a .06 light and he had a .130 or so, but it was still fairly close until I put it into third gear and I pulled away until I had a car-and-a-half, maybe two car lengths on him at the end," Bailey said. "It feels real good to win again. I'm looking forward to the rest of the year."
Likewise for C/Gas winner Tim Hall, who broke through with his career-first SEGA win at Shadyside. Hall qualified his "Scalded Dog" '67 Rambler American third in a 17-car field headed by Billy Edwards in the "Thunder Road" Tri-5 Chevy.
In eliminations, Hall drove the Rambler past Kevin Shaw in his "Odd Rod," a '41 Chevy pick-up with a 1950 Ford cab, then made a second-round solo run after Kevin Fortenberry's "Shift Happens" Falcon lived up to its name. Next came a third-round competition bye that sent Hall to the semis against 17th-place qualifier Dan Hogan, who survived a first round pairing against number-two starter Leslie Horne before making his own two solo passes.
Hogan's luck ran out against Hall, however, who went on to face Edwards, who after a casual first-round bye eliminated Herman Gearing and Cynthia Phillips before making another slow bye run in the semis.
It was all on for the final, though, with both Hall and Edwards leaving wheels up before engaging in a close battle for the win.
"I could hear him over there, but I never look over until I hit fourth gear and when I did I couldn't see him," Hall said.
"We were racing the number-one qualifier and everybody pretty much thought he was gonna' win, but it just worked out my way," he added. "Me and my dad, George, we built the whole car and before the final we played with the timing and gave it a little bit bigger jets and it seemed to like it. That was the fastest run it did all day; fastest run it ever made, in fact."
The new SEGA Super Stock class attracted a dozen entries to Shadyside, but when qualifying was completed only six remained on the list. Hackett took the top spot with a record-setting run in his yet-to-be-named '65 Mercury Comet, bequeathed to him in 2010 after his father passed away.
"I'm currently building a Gasser, another Comet, and we're going to name it "Mercury Poison," so we're thinking of naming this one "Mercury Poison II," Hackett said. "Of course, we have people saying they like the car just the way it is, so we're not sure on that yet."
In eliminations, Hackett initially dispatched Bobby Frizzell in his mid-'60s Ford Galaxie to earn a bye run into the final against number-two qualifier Robert Peffley, winner of last fall's S/S exhibition race at Shadyside with his "4-Speed Stampede" Plymouth wagon.
After another close start, Hackett and Peffley ran another close race in the final round.
"How it typically works is my car is a little bit quicker out of the hole, but Robert's is a little faster on the top end due to it having a lot more cubic inches," Hackett explained. "So I was really focused on reaction times, making sure I got a good start and made a good smooth run. It turned out I had him at every interval down the track."
Due to the initial race date delay, the Shadyside winners have little time to savor their victories, as the South East Gassers Association visits London Dragway this Saturday (May 4), at London, KY, for the second of 11 scheduled SEGA races this year.