At 63 years of age, Lones Combs has kept his 1957 Chevy almost as long as his wife Helen, his bride of 44 years. He clearly loves his wife first, and the classic four-speed car second.
Next month will mark 41 years since Combs went to the bank and signed a promissory note to pay back a $1200 loan with payments of $100 monthly. Helen co-signed the loan and once he paid it off, the clear title remained in the car which he turned into a high-winding Modified car.
“I didn’t have any money, so I had to finance it,” Combs said, looking with pride at his bright orange shoebox turned classic gear-jammer.
Without doubt, the classic Chevrolet has proven to be the second love of his life.
“It’s exciting, I wind the rpms to about 10,000 and let the clutch out – and I feel 16 years old all over again,” admitted Combs. “There aren’t many things available that can do that to a man; if there is, it’s likely against the law.”
So enthused with racing his classic car, Combs ran everywhere he could in the 1980s including bracket races. His finest point was in 1983 when he represented his home track of Elk Creek Dragway in the bracket finals and beat out almost 800 other entries to reach the finals and win the Super Pro division. He nearly became the grand champion but broke out in the finals.
When he raced, he did so with a stick shifted car until the face of sportsman drag racing quickly changed.
Combs was one of the old Modified racers who found themselves looking for a place to race when Billy Meyer, then IHRA President in 1988, dropped class racing in favor of indexed-bracket racing. Combs joined the Sportsman Class Racers Association, a group formed in protest of the IHRA’s decision and raced there. When the SCRA folded, he found a home with the Gear Jammers circuit.
In 1989, Combs considered returning to the IHRA to race but quickly realized the series he left wasn’t the same he intended to run again.
“It’s all turned to automatics and not too hard to drive,” Combs explained. “Not many people like a challenge these days. Put that third pedal in there and it’s a handful.”
But for Combs, it’s a way of life, a tradition and a passion all rolled up into one.
WORKS FOR GRANDPA, WORKS FOR ME - Mike Combs, 20, just might be an old soul trapped in a young body.
The up and coming driver on the High Winding Gear-Jammer circuit, a group comprised of stick-shift Modified style cars racing in the Carolinas and Virginia, pilots a 1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible.
Combs, the grandson of longtime Modified racer Lones Combs, drives the former Dolemite car, once a staple in IHRA Super Stock, rebranded as Two Ton Honey in tribute to Mike Phillips, who drove a similar car on the tour decades ago.
“When I turned 16, this became my first race car – never drove a junior or anything,” said Combs. “I got right in the car and drove.”
The Two Ton Honey designation might be a tribute, but for this upstart driver, there is truth in advertising.
“It’s 3,890 with me in it, not far from 4,000,” Combs proudly proclaims. “I was going to name it something else, but this is what Grandpa wanted. I was keen on ‘She’s fine my 409'.”
Combs then added, in the near future, his reference to the popular song wouldn’t be false advertising, even thought right now he is driving with a 350-incher under the hood which some refer to as a “junkyear motor.”
“We’re building one to go in here,” Combs said, his voice clearly running at the 409 speed.
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