SEGA PACKS THE HOUSE FOR THE 2023 FINALE
Carloads of fans waited up to an hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic Nov. 4 just to get into Shadyside Dragway, where the Southeast Gassers Association (SEGA) staged its last of 10 events this year and settled championships in four eighth-mile classes.
“Thanks to all of you, this is the biggest attendance in SEGA’s history,” series founder and organizer Quain Stott told the sold-out crowd shortly before eliminations began. “We can’t thank you enough for coming out here, for your patience, and for the support you’ve given us. We really appreciate it and promise to make things better. Thank you all, thank you.”
Also, for the first time in the series’ 12-year history, elapsed times and speeds were revealed on SEGA scoreboards, but only after each of the final rounds. However, new ET records were released for all four classes, too, with Todd Blackwell setting the A/Gas standard at 5.22 with his “Sling Shot” Chevy II, Kevin Burt lowering the B/Gas mark to 5.32 in his “II Coming” Chevy, and Josh Pruitt going 5.99 in his “Young Blood” ’63 Fairlane to set the C/Gas record, all in qualifying atop their respective classes.
Only Super Stock race winner Jerry Dean saved his record-setting heroics for eliminations, going 6.43 with his non-descript ’63 Nova in the final to set the new class ET record. In addition to Dean, the event winners list included Gabriel Burrell in A/Gas, Daniel Haynes in B/Gas, and Pruitt in C/Gas.
The 2023 SEGA class championships went to Burrell (A/G), Ted McKee (B/G), Tim Hall (C/G) and Rick Varner with his third-straight Super Stock season title.
As mentioned, Blackwell led the way over a 15-car A/Gas field and made it as far as the semi-finals, which ultimately decided the 2023 class championship.
Following a first-round bye, Blackwell made it past Terry Housley in the “Mr. Quick” ’55 Chevy before falling in a close, side-by-side race with championship rival Burrell and his Kaase-powered, “Southern Flyer” ’31 Ford that secured his second SEGA season title in the process. Fifth-place qualifier Burrell had previously ousted series organizer Stott and 2022 class champion Leslie Horne from competition.
“I was trying not to think about it,” Burrell said of the championship implications before taking on Blackwell. “Obviously I was nervous. I came here with one thing to do and then I find out that it's going to be all on my shoulders to do it and I can't even get no help from anybody else. I've got to do it myself third round and he's run faster than I have, basically up until that first round.
“Ended up making a little better run than him (in round two) and got lane choice, but we were then two-hundredths off, I think, all day. So, I mean it was nerve-wracking, but it was also very satisfying to get it done that way, too. I mean, if you're going to win it, I guess that's the way you want to win it.”
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the ladder, second-place qualifier Mitch Stott in the “Frequent Flyer” ’63 Corvette, had made his way past Tony Turner, Greg Stelse, and Barry Lynn in the “Lil’ Red Wagon” Chevy to reach the final round with Burrell.
Stott got away first, but Burrell quickly reeled him in and won with a 5.37 to Stott’s 5.97, his worst pass of the day.
“It was nice to win the race, icing on the cake, getting to win the race after I won the championship, but to be honest I didn't really care that much anymore,” Burrell later admitted. “I mean, obviously I wanted to win, and it was good, but I came here focused on winning the championship and after I won the championship, I just didn't care that much about the race anymore. I was happy with what we had already done.”
With 28 cars, B/Gas had the most entries at Shadyside. Following Burt at the top of the all-run field was eventual winner Haynes in second, with eventual 2023 champ McKee third, Charlie Lee in the Chevy-powered ’66 “Tennessee Charlie” Mustang fourth and Scott Butler in the “Lil’ Varmint” Austin rounding out the top five qualifiers.
Burt lasted until the third round, while Haynes advanced past Andy Shanks, Shaun McLemore, Bill Revels and Colby Welch to reach the final round. Meeting him there was Lee and his Mustang, after downing Jason Roberts, Jimmy Huff, Ken Rainwater and Troy Lightner.
