A long, winding drive through a thick, lush tunnel of trees leads to picturesque London Dragway in central Kentucky, where after a couple of canceled outings at prior venues due to lingering pandemic lockdown measures, the Southeast Gassers Association (SEGA) finally got its 2020 season underway this past Saturday (June 6).
At the end of the day, familiar faces visited victory lane, including reigning A/Gas champion Kenneth Phillips, T.J. York with his second career B/Gas win, 2017 C/Gas champ Todd Oden, and Mark Hackett, a six-time winner in Super Stock last year.
Elapsed times and speeds are not reported by SEGA, as founder and promoter Quain Stott prefers instead to focus attention on close, heads-up racing without creating pre-determined favorites based solely on stats. Regardless, Phillips led a field of 14 A/G entries into eliminations, with the top five all running within eight-hundredths of a second over the London eighth mile and the entire top half of the field improving their times in the latter of two scheduled qualifying passes.
Phillips said his championship-winning “Silver Streak” ’58 Corvette remained essentially untouched in the off season.
“Didn’t do a whole lot to it, just some adjusting and the car run good all day, run about the same numbers every time we went down the track, pretty close to the same numbers I was running the end of last year,” he said.
After racing past Todd Blackwell in the opening round, Phillips enjoyed a competition bye in round two before taking down Gabriel Burrell and his new “Southern Flyer” ’31 Ford in the semis. That set up the A/Gas final against number-three starter Steve Davis, who defeated Gary Cline, Justin Moses and Leslie Horne to get there himself.
Capping off a hot day of racing, Phillips left with a slight holeshot over Davis in his “Spinny” Chevy II and it made the difference for the win, as Davis ran a little more than five-hundredths quicker.
“I got him out of the hole and that’s kind of where we stayed, but I knew he was right there with me,” Phillips recalled. “His front fender was at the front of my door, but my car has pretty good top-end power, so it done pretty good.”
In B/Gas qualifying, Missouri’s Danny Byrd drove his “Junk Yard Dog” Chevy II to the top of a huge 28-car field, followed by eventual race winner York and his “Greenhorn Hillbilly” ’55 Chevy, with Colby Welch starting his “Moonbeam” ’65 Ranchero third, Wayne Swafford in the SEGA debut of his ’65 Chevy II fourth, and Jerry Birch in his “Freebird” Chevy rounding out the top five.
York’s five-round trek to the win took him through Jerry Couch, Bryant Dalton, Todd Napier, Welch and Birch in the final round. Kentucky has been good to York, as his first SEGA win came last year in Knoxville.
“Any time you race the Birch brothers you better be on your game,” York said of the final round. “He got out on me a bit and even when I was in second gear I thought I was in trouble, but then we hit third and that’s when I just kind of scooted up in the car there and we started pulling and I started thinking, ‘Oh, we might get this, we might get this.’ And we just nipped him down there and drove back around him on the big end. I mean, it was a nice, tight race.”
Oden, the 2017 SEGA C/Gas champion, had an almost perfect day at London, qualifying his ’58 Chevy Delray number one over 17 entries before going on to take his 13th SEGA win home to Birmingham, AL.
After making a leisurely bye run in the opening round of racing, Oden made another solo pass after Alan Barnes was unable to continue in round two. He outran “Tennessee Charlie” Lee in the quarter finals, but was back to a bye in the semis to reach 2018 C/Gas champ Larry Noel and his “Crazy Horse” Tri-five Chevy in the final.
Noel started third before posting wins over Dwight McGuire and Ted McKee, followed by a free pass in round three, and a semi-final win over George Miller.
The final saw Oden leave first in his “Double XX” entry and power through to a very close win over Noel just a few seconds later. Afterward, he dedicated the race to the memory of his father and longtime racing partner, Lester, who passed away two months earlier.
“I got a picture of mom and dad on the dash in there with me. My son came and helped fill in for him today and my wife, Gina, she helps, too. She’s my back-up girl,” Oden said. “And it went great. I’ve raced Larry a bunch of times; he’s one of the best out here and it’s always a pleasure to race him; but tonight I wanted to win more than ever, just to honor my dad.”
Finally, like Oden, Hackett started from the number-one spot in a 12-car Super Stock field–the largest so far in SEGA class history–and raced his way to the winner’s circle.
Falling victim to Hackett’s 1965 “Mercury Poison” machine were Bryan Olds and Zach Long before a semi-final bye, which paired the Lebanon, TN-based racer against North Carolina’s Rick Varner and his “Dirt Man” ’65 Chevy for the final round. Varner, who qualified second, dusted off Todd Poteet, Dale Morton and defending class champ Robert Peffley in the preliminaries.
The final was decided on the starting line as a holeshot by Hackett proved too much to overcome for the quicker Varner in the right lane.
“I’m pretty sure that was the first time I’d ever raced Rick in an official round of competition and I knew he was fast. I’d been kind of keeping up with his times during the day,” Hackett said following his seventh career SEGA win. “So I knew I had to be on my game; I had to cut a good light to have a chance and fortunately that’s what won the race for us.”
With one event finally in the books for 2020, the Southeast Gassers Association will return to the track June 27, at Mooresville Dragway in North Carolina.