The Southeast Gassers Association Takes The Show On The Road

Founded in 2011, the Southeast Gassers Association has witnessed a virtually unparalleled level of growth in its first seven years of existence. The pride and joy of lifelong drag racer and former Pro Modified world champion Quain Stott, the organization, at its humble beginnings a mere two-car match race, gradually matured into a handful of cars and today boasts more than eighty active members, with some one-hundred prospective racers either building cars or interested in participating in the future.

Over forty period-correct Gassers made the trek to central Indiana — many of them hailing from the Carolinas and Georgia. They rewarded with a near-capacity crowd for the second year in a row, as fans lined the fence and jammed the grandstands. So lengthy was the line to get in the morning of the event that track owner Jeremy Wagler made the decision to open the spectator gates hours ahead of schedule.

Originally conducted at tracks around the Carolinas and Georgia, the Southeast Gassers have pulled up their stakes in recent years and taken the show on the road, to places like Clay City, Kentucky, and last month, to the Wagler Motorsports Park in central Indiana, where they again played to a capacity crowd who simply couldn’t get enough of the spartan nature of the 1967-era machines.

“I think we may have named the series wrong,” Stott says with a laugh as he discusses the series’ geographical expansion, “but we’ve got such a strong branding with the name now that I’m afraid to change it.” 

Quain Stott addresses the racers in a pre-race meeting at Wagler Motorsports Park. Mitch Stott (second from left), Quain’s brother, is also a former IHRA Pro Modified world champion. Their professional racing careers and the hustle and bustle that entails behind them, the brothers have thrown it back to simpler times — literally and figuratively.

The Southeast Gassers have an upstart sister organization in Texas, and Stott says he regularly fields calls from as far away as California. Over the last two seasons, he’s invited a pair of period-correct A/FX cars to perform an exhibition, and notes that he has visions of growing it into an official class down the road. Likewise, Super Stock has already been added to the roster, with the Wagler event marking one of its first outings. One thing you can be sure of, Stott notes, is that “anything that races at a Southeast Gassers event has to be period-correct, no questions asked.”

From the 1930s through the mid-to-late ’60s, every decade is represented within the Southeast Gassers Association, and they’re impressively competitive despite any perceived aerodynamic or weight transfer advantages or disadvantages.

Stott has strained relationships and taken his share of heat with friends, racers, and even track promoters over the years for his hard-nosed stance regarding the Southeast Gassers, but his many years of experience in organized drag racing has taught him that there’s simply no other way — if you give an inch, soon  enough you’ll be giving a mile.

The Southeast Gassers maintain the strictest ruleset among the many Gasser organizations that exist in various regions of the country. When he retired from professional drag racing, Stott sought out a nostalgia venue to compete heads-up; when the various groups he looked into and even built a car for couldn’t meet the bill, he constructed a Gasser and arranged a match race a local racer with a similar car. Thus, the Southeast Gassers was born.

How period-correct is the Southeast Gassers Association? Don’t even try bringing a fancy radiator overflow can — Ernie Smith says Quain Stott yanked the can that was on his machine off and told him to find something more in-line with the era. What might that be, you ask? A rusty Old Chicago Lager beer can.

Early on, his rules were less strict — automatics weren’t forbidden, and he quickly saw the writing on the wall when automatic-equipped cars began to take over competitively. And so he drew a line in the sand, allowing the existing automatic cars, but permitting no others to be built. Since that time, Stott and his racers have collectively chosen to run only manually-shifted, clutch-equipped cars. Modern transmissions are allowed for the sake of cost and reliability, but the rules center largely on being as period-correct to 1967 as possible.

“Do you know why they called them Gassers? It’s because they ran on gasoline, not on alcohol. Would you believe we’re the only Gasser series in the world that requires the use of gasoline?” Stott asks matter-of-factly as he shares the intricacies of his rules.

The Southeast Gassers invited a pair of vintage A/FX cars out for exhibition — both of them tributes to drag racing icons Huston and Hubert Platt. Fittingly, the Georgia Shaker (pictured) is driven by Hubert’s son, Allen, and the Dixie Twister by Huston’s son, Rocky. The Platt’s put on a wail of a show with their lengthy burnouts and dry hops on the starting line.

