As we rolled into Darlington Dragstrip, we had some unfinished business to take care of. Our last stop in Montgomery, Alabama, was cut short by rain which left us with the semifinals to finish out in Darlington. The Montgomery finals would feature Jerry Birch in the "Freebird” Chevy II squaring off against Michigan native Rusty Sampsel in his Dad's original '55 Chevy gasser, "Bad Banana". Jerry Birch would take the win in the C/Gas main, putting him only 20 points behind points’ leader Dean Harris.
Jerry Birch - C/Gas winner Montgomery, AL race
Southeast Gasser founder, Quain Stott, has long been deprived from making the finals. The hard work and dedication that he puts into managing the SGA leaves little time for him to wrench on his "Grand Illusion" '41 Willys. That drought would come to an end for the former IHRA Champ. Quain wheeled his '41 Willys to victory to edge out Shannon Smith by a fender at the finish line.
Quain Stott - A/gas winner rain delayed Montgomery, AL race
Quain would later compare his victory to the "blind squirrel finding a nut every now and then". We all certainly know better than that. Competing with his Willys' gasser comes secondary to the daily running of this association and event organization. This was an example of what champions can do when they decide to do it. Our hats off to him for this long overdue feature win.
Once the Montgomery finals were finished, we continued on our way down the ladder to determine our feature Darlington winners.
First round for the A/Gas would find two fan favorite '41 Willys staging together. The 84 year old gasser patriarch, Gene Cromer, would line up against Quain Stott. Of course, the background of these two men is the reason we are here trying to preserve this era in drag racing history.
Quain grew up watching his hero, Gene Cromer, tear up tracks in the Carolinas. Fast forward 50 years and Quain approaches Mr. Cromer about restoring his Willys back to its former glory. The unveiling of the Quain Stott restored version of Gene Cromer's 1941 Willys "The Moonlighter", could arguably be considered the beginning of the Southeast Gassers Association and one of the best moments in our true period-correct world of gassers.
So, we found ourselves with two '41 Willys, a legend and a champion, head to head in the first round at Darlington. The legendary, "The Moonlighter", caught the IHRA champ asleep at the line. After winning the Montgomery final, Quain would go down at the hands of his childhood hero in the first round of elimination.
The entire evening would come down to the stories of two yellow '55 Chevys. Rusty Sampsel in his Dad's "Bad Banana" from Michigan, who was denied victory from the makeup Montgomery finals earlier in the day, would take the "Bad Banana" to the winner's circle. That 750 mile trip would take on a whole new meaning! Rusty and his wife have been an inspiration to all of us. There is no stopping Rusty! From the painstaking rebuild of his Dad's '55 Chevy that he raced in the 60's, to his commitment to drive thousands of miles to make all of our events, the Sampsel's are dedicated to the preservation and exposure of the true gasser era that we strive to be.
Rusty Sampsel - C/Gas Winner Darlington, SC race
Shannon Smith in the plain "Pale Rider" would also claim victory in A/gas in his pale yellow '55. It would be Shannon's Chevy versus Jimmy Finley's Ford Mustang in the final round of A/G competition.
Shannon Smith A/ -Gas winner Darlington SC race
Joining us in Darlington were many of our supporting cast of front engine dragsters, A/FX altered wheelbase cars and H/Gas VW's. It's always a pleasure when these guys join our gasser party. Look for them at all future SGA events along the way.