Not For Sale: Steve Furr Reflects On The Triumph And Tragedy Of 2016

FURRLEAD

At the beginning of Steve Furr’s 23rd year in a racecar he was hopeful, yet realistic, for what the season held. He had changed many critical pieces on his cars — a new motor for his Super Gas Camaro, new tires, and, most notably, switching from his tried-and-true Top Dragster nitrous program to a ProCharger. For a man who thrives on continuity, he never imagined it would be one of his best years of racing ever, and one of the hardest years of his life.

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Furr’s laid back and personable nature has made him well-liked by competitors, despite his winning ways.

It was because of his big brother, John, that Steve got into racing at all. John followed in their father’s footsteps and became a mechanic. As soon as he was of age, he began street racing and then moved to the local North Carolina drag strips. He soon became iconic in IHRA Hot Rod, winning championships in ‘92 and ‘93 and sparking a passion in his brother to join the fun.

“In ’94 I ran Hot Rod like John did,” remembered Furr. “John won everything he went to. He was the best Hot Rod racer in IHRA. I’m biased, but I would say that nobody won as much as he had won then. When I raced Hot Rod they would beat me down because they couldn’t beat him down. I was new and a rookie and trying to learn, and they were wearing me out. So, Hot Rod was very hard for me and easy for him.”

This became a source of contention for the brothers. From a rookie perspective, Steve would chalk John’s wins up to luck, while John saw it as a test of skill.

“Now a long time later, I see part of what he was saying was true,” Steve continued. “We were both right. He was winning because he did intimidate those guys and they weren’t making the kind of passes they were making beside of me. They weren’t scared of me. He would get a lot of free runs and then he was a good enough racer, you let him past second or third round you wouldn’t beat him. Now, further down the road, I can tell you that. We were both right, even though we were definitely knocking heads. We fought over that a lot.”

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To keep peace in the family and to keep moving up the racing ladder, Steve built his current Camaro in ‘94 and began racing Super Rod in ‘95. There was decidedly less bickering between the brothers after that, and it was then that Steve began winning.

John won everything he went to. He was the best Hot Rod racer in IHRA. I’m biased, but I would say that nobody won as much as he had won then.

“The Darlington race in the fall of ’95 we both won. That was my first win. He had lots of wins at that point and I had none, but they put us both on the cover of Drag Review. It had me and John with our two cars facing each other and it said Furr Flies at Darlington.”

The taste of winning, coupled with a cover of IHRA’s in-house magazine had Steve hooked, line and sinker, if he wasn’t already. In ‘96 Steve and John pulled off a once-in-a-lifetime feat: they won the Hot Rod and Super Rod IHRA World Championships. In champion style, Steve won it all the last event of the year — the national event, the All Star race, and the World Championship. “It was a coming-out, phenomenal year for me. It made me feel like I did the right thing getting out of Hot Rod,” Steve smiled.

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Furr’s shop is lined with wall-to-wall trophies, showing off his NHRA and IHRA wins.

The following year Steve added a Quick Rod dragster to his program and the Furr brothers almost did it again. Steve finished second in Super Rod and Quick Rod with John also bringing home a second place finish in Hot Rod.

Fast forward a few years, add in a host of IHRA and NHRA divisional championships and two more IHRA World Championships. Steve, who had once told his wife that he’d “never race as much” as his brother, was now an accomplished racer in Super Rod, Quick Rod and Top Dragster, and had become one of the winningest sportsman drivers in drag racing, both feared and respected by competition. Now, his engine builder Scott Duggins had talked him into switching from nitrous to ProCharger.

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Steve prefers to race with his family by his side. Furr’s children, Nicholas and Sarah, and wife, Denise, are all invested in the family hobby.

Furr, admittedly, never changes much. His Camaro adorns the same red and black paint scheme as his first “nice” street car, a ‘70 model Z28 he still owns. When he and his wife outgrew their first home, they moved a literal stone’s throw away. Furr still works for the same chemical engineering company he co-oped with in college. So, switching from his beloved and very proven nitrous combination wasn’t high on his list.

…things are getting faster, so Duggins wanted to get into either the blower business or the ProCharger business and he kind of wanted me to help him do it.

“He taught me the nitrous ropes and I’ve been running nitrous all these years,” Furr said of Duggins. “I was able to qualify pretty much wherever I wanted to go and not have a big problem. But things are getting faster, so Duggins wanted to get into either the blower business or the ProCharger business and he kind of wanted me to help him do it.

“John thought I was crazy for putting the ProCharger on. But Duggins did a lot of work before I did. Then I did my own work and we tested.” Furr tested extensively in Florida, but his first passes were at a historic, albeit small, Shelby, North Carolina track — Shadyside Dragway.