It’s this stance that’s drawn the ire of others in the Gasser arena, some of whom have left the series and attempted to chart their own course with a competing organization with less stringent requirements. Too strict, they say….but Stott disagrees.

“Our rules are written to where there are no magic parts. It’s man against man, talent against talent, driver against driver. That’s the reason for the four-speed: put automatics in them, that takes away all the talent. If I outrun you, it isn’t because we have different equipment — I outran you because I was smarter than you,” he exclaims.

Beloit, Wisconsin's Jeff Jacobson scored his first-ever Southeast Gassers crown behind the wheel of his wicked-quick Ford Fairlane, dubbed the Skairlane. Jacobson ousted Shannon Smith in his Pale Rider '55 Chevy in the finale.

This concept has endeared itself to the young and old alike, taking the series to places — and heights — Stott never thought possible. Today, they average some 2,500 fans at their eleven races in seven different states, and sponsors have come knocking on the door — something Stott is elated about. Following his belief that the racers are the show, he charges no entry fee, and so the spectator gate and sponsors fill the financial void. The only caveat for the sponsors — the rulebook requires any and all sponsor decals to be vintage in appearance, just like the cars themselves (new sponsor Axalta, a global paint and coating company, had to design a period-esque decal for the cars to meet Stott’s requirements).

Backup girls -- bring 'em back!

Not an official part of the Southeast Gassers program, a group of rabid central Indiana drag racing fans brought out their vintage iron for a semi-organized display. Of particular interest was the ramp truck (bottom left) with a monstrous inline 10-cylinder engine comfortably tucked into its lengthened nose.

And lest you think this is a group of retired gray-hairs racing off of their pensions and social security, the Southeast Gassers boasts a number of young guns, like 21-year-old Josh Pruitt and Stott’s 25-year old nephew Donovan Stott, among others.

“I think what appeals to these young guys is the racing part. If you’re a 15- or 16-year-old kid and you decide you want to go drag racing but don’t want to bracket race, where would you go: Pro Mod, 10.5, or no-prep? That will cost you $150,000 to be competitive. But now there’s a place, the Southeast Gassers. A C/Gas car can be built and raced competitively for about $20,000 to $25,000. I’ve had racers tell me they’d rather lose first round in a real drag race than win a bracket race, and so I’ve developed something that these kids can realistically afford to go do that.”

This is the result of a night of high-revving, clutch-dumping launches on the racing surface: a near-polished, rubber-free launch pad. Behind the starting line, bare patches were also evident where drivers would perform their all-too-enjoyable dry hops.

Rick Cathcart banging the gears on another high-winding burnout in his C/Gas Studebaker pickup.

While competing organizations have struggled to get off the ground and draw spectators, the Southeast Gassers have seen year-over-year increase on both sides of the fence, and much of that, Stott concedes, is down to both his rules package and his hands-on approach.

Todd Blackwell parked his “Sling Shot” Nova in the B/Gas winner’s circle after defeating Missouri’s Danny Byrd in his “Junk Yard Dog” machine.

Kenneth Phillips (left) and Tony Turner in their crowd-pleasing A/Gas machines, complete with the likewise period-correct backup girls.

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“I’m really big on fan surveys. I’ll go up in the stands and not let anybody know who I am and just start talking to the fans,” he notes. Much of the structure of the series today is based on this fan interaction, the feedback he’s been given., and his observations on spectator interest and on-track parity. The rest, of course, comes from his undying belief in keeping the heart and soul of Gasser racing — true Gasser racing — alive for generations to come. And his vision has and continues to prove successful.

When people ask me about the Southeast Gassers I get carried away and can go on all day, because I’m just so proud and amazed at how big it’s become,” he says.

And that he should be.

Check out a number of the stars of the Southeast Gassers Association and their way-cool machinery!