With wheels in the air, Haynes and Lee left together in the final, but a 5.64 in the left lane by Haynes edged out the 5.70 by Lee for the race win, his fourth in a row to end the season but short of McKee and his “Rocky Top Missile” Chevy II in the championship chase.
“That final, man, Charlie Lee is up there and Charlie's always tough. He’s a veteran drag racer and he’ll kill you on the tree. We both had pretty good reactions. I think I may have got him at the 60 foot, but he was on my fender the entire race,” Haynes recalled. “But we had just enough to come out ahead and that’s all it takes. The day actually went pretty well. The car's been consistent, driver's been consistent. It's been a good, consistent day.”
The C/Gas field was nearly as big as B/Gas at Shadyside with 25 entries. Eventual finalists Pruitt and Hall led the way in qualifying, finishing one-two, respectively, followed by Ricky Jones, Todd Oden and Zach Buff, a co-owner of the Shadyside facility driving his family’s “Gold Nugget” ’57 Nomad.
Once more, the top qualifier enjoyed a first-round bye before taking out Ben Helms, Brad Wimberly, and Oden to reach 2023 class champion Hall in the final. Hall, meanwhile, defeated Matt Helms in the opening round before making an off-the-pace competition bye in the second round, followed by wins over Ben Shaw and Jones in the semis.
Less than 60 feet out, Pruitt had a fender’s length lead and Hall never was able to catch up. He finished with a 6.07 to Pruitt’s winning 6.03, though Hall’s performance at Shadyside did secure a second-straight SEGA C/G championship for him.
Later, Pruitt was enjoying his second win of 2023 after also prevailing at Orangeburg, SC, early this year.
“Today, the car was just on it. We were running 6-ohs all day long. I can't complain with how everything ran and it worked out in our favor,” he said. “The final was close; it always is when I race Tim.”
Furthermore, Hall had secured lane choice for the final by just two-thousandths of a second and put Pruitt in the right lane for the first time all weekend.
“The left and right lane is just completely different,” Pruitt said. “The left was better and I knew we were going to have to trim for it because it was going to be a close race, but the car still ran 6.03, right there where it had been all day long and it worked out in our favor.”
Meanwhile, Hall thanked Mahle Motorsports, as well as Mark Newton Racing Engines, Roofing Unlimited and his sister-in-law Kerry Hall and her real estate company for their help and support with his “Scalded Dog” Rambler American. He also suggested he may move up a class for next year’s SEGA run.
“We’re still talking about whether to do a different car or just do some work to this one and maybe build a bigger engine and run B/Gas,” Hall said. “I just don't know yet.”
The numbers one and two qualifiers in SEGA Super Stock went on to decide the event winner in the final round at Shadyside.
Dean took the top spot by about five-hundredths of a second, a sizable advantage in competitive drag racing. That advantage also gave him a first-round bye in the 13-car field.
Varner also ran unopposed in the opening run after Taylor Bright was unable to answer the call to the lanes. The solos continued for both in round two as Varner had a bye and Dean’s scheduled opponent was a no-show.
The semis saw Dean beat Randy Keifer in his “Spine Tingler” Pontiac wagon, while Varner and his “Dirt Man” ’67 Camaro eliminated past class champion Ron Allison in the “Poppy’s Toy” Nova.
That left only the final, where Dean made his class record-setting 6.43 pass to beat a 6.63 by Varner, who had already won six of the previous nine SEGA Super Stock races this year. Remarkably, in his first year of racing with SEGA, Dean made it to eight of 10 finals himself this season and finished second in points to Varner, but this marked his breakthrough win.
“It’s been a good year for us. We learned a lot and hope to be better next year,” said Dean, who hails from Lacey's Springs, Ala., just a few miles south of Huntsville.
Dean credited crew chief Karen Mitchell for his success this season and thanked Dennis Mitchell, David Richardson, David Dean and Buck Rogers for their help and support, too. “I couldn’t do it without them,” he said.