SO YOU WANT TO BE A PROMOTER? DESPITE THE ODDS, SEGA’S SHOW GOES ON
Quain Stott’s approach to putting on a Southeast Gassers Association race is simple and straightforward.
Dallas Peffley, who is the series’ tech director, hits the road the week of the race and visits businesses in the vicinity of the event, placing banners and posters wherever he can. That weekend, weather permitting, the race goes on as planned, and fans can enjoy authentic gasser competition from cars that came off the assembly line no later than 1967.
This month, SEGA was set to pay its annual visit to Farmington (NC) Dragway, but that event didn’t go off as planned – and “weather permitting” had nothing to do with it.
Instead, the race was moved due to circumstances out of SEGA’s control … then postponed by a dreadful weather forecast … then finally run, two weeks later. It wasn’t finished – the semifinal and final rounds will be decided June 2-3 at Knoxville (TN) Dragway – but when Stott and the racers left Wilkesboro (NC) Dragway on Saturday, May 20, he could breathe a sigh of relief.
Back up to early Monday afternoon, May 1, when everything was operating as normal. Peffley was out on the road publicizing the race at businesses near Farmington, which is close to Interstate 40 and about 20 miles southwest of Winston-Salem, population 250,000.
That’s when Stott, the 2006 IHRA Pro Modified world champion and SEGA’s founder, got a phone call that he never expected: “Quain, I’ve got some bad news.” In short, Farmington was repaving its shutdown area, but the company with the contract to do the work wasn’t going to be able to meet the deadline. The bottom line: Farmington couldn’t host SEGA.
“I start going in the mode of ‘I cannot cancel this race’ because there are so many of our fans that don’t have Facebook and don’t get on the internet, and all these people have planned their vacation days around this. The only choice I’ve got is to move it,” Stott said Friday prior to test runs at Wilkesboro.
Canceling the race wasn’t an option, Stott explained. Too many of his racers plan days off from work or vacation around the schedule, and they deserved the chance to compete in cars they had built to exacting, period-correct specifications. What he needed was a track, and Wilkesboro was a prime option, located only 50 miles west of Farmington.
“I figured it was a match made in Heaven,” Stott said. “It’s close. I love this track – it’s a cool, little race track that fits our show. And the third reason, they’ve been on a waiting list for about six years.”
It was a no-brainer for Wilkesboro promoter Paul Salvatore, who moved to the area from Long Island, New York, in February 2022 to lease and operate the facility. Tucked snugly in a valley between two hillsides, Wilkesboro Dragway has been in operation for more than 65 years – the oldest dragstrip in the state in continuous operation, he said.
“This whole thing that happened with Farmington was by default,” Salvatore said. “The track needs help, to be honest. It’s been let go for a coupla years, so anything I could do to make it relevant again, y’know?”
Stott visited the track the next morning, met with Salvatore, and decided the facility was the right fit for SEGA. With that agreement in hand for a race May 5-6, Stott rushed to call Peffley, tell him to stop his promotional work, return to the places he’d already visited and discard the materials he had placed. “Probably a thousand dollars’ worth of posters,” Stott said. New posters had to be created and printed for Peffley to put in place.
And then, about 24 hours later, Stott got another dose of deflating news.
“Wednesday afternoon, it’s calling for rain all day Saturday,” Stott said. “Not one of them little, spotty showers, but 90% Saturday and Sunday, too, which would’ve been our make-up day.
“We always try to cancel Thursday morning at the latest because people have got to cancel motel rooms and rearrange work schedules and vacation days. So I made the decision then to postpone it. If you have a race and you’ve got rain coming and the spectators get to the gate and it’s raining, well, they know why the race was canceled and nobody’s mad at nobody. But you roll up to the gate and the sun’s shining, the fans are like, ‘What’s the problem? What happened?’
“Now I have to turn around and call Dallas, tell him to stop, and postpone until May 19-20.”
That decision, though, meant butting heads for consumer dollars with NASCAR, which was going to be across town for its All-Star Race. The magnitude of that event was amplified by the fact that NASCAR hadn’t visited the 5/8ths-mile oval since Jeff Gordon won in 1996, and its multi-million dollar facelift had dominated the news.