Tony Turner’s stars and bars-themed ’39 Dodge

Cumming, Georgia native Tony Turner campaigns this beautiful 1939 Dodge that’s powered by — fittingly — an old-school 392 Chrysler Hemi. Turner purchased the car, which was in the midst of construction when it’s owner passed away, as a roller — he says as a distraction when his own father passed away in the summer of 2014. Turner says he didn’t know anything about drag racing at the time, but was drawn to the vintage racing scene, deciding then to complete the car as a track-machine with a straight axle under its hulking nose.

Nick Smithberg assembled the powerplant that sports a Bryant 5/8-inch stroker crankshaft and Hot Heads aluminum heads, measuring 467 cubic-inches. Turning 8,000 rpm, it produces upwards of 800 horsepower. Turner shifts the big Dodge with a G-Force 101 four-speed transmission, noting he’s run a variety of transmissions and “broke them all.” Despite its size, Turner says he can get some mighty-high hang-time on his 5,500 rpm launches, which often result in a hairy ride through the early part of the run.

The Quick and Dirty namesake was inspired by the early look of the car; Tuner initially ran it in primer, and over time it became a mixture of both dirty and rust that had developed through the primer. The stars and stripes theme, complete with the matching interior and headrests, really sets this machine off with a 1960’s vibe.

Josh Pruitt

The youngest member of the Southeast Gassers Association program is 21-year old Josh Pruitt, who competes in A/Gas behind the wheel of this 1963 Ford Fairlane known as Young Blood. Pruitt, who hails from Campabello, South Carolina, is a third-generation racer, who was introduced to the sport through his parents, uncle, and grandfather, and who continue to be an integral part of his racing venture.

Initially following the trajectory of the today’s younger racing crowd, Pruitt raced a 1991 Fox-body Mustang, but became addicted to the old-school scene like that of the Southeast Gassers and says he simply had to be a part of it. 

“I’d much rather drive a four-speed than an automatic, and it really makes it fun because you drive the car, it doesn’t drive you. This is just a really fun deal, and you get make a lot of memories doing it.”

Pruitt scored the C/Gas crown at Wagler, defeating Rick Cathcart in the Trouble Maker Studebaker.

Dwight McGuire

“Got the oldest and slowest car here, but we’re here — everybody loves to see this old thing,” Dwight McGuire says with excitement as he introduces us to the Steel Lady — a 1947 Nash with an interesting story, like many of the cars running with the Southeast Gassers. Fortunately, speed isn’t indicative of ones enjoyment level for the sport, as you couldn’t wipe the broad smile off this Kentucky native that calls himself the Hawaiian Hillbilly as he shares the old Nash’s story, clad in his beach-ready attire.

As the tale goes, the original owner, Mel Lewis, turned the Nash from pure show-car to racecar in 1966 and spent $6,000 to have the custom paint scheme applied in 1971, only to have the painter apply the wrong clear-coat, effectively ruining it in his eyes. That, paired with the theft of some of the hot parts he’d bought for it led him to park the car and he never raced it again. With that, it sat in a garage for nearly four decades.

McGuire found the New York-based car on the internet in 2008 — noting “I had to have it” — and developed a friendship with Lewis, who shared a host of old Polaroid photos of its early years in the sale. Some of the suspension and driveline parts have been updated since, but the body and interior — the real character — is unchanged. 

“This thing was a time capsule for 37 years, Dwight says. “I started racing it about four years ago — it’s been a ball, but it doesn’t have a high-performance motor, so it could be one of the slowest cars out here.”

“It’s really sad he spent all that money on it and never got to enjoy it,” MGuire continues. “Nobody ever saw this paint job until I took it to the Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green in 2008.”

McGuire has a 350-inch small-block Chevrolet for power with a four-speed. “It’s a handful — people like to watch because it bounces around going down the track.”

Mel passed away a year ago, and as an ode to his role in the cars’ history, Dwight pulled the tie-dye t-shirt out of the box he’d been given in the sale and tied it around the passenger seat — “I put it on there said ‘ol Mel is still here. And the day I did that, it started pulling a wheelie — it had never done that before. So I guess he’s still down here kind of watching over it.”

