PERSISTENCE - Mack Presley might be the poster child for persistence.
His story of persistence is even greater than winning from the No. 1 qualifying position during the Greer Dragway inaugural Nostalgia Gasser race in Greer, SC,
Pressley, of Matthews, NC, found an old Anglia he wanted and never gave up hope, even though the owners wouldn’t sell for twenty years and then when they did sell, sold the Gasser to someone else.
Eventually Pressley procured the apple of his eye. No one wanted the legendary AA/GS Hartsoe Brothers entry more than Pressley.
Pressley finally purchased his dream car in 1992 when the then owner lost interest.
“I’d been after (WHAT) for almost twenty years when Elmer’s [Hartsoe] second wife had the second car and got tired of messing with it,” Pressley explained. “Mike Norris bought it and he got tired of it. I bought it with the intention of putting it back on the strip.”
Pressley said he finalized the sale on a Friday and by Sunday had it on the strip.
The Hartsoe Brothers, Elmer and Gwyn, raced the legendary Willys from 1965 and parked it in 1972.
“The car stayed parked for nearly 20 years,” Pressley explained. “It sat in a garage on stands, no motor, no trans for 20 years.”
Presley says his Anglia is period correct right down to the big block between the fenders. He said the original car was supercharged but would have made the car quicker than he would have preferred.
The original car ran as quick as 5.70s in the eighth-mile and since Pressley purchased the classic Gasser, it has been as quick as 5.40s.
“That’s boogying,” Presley pointed out. “You can tell how short the wheelbase is when it get up with no wing and spoiler. It’s floating and I’m not fond of the floating experience at this speed.”
Pressley suffered a non-racing accident five years ago which limited his ability to drive the hot rod. He’s found a quality replacement in 19-year old Chris Simms. The accident, Pressley said, left him within an inch of paralysis.
“I do the engine, get it to the track and hand the driving over to someone else,” Pressley explained.
Pressley says he races his Gasser all over and has traveled the eastern seaboard from Buffalo, NY, to Bradenton, Fla., in his quest to race the vehicle. He’s been as far west as St. Louis.
“I’ll still drive it every once in a while but I pull a lot of horsepower out of it,” Pressley admitted.
Pressley admits he gains a measure of satisfaction by living vicariously through Simms; a driver he says has a good head on his shoulders. Simms has been driving the car for three years.
“It’s an honor to drive,” said Simms. “I thank Mac a lot for this opportunity. I get in the car and I respect the fact it’s his car and the history associated with it. I couldn’t ask for a better ride.”
And for Pressley, he couldn’t have asked for a better reward for his persistence.
GRAND MARSHAL: THEY GOT IT RIGHT - Gene Cromer couldn’t have been more proud. The Anderson, SC-based, former Gas class racer was named Grand Marshal of the inaugural Nostalgia Gasser event at Greer Dragway in Greer, SC.
Cromer, now 80, walked through the pits in admiration of the nearly dozen period correct Gassers assembled for a special Chicago Style competition at the eighth-mile track located right in the heart of doorslammer country.
“Quain did a great job,” Cromer said as he inspected Quain Stott’s 1941 Willys coupe, a car patterned after Cromer’s legendary-to-the-area Moonlighter entry.
“He did some really good work. It was just like old times,” Cromer proclaimed.
Cromer and fellow Gasser legend Dude Moore were the dignitaries of the event organized by Stott, Jeremy Pearson and Greg Porter; and all three are in competition this weekend.
Cromer was impressed by the number of period correct cars paying tribute to his era. They were given the legend’s blessing as he strolled through the pits.
“They look and run just like they did,” Cromer said, smiling. “I ran my Gasser for the first time here in Greer during the 1965 season. It’s hard to believe it was 47 years ago.”
Cromer was a regular at both Greer and now defunct Spartanburg Dragway.
While most of the big tracks on the west coast and the Northeast gained notoriety in major printed magazines, Cromer cautions just because there wasn’t a lot of publicity didn’t mean the cars from the Carolinas didn’t pack a potent punch.
“The match racing was big around here,” said Cromer. “I had my first one at Spartanburg and it used to pack the place with spectators. We were pretty tough around here and you did well to keep up with one another here. I guess we didn’t think much about those guys.”
