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The Atlanta $10,000 Drag Race was one of the largest open Top Fuel shows in the Eastern United States. It was contested from 1964 to 1972 at Atlanta Speed Shop Dragway, an NHRA sanctioned strip located near Covington, Georgia. This race documents an important time in drag racing history: the golden age. While the race was primarily for top fuel dragsters, it also showcased other categories. The story of this race also documents the rise of the Funny Car in the sixties. From super stocks to altered wheelbase machines to the flip-top cars, the Atlanta Speed Shop race had them all. The race also transcended the slingshot to rear engine fueler revolution, and saw the demise of Top Gas. This history is based on newspaper accounts (both racing papers and the Atlanta papers) and information collected in interviews. The author is working on a history of all the races, and welcomes recollections, comments, and photos for this research. When finished, the complete history of the Atlanta $10,000 race will be a chapter in a forthcoming book by Marvin Smith and David Dilbeck, Atlanta Drag Racing: The Golden Years.
The first race was held in 1964. A little historical perspective is in order. Atlanta Speed Shop Dragway became an NHRA sanctioned track in March, 1964, as new management revised the former Newton County Dragway (also NHRA sanctioned). The track was one of the few NHRA tracks in the state of Georgia. NHRA had outlawed fuelers at its tracks in the late 50s, but beginning in 1963 it allowed fuel dragsters to run at the Winternationals. It was not until Labor Day weekend in 1964 that fuelers ran at the Indy Nationals. The first Atlanta $10,000 was held in October of 1964, and that is about as early as NHRA would encourage large fueler meets at its tracks.
Since Robinson was active in promoting the race, he did not enter. I assume that through his connections, a good field of fuelers was assembled to qualify for sixteen spots. The field included Paul Sutherland, Jimmy Nix in Bob Sullivan's car, Vance Hunt, Capitol Speed Shop, Joe Shubeck, the Guzler, Blue Angel, and Fred Forkner. The eventual winner was Paul Sutherland, driving the Race Car Engineering Charger from California. Sutherland downed Nix in the final as both cars broke, but Sutherland had earlier run the best times of the meet, a 7.71 et and 191.88 mph to definitely earn the win and $2,500. Low qualifier was Hunt and Ellis at 7.92. Vance Hunt remembers receiving a set of M&H slicks for his number one qualifying spot.
During the race, the then relatively new Christmas tree starting lights failed, and the races were flagged off by Pete Robinson.
Top Gas was also contested at the first annual Atlanta $10,000. There was a quality field made up of such stars as John Reed, Hirata-Hobbs, Dick Vest, Bill Mullins, Hoyt Grimes, and Clayton Harris. Bill Mullins eventually beat Dick Vest in the finals for $1,000.
The Atlanta meet would also showcase doorslammers throughout its history. In 1964, there was a 32-car Super Stock/FX field dominated by Dyno Don Nicholson in his Comet. Nicholson ran as quick as 11.11 to win the $2,500 (Drag News says $2000) up for Super Stock. The stockers ran for second place and the $1,000 was taken by the Lewis, Smoker, Lewis team from Virginia. Robert Nance took the $500 third place money. It is interesting that much more money was available to the Super Stock cars than to the Fuel Dragsters even though this was mainly a dragster race, showing the eastern bias toward doorslammers. Charlie Kruse from Metarie, Louisiana won Middle Eliminator in an injected Chevy-powered roadster, beating the Powers and Riley blown Chrysler T roadster, and W. R. Saunders from Kentucky took Little Eliminator in his A/G machine. Drag News said that this was "by far the biggest and richest race ever held in the Southland." This race received excellent coverage in the Atlanta newspapers, something of a rarity in an area dominated by stick and ball sports. The success of the first race prompted the race to become an annual event. If you wanted to see Top Fuel dragsters in the Southeast, the Atlanta $10,000 was the race to attend until the NHRA started the Gatornationals in 1970.
In 1964, a young A. B. Shuman, author of "Cool Cars, Square Roll Bars" and one time editor of Hot Rod Magazine, attended the race. He was in the Navy at the time and stationed in Charleston, S.C., but he ventured west to Atlanta to see the action. Through his generosity, we have snapshots of the event. Mr. Shuman also provided the captions for his photos. We greatly appreciate Mr. Shuman's contribution to preserving the history of Georgia drag racing.
Paul The Kid Sutherland (r.), assisted by "Dagget," had the most intriguing car there, the Charger, Woody Gilmore's "works" fueler. The engine was a 365-inch Hemi. They said they had to win TE because they were low on money. The car was the most impressive running in the eliminations and won the bucks despite blowing on the final and coasting thru the lights at 107 mph. Photo and caption by A. B. Shuman.
From Blue Angel push truck looking down Pete's two-lane blacktop. It seemed a helluva lot narrower standing on the line. After the run, a warmup pass (remember those?), Fisher reported car pulled to right in lights, so Andrews promised to take a little air out of the left front tire. Shiny marks on the injector scoop were evidence of a mishap the week before, when the unit blew off the 6-71 on a brisk run. The team had only recently changed to a Chrysler engine from a Chevy. Photo and caption by A. B. Shuman.
Returning from a victorious round in Top Gas eliminations, a fierce-looking Jerry Caudle ("World's Fastest Beatle") in shiny, silver fire suit rides back in Kenny Hirata's Schubeck-chassied racer. Hirata, I was told, along with Chris Karamesines, gave Andrews, Fisher, Fraley team a lot of help when they made their switch to a Chrysler. Photo and caption by A. B. Shuman.
Vance Hunt (l.) gave Del Fisher a briefing on the facts of life about being a pro drag racer (i.e., how to make money at it). Hunt's car, with Jerry Ellis driving, set low e.t. on Saturday, earning a pair of M&H slicks, but their 392 Chrysler blew up in eliminations, depositing its innards on the strip. Photo and caption by A. B. Shuman.
In the non-dragster ranks, the Hot Shop's orange Bantam A/Altered was impressive, shutting down the mighty Powers & Riley blown Chrysler T roadster with it injected 365-inch Chevy. Photo and caption by A. B. Shuman.
A little later it was all business for the Woody car and crew. I believe this meet was the first event where "zoomies" were revealed. The engine in the Gilmore car appeared to not have any front motor mounts, per se, fitting in with the "Flexi-Flyer" thinking. Photo and caption by A. B. Shuman.
This article by Marvin T. Smith (with research assistance by David Dilbeck) is an early draft from the forthcoming book Atlanta Drag Racing: The Golden Years.
As we interview more participants and research the history more deeply, more information has presented itself. The final book version will provide all of this information.
For example: The Atlanta Drag Strip Association produced the first Atlanta $10,000 race. The race was billed as "The Atlanta Drag Strip Association 1964 National Fuel & Gas Drag Race".