Don Gray’s gorgeous ’55 Chevrolet

Purely a show car that garnered plenty of attention for its showroom-quality looks and interior and exterior you could literally eat off of, Kingsport, Tennessee’s Don Gray brought out his spectacular Torture 1955 Chevrolet.

Originally built and debuted in 1965, but not initially expected to debut until 1966 — thus the stock-car-style number ’66’ on the door, which is plenty vintage in its own right — the classic 1955 Chevrolet was raced for just three seasons before Gray parked and later sold it.

The gem sports a high-winding 301 cubic-inch small-block Chevrolet for power

Gray later did some dirt track racing and even owned a dirt oval in Tennessee for a time before returning to drag racing in 1995 behind the wheel of a more modern Super Gas tri-five. Two years prior, he had successfully tracked the ’55 down and purchased it back, spending the next 25 years bringing it back to life.

“I sold it and I regretted it all that time,” Gray says. “When I found it, the boy that owned it knew I wanted it — he took two old cars I had and $1,000, but it didn’t matter because I was gonna’ get it one way or another.” 

“Everything you see here is pretty much how it was when I built it, but the engine is not original, nor are the seats. But it does have an original 10,000 rpm tachometer in it, and the 6:17 gear is original, as well. It also American magnesium wheels on it, but I couldn’t get those back so I had to get some American aluminum, but it’s pretty close to how it was at the time. It had pretty well the best of everything you could get at that time.”

Gray says the first paint job he applied in 1965 cost him a whopping $100 and the Sherwin-Williams paint was $10 — this paint job was $6,800. 

The little 301 was a screamer in its day — Gray would launch at nine-grand, shift it at ten, and would zing it through the traps at 9,200 — “it screamed…it made a tremendous sound.”

Gray travels to every Southeast Gassers event and shows his beautiful pride and joy, noting he fired it up a couple of months ago but has no intent of doing so again — he says ultimately he’d like to find a museum for it to display its heritage as one of the finest examples of the Gasser era.

Kenneth Phillips’ A/Gas Corvette

Inarguably one of the most well-engineered and cleanest — nevermind quickest — cars in the A/Gas category and the Southeast Gassers Association is this 1955 Corvette owned by Kenneth Phillips out of Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Phillips purchased the car, originally more of a Pro Modified-style car, he notes, from Quain Stott and spent last spring modifying it to fit the Southeast Gasser rules. The debut was successful to say the least, as he runner-up in the A/Gas points championship.

“It’s a lot of fun…it’s a ball,” Phillips notes.

The ‘Vette sports a Gene Fulton-built 385 for power backed by a four-speed, which has propelled it into the 5.60s in the eighth-mile.

Atlanta, Georgia’s Justin Moses

Another of the relative young-guns in the series is 42-year-old Justin Moses, who hails from Atlanta, Georgia.

Moses campaigns this 1956 Chevrolet that sports a big-block Chevrolet for power, backed with a four-speed and transferring out to a Ford 9-inch.

Paul Vanderpool applied the unmistakably traditional, airbrushed paint scheme last year, which makes it among the ‘lookers’ of the series. Converted to a Gasser in recent years, Moses later learned of its unique history. Once calling Fredericksburg, Virginia home, the ‘56 was a bit of a legend among the locals, as its original owner had made hay bootlegging moonshine with it. The previous owner had traded some handyman work for the car, discovering it in pretty rough shape. Moses said he knew he wanted a racecar and didn’t want to use anything too nice as a basis, so he gave the car a complete transformation. 

The car sports fiberglass in all the places permissible by the rules to replace the rotted-out original panels.

Moses said he found out quick how outgunned he was in his early years with the series, but gradually stepped up his program to run with the pack in A/Gas.

“It’s a tight field out here. There aren’t several tenths separating the field, so you have to be on your A-game…any hiccup or mistake is going to cost you  race. If you don’t cut a good light or get out of the groove a little bit…it’s tough. It’s fun.”

About the author

Andrew Wolf

Andrew has been involved in motorsports from a very young age. Over the years, he has photographed several major auto racing events, sports, news journalism, portraiture, and everything in between. After working with the Power Automedia staff for some time on a freelance basis, Andrew joined the team in 2010.
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