Seeing Greer’s Nostalgia Gasser event come together has provided Cromer with a born again experience for drag racing.
“I guess it has, even though I never really left the sport,” admitted Cromer. “I just had to get out of the sport and even though I never made it back, didn’t mean I gave up on coming out and racing again. Time just got me.”
Would he drive one if the opportunity presented itself?
“Oh yeah,” Cromer answered as quickly as he left the starting line back in the day.
Think it will happen?
“Nah,” he said with a laugh.
MY BROTHER'S KEEPER, KINDA SORTA -Mitch Stott is a past IHRA Pro Modified champion and credited as the first driver to put a doorslammer into the five second zone. He laughs when asked why his brother Quain, also a past IHRA champion, never appointed him to the crew chief role on his Willys Gasser.
This didn’t stop the younger brother from attempting to be his sibling’s keeper.
As Quain rolled into stage during the Nostalgia Gasser race at Greer Dragway, longtime companion Cynthia guided him into the stage beams. Mitch was giving direction while squatted behind the old-school 1941 Willy.
“I guess you’d characterize me as the brother who truly loves this stuff,” Mitch admitted. “This car of Quain’s really needs a good true squaring for staging. The car leaves straight, so if it’s lined up crooked, it’s going crooked. The problem with these old Willys bodies is they’re all round. There’s nothing to square them off of.”
The brothers, just like they used to back in their teen years at Spartanburg Dragway, were wearing nearly matching Fulton Competition shirts. Mitch has offered all of his support both with this car and Quain’s ADRL Pro Extreme car.
“I’ve offered my help to my brother but he’s never taken me up on it. Guess he’s not needed it because he’s never asked.”
Some sibling rivalries refuse to die, especially between these two.
Once Quain accused his brother of selling out the family tune-up and criticized him for bringing in a tuner when the two went to supercharged combinations. Mitch once knocked his brother out of championship contention when taking a dive for a teammate was the norm in the 1990s.
Fight amongst themselves they might do but let an outsider pick at either, and they’ll come to the rescue of one another. This is how a Stott brother sibling rivalry works.
Besides, Mitch has found a new, old love … old school Gassers.
“No disrespect to Pro Modified, but I have no desire to watch that kind of racing anymore,” (WHICH) Stott said. “These kinds of cars are cool … neat. This kind of racing … I’d drive 1,000 miles to watch a true nostalgia race like they’ve created here.”
All day long, Quain made straight passes in his Willys.
“I’d grade him as an ‘A,” Mitch said with a smile when asked to grade his brother’s driving performance. “I drove his old Anglia a few times when he first brought it out. That was an experience I loved. I’ve got a guaranteed, promised ride in this car. Right now I’m gonna rate him an A.”
Then, Mitch pauses as the sibling competition resonates to the front of the interview.
“Let me take that back and make the grading conditional,” Mitch said, in deep thought. “Let me go back and give him a B. After I’ve had a run, I’ll either elevate him to an A or take him down to a B.”
FORWARD TO THE PAST - The only history Jeremy Pearson’s 1957 Ford Gasser had began Saturday afternoon at Greer Dragway.
Pearson, of Spartanburg, SC, saw all the fun friend Greg Porter was having with his period correct 1955 Chevy and decided to build one, just like it was back in the day.
Pearson and Craig Owen began working on the classic Blue Oval in December and finished it up in the hours before the Nostalgia Gasser event.
Pearson and Owen are no strangers to modern day drag racing but when it came to their current car, modern muscle just didn’t have the same appeal.
“We used to do a lot of small tire, stock suspension stuff,” Pearson said. “Modern day drag racing has gotten so far out of hand and this kind of racing puts the tuner and driver back into the equation. It’s more mechanical than electrical. This is like they did in the old days, with just a little more motor.”
So caught up in the nostalgic aspect of building his car, the 35-year old Pearson often caught himself wishing he’d been born decades earlier.
“You got a lot of recognition back in those days for doing more for less,” Pearson explained. “It would have been neat to experience it all, even the street racing and everything. It would have been way cool.”