“I take that ProCharger that can run 4.0s to Shadyside for its maiden voyage,” Furr storied. “That thing was white knuckle. It was winter time and they were having a deal you could get in for six dollars and it was two dollars to test-n-tune. I’m thinking this ain’t gonna be good, but we were at least going to do burnouts. Duggins had warned me that ProChargers were hard to do burnouts with because of the way the power band is in ’em. So we go over there, I pay my eight dollars. We turn it down so it won’t run so fast. Every motorcycle and street car in South Carolina is there, blowing the tires off and all this stuff. So I was ready for mine to blow the tires off. I hadn’t thought about anything else other than, This is not a good track, I’m going to blow the tires off.”

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I stage that thing, tree comes down, I leave. It leaves kind of soft. About the 330-foot mark that thing starts setting me back in the seat. I’m thinking, Alright, it didn’t blow the tires off. Then I realized how fast I was going at Shadyside, right? The shutdown area looks like it’s a couple trailer lengths long. My mouth is open. It’s got me literally scared. I didn’t think I was going to get this far so I didn’t know what to do at this point. I get to the finish line and I worry I’m not going to get this rocket stopped.

“I put that thing in neutral and stomped the brake pedal, hard as I could. It immediately goes sideways in the other lane. I’m sliding sideways down through the shutdown area. I get both ‘chutes out and it straightens up and I get stopped.”

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Furr laughs about that run now, and admits his first wild ride with the ProCharger onboard was somewhat self-induced. From then on out, it’s been smooth sailing.

The first half of the year he was unstoppable. He took a commanding lead in NHRA Top Dragster, winning Bristol and coming in second for the All Star race before his schedule had a break for two and a half months through the summer.

We were off the whole summer, then he passed away and we had all that stuff to deal with and then we start back racing. I wasn’t really motivated to go back racing.

Just before his schedule resumed in the fall, Steve got a call while in California for work. His brother had passed away, suddenly, in his shop.

It was with held-back emotion Steve storied the remainder of his season.

“We were off the whole summer, then he passed away and we had all that stuff to deal with and then we start back racing. I wasn’t really motivated to go back racing. Kenny Myers comes with me when he can and he said to me, ‘I’m going to come with you to every race between now and the end of the year and let’s try to finish this thing off as best we possibly can. One thing I want to do is win for John.’

“I was hip to that.”

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Along with the trophies from his first IHRA and NHRA wins, Furr counts these IHRA Sportsman Driver of the Year trophies as some of his favorites.

Furr had a good enough lead before his summer break, he was still leading the points in NHRA when his schedule resumed.

“I lost first round in both cars at the first race back. I thought, Man this doesn’t look good. But after that we got on fire. I went to the PDRA race and runnered-up. Kenny and I agreed we’d just like to win a race that we could dedicate to him. We kinda’ won every weekend we went. For the first one, they were rushing us to get pictures made and I was trying to fill out contingency. I told Kenny to go write something on the side of the car for John. He wrote ‘For John Furr’ on the side of the car. I said, ‘What is that, Kenny? I appreciate you writing something on it, but couldn’t you come up with something better than that?’ Well, as we went along, we got better and better. We wrote notes to him everywhere we won.

“The last three NHRA races of the year in the Camaro I won all three. Then went to the IHRA Finals in Memphis and won in the dragster. I was in fourteen finals with nine wins this year.

In the end, Steve lost the championship in NHRA, but his Memphis win would earn him his fifth IHRA World Championship, his first in Top Dragster.

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“It was fitting the way it happened, winning IHRA instead of NHRA, since that’s where John ran. It’s a cool deal.”

Steve has five IHRA World Championships, seven Divisional Championships in IHRA, five Divisional Championships in NHRA, and somewhere around 100 IHRA and NHRA wins across three classes — quite an impressive career for someone who was sure his brother, who started it all, won mainly due to luck.

For years he’s raced with his family — wife Denise, son Nicholas and daughter Sarah. He counts winning Bristol on Father’s Day with his family by his side — twice — as some of his greatest memories. While Steve outpaced his brother in on-track accomplishments, it’s clear that none of this would have happened if not for the quiet, but determined, older brother.

“I added nine trophies to the collection this year. Six of them were NHRA divisional wins. People would kill to win one of them so I look at in perspective and think, You’re just blessed if you can pull that off. Somebody is smiling down on you.”

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The passion that was birthed from a melding of brotherly bond and rivalry has produced eight World Championships for the family. The brothers made a pact many years ago: If anything ever happened to one of them, the other would take care of their car. John will live on through his iconic Hot Rod Nova, and his Quick Rod dragster he added in latter years is already being prepped for Steve’s son. No matter what happens, Steve vows the cars will stay in the family for his lifetime.

“We’ve won enough with both of them; they’ve paid their way. I couldn’t get what it’s worth is to me. No, they’re not for sale.”

About the author

Lisa Collier

Lisa began her love affair with drag racing at just four days old, later watching and crewing for her championship-winning father, Gary Bingham. Before switching to drag race journalism, Lisa spent six seasons behind the wheel of an 8.90 dragster.
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