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My Georgia Drag Racing Experiences
by Bob Handren
I was stationed at Ft. MacPherson from about December 1965 until the fall of 1968. I raced my 1965 and then 1967 442's (still have the '67) at the Yellow River Dragstrip, Houston Brothers Drag Strip in Fairburn and Atlanta Speed Shop Dragway. I remember Jabo Elam quite well and got close enough to Buster Couch to be across the street form his home one time while visiting friends. I am sorry they are gone. I also knew Bob Callaham having bought my first set of headers from his shop. Bob allowed me to pay for the headers over time and he also helped a buddy balance his 283 Chevy at a reduced cost since we had access to scales to bring those things we could into balance. I met a lot of nice folks back then.
I won more than my share of stock class races with the '67. One guy I had real trouble with was (Bob - I think) Rabbit Wilkerson. He worked for an Olds dealer and had more money than I to throw into his car. We usually met at Yellow River - probably the least safe track I have ever raced at. Is he still around?
You asked for some stories, not sure how great they are but these are from my cherished memories. I shed a tear or two when the US Army moved me to San Antonio, TX, I really liked the Atlanta area.
My fondest memory of the Houston Brothers Drag Strip was the night I was staging the car for a run and the tree started flashing red lights. I was more than a little surprised when a plane proceeded to land, on the strip, at night! After the shock wore off I laughed my a--off at it. I guess the plane owner got a late start or ??
As I said, I saw Jabo run numerous times there, really impressive guy. Didn't he grind his own camshafts??
Didn't the left lane at the Fairburn strip also have a hellacious dip? I saw a car blow it's clutch when the tires left the pavement there and I think I can still see a small dimple in the roof of my '67 where my helmet hit every time I went over it. Might have helped with the disc problems I now have in the ol' neck!
Yellow River Dragstrip was a gas. Zero crowd control and the shut down was downhill, something the drum brakes on my '67 were ill prepared for as the car would turn over 105 mph! I took one too many turn offs where the oil pressure dropped to zero and the handling was abysmal with 7 lbs of air in the slicks and I resolved to do something about it! Being a new model, converting to the new for '67 disc brakes was not an option but I discovered GM offered sintered iron shoes for the police packages. They sure made a difference, once they heated up anyway.
My name was on the board facing the highway as Yellow River class record holder for a while, that's when Rabbit came in. I was close but he was a tad better.
An Army buddy had a cousin visiting from Australia. The track operators permitted me to give they guy a full bore ride through the quarter. No helmet required, etc. Safety? What safety!
During one match race event there, I think it was Arnie The Farmer Beswick (Arnie Beswick) versus Don Nicholson, I won stock eliminator and got a certificate from Don for a free set of Jardine headers. I should have kept the certificate! For this stellar event they absolutely forbade any alcohol - so the deputy sheriff the track hired filled his patrol car trunk with ice and beer and made a killing being the only source! I guess it's better those days are gone but I sure still get a smile from it all.
After I left the area I was saddened to read that Richard Petty killed some spectators in an accident at Yellow River the year he raced a funny car while they boycotted NASCAR for banning the Hemi. A large part of the problem was lack of crowd control. I guess that was the death of that track, or was it? I'd love to know what happened to it.
My only story from the Atlanta Speed Shop Dragway was to watch Don Nicholson trying out his new fiberglass bodied funny car. It made it part of the way down the track and then disintegrated! Cool! As I recall he was one of the first, if not the first, to go that route - something the funnies use to this day.
I also traveled to Warner-Robbins (See Warner Robins Dragway) one weekend because the Hurst Hairy Oldsmobile was running. Linda Vaughn was also there offering to pose for photos with fans. One good ole boy with a pot belly worth a lifetime of beer turned her sideways to himself and yelled, "Baby, were made for each other!" She was, and still is, a good sport.
I took a picture of that and had a number from the tracks you ask about on your page. Unfortunately, everything I owned that was packed onto that Burnham Van Lines truck when it left our house in August 1968 was burned up in an altercation with a bridge abutment - or so we were told. So all that's gone, except the memories and my car! Maybe that's one reason I still have it, the only connection left to a happy time in my life.
I have noted that Jason Elam, the pro football kicker, is from the Atlanta area. Is he any relation to Jabo?
Well, gotta go do some real work, enjoyed the site and the memories it stirred.