In front of a packed house at North Carolina’s historic Shadyside Dragway, the South East Gassers Association (SEGA) wrapped up an 11-event season Nov. 3, with fans witnessing two sets of race wins and celebrating champions crowned in three official SEGA classes.
Based on the strength of a recent four-race winning streak, Shannon Smith of Landrum, SC, earned the 2018 SEGA A/Gas championship; Todd Blackwell of nearby Spartanburg, SC, wrapped up the B/Gas championship; and Larry Noel from Aiken, SC, was named C/Gas champion.
Persistent rain two weeks earlier during the previous SEGA race at Carolina Dragway forced eliminations there up against the track’s midnight curfew. A decision was reached to run the semis and finals from the Aiken, SC, event within two rounds of qualifying for the season-ending Showdown at Shadyside.
That led to Kenneth Phillips and his “Silver Streak II” ’58 Corvette taking the A/Gas win from Aiken over new class champion Smith and his “Pale Rider ’55 Chevy. Meanwhile, Phillips also secured the top spot in A/G qualifying for the Showdown, followed by Ben Christopher, Smith, Alan Gaulden and Donovan Stott in the top five of an 18-car field. All SEGA races are run heads up over an eighth-mile distance, but no times or speeds are displayed on the clocks.
“I also picked up a $500 bounty, I think, for someone finally beating Shannon,” Phillips said. “He was there with me early in the run, but by half track I knew I had him just so long as I didn’t make any mistakes.”
The B/Gas win from Aiken went to Danny Byrd in the “Junk Yard Dog” Chevy II after he beat the “Alley Cat II” Corvette of Tim Bailey. Byrd also placed number one in B/Gas qualifying, leading Todd Blackwell, Jerry Birch, Mike Blackwell and Doug Dobbins atop a 21-car field, with Bailey slotted into the seventh starting position.
The postponed C/Gas win was secured by Leslie Horne and his “Stud Muffin” Chevy wagon when he defeated new class champ Noel and his “Crazy Horse” ’56 Chevy in the Aiken final. Maintaining the winners’ trend, Horne also was the quickest qualifier of 22 C/G entries for the Showdown, followed by Todd Oden, Josh Pruitt, Noel and Jimmy Huff.
“It was a little bit hard waiting (two weeks to complete the race),” Horne said. “I just wanted to get it done, so I was looking forward to coming here and glad everything worked out today.”
In Showdown at Shadyside eliminations, Phillips opened with a first-round victory over Earl McLemore in the “Lil’ Varmint” Austin before making a second-round solo pass. He then doused the hopes of last year’s champion Stott and took out Ernie Smith and the “Bounty Hunter” Studebaker in the semis to reach his second final round of the day.
Opposite Phillips, Gaulden drove his “Frequent Flyer” ’58 Vette to preliminary round wins over Gabriel Burrell in the Ford-powered, four-doored “Sour Mash” Chevy II, Jeff Jacobson and his ’55 Ford “Skairlane,” and Smith’s “Pale Rider” Chevy before making a bye run into the final. That set up the second battle of the day between the two silver C1 Vettes, as Phillips had already outran Gaulden in the Aiken semis on his way to his earlier race win.
When the tree dropped to determine the Shadyside final, Gaulden got away first, but Phillips was already gaining ground by the time they crossed the 60-foot marker.
“I think we left pretty even, but then in second, third gear, my car always pulls good, so I could kind of see him just start fading back. After that I just had to hold on,” Phillips recalled. “I think I had about three-quarters or maybe a car length on him at the finish line.”
Eight of the top-10 qualifiers in B/Gas were in various years of Chevy IIs, with only seventh-place Bailey’s Vette and number-nine starter Jared Bailey in a ’41 Studebaker the exceptions. Regardless, Todd Blackwell would eventually reach the final after dispatching Todd Rosenberry, making a second-round bye run, taking down eighth-place starter Jeff Madden, and defeating top qualifier Byrd in the semis.
On the other side of the ladder, third-place qualifier Birch opened with wins over Lance Yoakem and James Beard before making a wall-banging run against Blackwell’s father, Mike. Running in the right lane, Birch drifted over about half track and twice climbed the wall at speed with his “Free Bird” Chevy’s right-side tires before he gathered it up to secure a semi-final bye into the final.
SEGA rules automatically disqualify a car that crosses the centerline, but unlike most drag racing organizations, contact with a guardwall before continuing on to a win light does not mean automatic expulsion.
“If you can keep going, keep going,” SEGA founder and promoter Quain Stott said. “I trust our drivers to make good decisions–even if they have touched the wall–might as well keep going if they can. And that was one heckuva’ drive by Jerry. He deserves a free pass after that one!”
Regardless, once in the final, Birch left way too soon, handing Blackwell and his “Sling Shot” Chevy II the Showdown race win while cementing his 2018 SEGA B/G championship by 25 points over Byrd, with Birch finishing another 40 points back in third.
“Free Bird, he’d been coming on pretty strong, but when I saw his red light come on I knew that was it,” Blackwell said later. “It was a long day, a lot of racing, but a very enjoyable one. And yeah, it’s going to feel good putting the championship on (the side of) the car and having it there all next year, too.”
In C/Gas, it all came down to the “Scalded Dog” ’67 Rambler of Tim Hall and Todd Oden with his “Double XX” ’58 Chevy Delray. Hall, who started from the seventh position, made it past Travis Owen, Rick Cathcart, Horne and Noel to reach Owen, who downed Jenny Moses, John Gillian and Huff to receive a semi-final bye.
In the final, Oden gained a slight advantage off the start and held on to it for the full eighth mile.
“We knew we had to be on our game because the last time we ran Tim he actually beat us. So we knew we had to leave the line hard and we brought our shift points up and sure enough, the car did exactly what it was supposed to do. It came right out, carried the wheels probably even farther than I needed it to, but it made a good, strong pass all the way down,” Oden said.
“The whole entire time I could see his car to my right and I was just thinking of Mr. Wendell Vinson who does our engine work. I’m thinking, ‘Okay Mr. Vinson, this is where you make your money, right here,’ and then the win light came on and I was like, ‘Thank you!'”
After coming into the weekend just 10 points behind Noel, Oden was hoping to back up his (now defunct) SEGA D/Gas championship from last season with this year’s C/G title. However, with 10 points paid for entering a SEGA event, five awarded for each qualifying run completed and five points available for each round won, he left Shadyside Dragway just five points short of Noel with Pruitt in the “Young Blood” entry only another 20 points behind Oden.
“All year long, 11 races, and Larry wins by just one round. It’s a testament to the way Quain has the points set up that it all comes down to just one round at the end,” Oden said.
“It just shows it’s fierce competition out here. This C/Gas is serious business and the rules that the South East Gassers have makes it ultra competitive. Any week there can be 10 or 12 cars with a legitimate chance to win, so you really have to hone your driving skills if you want to go anywhere. But that really does make it fun to be out here. It’s a pleasure to compete against good racers like this.”