PRO MOD ALL-TIME TOP 20 DRIVERS - NO. 1 SCOTTY CANNON
Starting on Friday, January 8, 2010, the electronic magazine began revealing those names on the list, and will announce two drivers per week, until the No. 1 driver was unveiled during the ADRL Dragpalooza in Houston, Texas.
Attitude’s CompetitionPlus.com narrowed the list from hundreds of drivers down to 20. Today, we reveal the final driver, the all-time greatest driver, ever.
Scotty Cannon, arguably the most dominant Pro Modified driver ever, wonders if the competition will ever know how vulnerable he was in the early years of his fast doorslammer career.
• Six-time Pro Modified World Champion
• First Pro Modified Racer To Win Championship with Nitrous and a Supercharged combination
• 28 National Event Wins in 43 IHRA Finals
With the help of a few friends, Cannon was able to bring out a new 1941 Willys at the 1989 IHRA Winter Nationals in Darlington, SC. The initial plan was to run a few races and call it quits.
Enter Doug Brown, owner of a satellite programming television guide OnSat, with a proposal for the obscure bracket racer from Lyman, SC.
“He told me to come up the next week and talk to them about getting a sponsor for the car,” recalled Cannon. “He fell in love with the car basically. He didn’t fall in love with me that’s for sure. I had no idea. It was a shock to me, my family, and everybody. From that day on, we just started racing. I did okay that year, I didn’t set the woods on fire but I wasn’t a back-burner guy either.”
Brown would provide the perfect platform for Cannon’s ramp up to stardom.
The same year Brown signed Cannon to a reported $30,000 a year sponsorship, the future world champion delivered two national event wins and a Quick Eight victory. Incredibly the Quick Eight and one of his Top Sportsman triumphs came during the same weekend, the first time any driver had pulled off such a feat.
When Pro Modified came around in 1990, Cannon and Brown jumped into to the fledgling professional division with both feet. The OnSat team reached the final round in one national event and by the season’s end held the class record.
Cannon and then engine builder Gene Fulton spent many hours working and testing until they had the upper-hand.
“I worked at Fulton’s shop nearly every day and if there were eight days in a week I was down there all eight of them,” explained Cannon. “We worked on nitrous and nitrous and nitrous and we worked on motors. Naturally he was the brains and I was the flunky, the guy who was learning.
“I remember going down there day in and day out … day and night … flowing nozzles, flowing this and flowing that. I’ll never forget stumbling on a little nitrous stuff which is no good at this day and time, but the car starting running better. It started running really good, it was hurting the motor but I was getting a little bit more help from everybody and they saw a little promise and the next year turned out pretty good.”
Pretty good for Cannon equaled a world championship, followed by another, and another, and for good measure a fourth. Cannon not only became the first two-time champion in the class but also the first third and fourth for good measure.
It would be easy to give the lion’s share of the credit to Cannon, but he’s always believed his supportive cast of tireless workers made the difference in his success.
“I had a good crew,” said Cannon. “I always started with the same ones, there might have been a fill-in guy or a part-time guy come in and leave; but my main guys always stayed. You have to have all of them. I get the credit, and at the end of the day, I won all the championships, and it was good for me but I was blessed. If I didn’t have the crew and the sponsors and stuff behind me this never would have happened.”
And then there’s Cannon’s belief fate had an investment in his future.
“If Doug Brown wouldn’t have walked up and why he went to the race in ‘90 I have no idea, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here as a six-time champion. Or, maybe I could have had a bigger sponsor and won more championships. Who knows? I don’t know but I wouldn’t take any of it back for the way we did it. I like the way it happened.”
The way it happened is Cannon achieved success in nearly every conceivable combination available for the first eight seasons of Pro Modified’s existence. He won with a nostalgia car, a modern car, a nitrous engine, a supercharged program, flamed or un-flamed, four-link or swing-arm. The bottom line is Cannon had a propensity of being a leader.
Cannon rarely experienced a weekend off during the course of a season, competing on the non-traditional racing weekends of Easter and Mother’s Day. If you were a track owner and had the cash, and wanted to book Cannon in for a match race, he was there and more than ready to snag your track record, no matter how much of a death-trap your strip was.
On some nights, Cannon established track records at facilities where it wasn’t safe to open the door while backing up from burnouts because the tracks were so narrow the Armco guardrails would rip the door off.
Cannon is adamant he did what it took to survive, but today, he looks back on those experiences and wonders what in the world he was thinking.
“That’s how I made my living,” Cannon admitted. “I raised both of my boys and my family. I know one year we did fifty-four races in one year counting the eight or nine IHRA races. I always did forty. I remember one Fourth of July doing five races in one week. Not one month, one week, all of them within about four or five hours apart of each other.
“We were going faster than the track had ever been because we set a lot of track records. But at this day and time we weren’t really running that fast. This day and time to go back to those tracks with the power you can make - it would almost be foolish, it would be a death wish. You just can’t do it.”
The experience, Cannon relates, also made him a better driver on the big stage with better conditions. His domination led to accusations of cheating, accusations he took very personal early on. Later he developed a thicker skin and the importance of pointing out to his skeptics why he was whipping them on a regular basis.
“At the time I didn’t really realize it was helping me as much as it was,” said Cannon. “We were doing what we needed to do to pay the bills, freshen the motors, put food on the table for the kids and make everything happen. But as time went on I could see that a couple of my interviews, after I won a few championships, I was under some scrutiny from a couple of the other racers.
“I allowed myself to get caught up in some of the fussing. Today I look back on it and now it’s like a fight with an old girlfriend, what did I even do it for? But I remember telling a guy, who’s a good friend of mine, ‘I don’t see how you expect to beat me and my team, you sell cars for a living and you come out and play in your play toy, I drag race every day and every week for a living. What makes you think you’re supposed to beat me? Your money’s not going to beat me, because I’ve got the same stuff you got.”
Eventually Cannon received the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to race a fully-funded, NHRA championship capable fuel Funny Car. Having captured nearly every attainable accolade the Pro Modified class had to offer, Cannon walked away from the class as the winningest driver.
Twenty-one years after wondering whether he’d make it past the first couple of events, the tough-as-nails Cannon admits he gets a little teary-eyed when he is considered the greatest-ever Pro Modified.
“It’s an honor and makes me feel good,” said Cannon. “But when you get a kid or a lifetime fan, it chokes you up some inside and you feel the tears welling up. You know they don’t have a clue how hard it took to get to this point. You know what you went through to do it and they respect you so much at a higher level, and they know it but they don’t know it.”
“We put in a lot of work and I had so many good people surrounding me, I had Boyce Boswell and Darrell Makins and none of these guys were getting paid. It was the start of a dream that no one knew was ever going to happen. As we prospered, started making money and got better sponsors naturally everyone started getting paid. But when it all started it was like dominoes, they had to fall in the right direction. We didn’t know it at the time. There were a bunch of times were we were at a dead end road and never knew it, never saw the stop sign and ran right through it and kept going, looking back on it now. I don’t think in this day and time it would be wise to do what we did.”
Knowing the end results, Cannon would defy wisdom all over again.
For the complete list visit: ATTITUDE'S COMPETITIONPLUS.COM'S ALL-TIME TOP 20 HOMEPAGE