“Yep, it scared me, but I didn’t have a choice,” Stott said, noting that May 12-13 dates would’ve conflicted with Mothers Day, and he didn’t want to stage a race on Memorial Day weekend, either. That left May 19-20 as his best – perhaps only – option.
“The track didn’t have any open dates that we had open unless it was a holiday,” Stott said. “We’ve been top of NASCAR at Mooresville, but it didn’t hurt us. Well, it did hurt us but it didn’t kill us. The problem was, what made this really stick the knife in and cut and pour salt in the wound, it didn’t rain; the weatherman was wrong. And you can’t go in there Saturday morning and say, ‘Oh, we made a mistake, y’all come on.’”
The rain expected for the first weekend of May never materialized. The May 19-20 date wasn’t perfect, by any means, because not only was SEGA going to be across town from NASCAR’s much-ballyhooed return, it was going to lose some fans to the popular Steel in Motion event at Union County (SC) Dragway on the same weekend.
“That was probably going to hurt me more than anything. It’s not really a race, it’s just a big deal. They draw a lot of people who camp, bands playing – an old-school thing like us. They use the race track, but it’s not like us,” Stott said. “I’ve tried not to book on top of Steel in Motion unless we’re way off in Indiana or someplace.”
But, Stott noted, “Moving the location didn’t hurt nothing. Moving the date is what made it tough.”
Salvatore was onboard with hosting SEGA “immediately; he’s been wanting us anyway,” Stott said.
When Stott called to inquire about having Wilkesboro be his race host, Salvatore was unknowingly readying his facility.
“When Quain had first reached out, that property we have across the street is what we use for alternate parking,” Salvatore said. “I don’t mow it unless I know there’s going to be a lot of people here, and for some reason the day he called me I was mowing.”
The track is usually open for test-and-tune runs on Thursday nights, then racing on most Saturdays during each month of the season, including special events such as nostalgia Pro Stock cars to the Classic Gear Jammerz circuit. Salvatore has hustled to raise the profile of the track with those kinds of races, as well as becoming more integrated into the community. Last year, the track’s float – “All Aboard the Wilkes Polar Express” – was voted as the best representing the theme in the local Christmas parade.
More than 60 cars entered the SEGA show, which began late Friday afternoon with testing, and after the first handful of cars struggled to get down the track, Salvatore climbed aboard a tractor and began spraying traction compound. That allowed the racers to get a better feel for how to set their cars up for Saturday’s qualifying and eliminations.
On Saturday, the show began at noon as the racers hustled to beat expected late-afternoon showers. The Super Stock and C/Gas contingent drivers got the show rolling, then the action shifted to the B/Gas class. However, things stopped almost as soon as they started when Art Copeland of Buford, Ga., lost control of his “Kryptonite” entry and rolled the car at least a half-dozen times.
First responders had to cut part of the car’s remains apart to extricate Copeland, and the decision was later made to airlift him to Winston-Salem for treatment of his injuries. He reportedly asked two questions during the process: Did anyone get his time slip for the run, and did anyone know where he could find a car that he could prepare for a return to SEGA competition. (On Monday, Salvatore said Copeland was released from the hospital, and he stopped by the track to see what was left of his car.)
Rain arrived as the cars were in the staging lanes for semifinal competition. That’s a bonus for the fans who will attend the Knoxville race next month, as the Wilkesboro event will wrap up there.
“I think it worked out great,” Stott said of the scramble to make sure that the show went on. “We were obviously disappointed in our spectator count because we measure our success by how many spectators we get, not how many cars show up. We know that the 70% chance of rain on Saturday afternoon hurt, and that NASCAR was 10 or 12 miles or however far away, and we only had two weeks to promote it. So with all that, I was tickled to death.
“I will tell you this: If we can figure out how to work around a small pit area and a few very small details, we will definitely be there next year,” he added. “I’m not an easy person to get along with because I’m very demanding, and that’s how we run things. If say we’re going to start at 1 o’clock and it’s one second after 1, I’m wanting to know why. With all that went on, Paul bent over backwards to make sure everything worked out. … We never had not one argument, not one cross word. It’s rare for me to find somebody I don’t butt heads with, but I know what works and I don’t stray away from that.
“I think we’ve found a home for one of our races if we can just figure out the pit parking.”