IT'S A GAS, GAS, GAS - Ask Quain Stott and he won’t mince words.
As nice as driving a 250-mph doorslammer professionally can be, it doesn’t provide the same adrenaline he gets from the 120-mph car he’ll commandeer Saturday afternoon.
Stott is one of twelve drivers competing in Greer Dragway’s [South Carolina] inaugural Nostalgia Gasser event. He’s driving a period correct 1941 Willys he built.
Stott expects the car to perform impressively but, for him, winning or being the quickest is secondary to having a good time.
“I wanted to build a special one, just like it was back in the day,” Stott said. “There have been gasser series over the years where they eventually got away from the intent and basically turned into modern day race cars with old bodies on the cars. We didn’t want that. We wanted to race period correct cars with the look and feel of the old cars I watched when I was a kid.”
Stott’s infatuation with the gasser style race vehicle is one which spans nearly five decades. This outlandish style of car was responsible for steering him towards doorslammers as opposed to dragsters.
Besides, Stott, who frequently accompanied his dad Bob to gasser style races at both Greer and Spartanburg drag strips, could never relate to the slingshots. He was clearly bred from a young age in his hometown of Landrum, SC, to understand the hot rods around home had working doors and ran in a straight line.
Stott’s “Executioner” Willys is actually the third he’s built in the last year. Each one has been an improvement over the previous but not with the latest and greatest technology. The more antiquated and unsafe, he laments, the better.
“When I was a chassis builder full-time, the stuff I was cutting off of these cars is the stuff I’m hunting down now to put on,” admitted Stott. “You look at my car and it has the old Hilborn injectors and while I could find better parts, the look is most important.”
Stott, on his weekend, has become an avid supporter of local nostalgia events with his classic Willys. However, with each event his frustration level grew. The more he perused the pits, the more he realized he wasn’t alone.
Fellow racers Greg Porter and Jeremy Pearson shared the same frustration of gassers being nothing more than modern day cars selling themselves off as nostalgia.
“It was frustrating when you’d take all of this time and effort in making your car look like a gasser should be and then someone would show up with a car meant to run fast instead of looking like what they were supposed to be,” Stott lamented. “They would have a straight axle on the front, and they’d proclaim these new cars to be gassers.”
The trio had an easy sell to Greer’s promoter Mike Greer, who had longed for the kind of event they proposed.
The program they sold Greer was exactly as Stott had always envisioned the gassers to be.
“It was the ultimate doorslammer [full bodied car] of the day,” said Stott. “You look at the roots and these cars started as street cars and they had different engines in them. They had to carry tags and insurance. It evolved into modified cars and by 1965 these cars were all out race cars. This class was so popular the competition became as brutal as war. They match raced, ran at the big events and had a big following. I’d ventured to say there was a time when these cars became more popular than the slingshot dragsters.”
Stott’s vision of a gasser shows through the rules and regulations of the Greer event. Each pre-entry was required to submit a photo for appearance and period correctness. There is a no-tolerance policy on modern day appearance including the car’s graphics and tire lettering.
The wheels must be of a 1965-era type and spin a tire no wider than 11.5-inches.
When rules were broached on ride height of the cars; it became a higher the better for this show.
“It’s the way they had to be because the tracks weren’t any good and the tires weren’t any better,” Stott explained. “These racers figured if they sat the cars higher, the weight transfer would be better. We were careful to make sure this was the way these cars looked. They are going to sit high with a high center of gravity. This made the cars a handful to drive but this is just like it was back in the day.”
The promoters of the event are period correct when it comes to the participants, but the timing system will be met with a compromise. The cars will stage and leave on the tree and the winner will get a win-light, but elapsed times will remain in confidence. Track announcers are instructed to describe the action on the track but remain mum even if there’s a record run.
This bodes well for Stott and his group who believe the fan excitement will not be generated by scoreboards but the action on the track.
“These cars will be all over the track, racing wall to wall, it really won’t matter what they run anyway,” pointed out Stott.
The primary goal will be to travel back in time when corporate backing and big rigs were fantasy speak.
“We want to put on a show for the old-timers and the young people who never had a chance to watch these cars run,” said Stott. “It’s our chance to show what drag racing used to be.”
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