Sportsman drag racer turned engine builder Gene Fulton experienced many good times while racing at Bristol Dragway. Those moments couldn't compare to Sunday's moments at the famed facility located in the mountains of eastern Tennessee.
Fulton, of Spartanburg, SC, was inducted into the Legends of Thunder Valley Dragway Ring of Honor during pre-race ceremonies at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
Fulton was presented with a plaque commemorating his legends status and his name was mounted on the wall of the spectator side grandstand. The Spartanburg-based engine builder was overwhelmed with the presentation.
Fulton joins legends such as Larry Carrier, Wally Parks, Bruton Smith, Jeff Byrd, Don Garlits, Sox & Martin, Shirl Greer, Rickie Smith and Dale Pulde. He becomes the first sportsman (non-professional) drag racer to join the elite group.
“You look at the top names up there … the professional drag racers and I feel a bit undeserving,” Fulton said Sunday. “I was just a guy who loved fast cars and wanted to drag race. I never got into drag racing looking for any kind of awards. I just wanted to race and win.”
Winning became second nature for Fulton when it came to racing in Bristol. He won 14 national events during his career with eight of those coming at Bristol. Fulton was a five-time series champion in the International Hot Rod Association.
Fulton's run of success began in 1974 with a combination which appeared anything but a show quality car. He flat-towed his 1964 Chevy II wagon, a car he purchased from a used car lot in Abilene, Texas, following his discharge from the Air Force. Fulton turned the car into a race car that he towed from race to race with an old van. He won his first race in 1973 at Bristol.
“I flat towed the car up the mountain, on the old Highway 19/23,” Fulton recalled. “It rained the whole way up there and the car had picked up a fair amount of road dirt along the way. I didn't care. I was there to drag race and not win a car show. The more rounds I won, the less the other racers talked about how dirty the car was. In the end, I took home their money and their wasn't a word said then.”
Fulton also experienced the other end of Bristol's emotional spectrum when in 1978, he was involved in a two-car crash which destroyed the wagon and nearly killed him.
The wagon was more than just a race car to Fulton. He admits the winnings from the car bought and paid for his business and found it fitting to give the car a proper funeral and burial. Thirty-four years later the car is buried 6 feet underground behind his business.
Fulton never let the accident spoil his love for Bristol and won five more times.
“There was something special about racing Bristol,” said Fulton. “I loved racing well because I always seemed to do well here. When you look at some drag strips, there are some that you felt were beautiful. Bristol has always been in a class of its own. Back in the day you always wanted to race and win here.
“Sunday was as gratifying as any win I've even had.”
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