VARNER VICTORIOUS – TWICE – AT SEGA OPENER; MCKEE, HALL POST WINS
The Southeast Gassers Association (SEGA) held its season opener Mar. 25, at Silver Dollar Motorsports Park in Reynolds, GA, where Rick Varner made series history by becoming the first driver to win two SEGA classes at one event.
The reigning Super Stock champion successfully opened his campaign to repeat with a final-round win over Jerry Dean, then rushed back to his pit to swap cars and win again in the A/Gas final against Gabriel Burrell.
Varner said he’s been campaigning two cars at most SEGA events for more than seven years, but the difference maker at Silver Dollar was, “I did my job on the tree and I was lucky.”
Elapsed times and speeds are not reported by SEGA, but Varner, “The Dirt Man” from Kannapolis, NC, qualified his ’67 Camaro on top of eight Super Stock entries. Dean was second on the list, with 2021 class champ Ron Allison third and Steve Davis rounded out the top half of the field.
In SS eliminations, Varner made it past Don Wilmot and his ’66 Mustang, then took out Davis and his “Spinny III” ’63 Falcon in the semis. On the opposite side of the ladder, Dean downed Michael Oden and Randy Keifer in the “Spine Tingler” ’55 Pontiac wagon.
Varner led stripe-to-stripe in the final, visually leaving on Dean, and already beginning to stretch out a lead by the 60-foot mark.
As soon as he won in Super Stock, the first final to be contested, Varner hightailed it back to the starting line, where his A/Gas ’66 Chevy II, also dubbed “The Dirt Man” was waiting after qualifying ninth in a 14-car field.
That paired Varner up with series newcomer Greg Stelse, who brought “The Joker,” his ’56 Pontiac all the way down from Wisconsin to qualify in the number-seven slot. Varner left first and never looked back while Stelse had his hands full of the launch and slowed nearly a half second from his qualifying time.
Varner made short work of Chase Howard and his “All Business” entry in the quarterfinals but won a much closer semi over ’18 B/Gas champ Todd Blackwell in the “Sling Shot” Chevy II.
Waiting for him in the final was fourth-place starter 2021 class champ Gabriel Burrell and his fan-favorite “Southern Flyer ’31 Ford. In the opening round of racing, Burrell beat SEGA founder and promoter Quain Stott in his return to the driver’s seat after a multi-year absence, then took down Stott’s brother, Mitch, also making a return to competition in the “Frequent Flyer” ’63 Corvette. That sent Burrell to the semis against Ben Christopher in his “Happy Daze” Nova, and then on to the final against Varner.
With a quicker pass in the semis, Burrell earned the preferred left lane for the final, but Varner left with an advantage off the tree. Burrell was playing catch-up until half-track when his ride made a sudden move, then began sashaying across the lane. It eventually got up on its two left wheels to come perilously close to the left guardwall, so Burrell was forced to lift while Varner streaked toward making SEGA history.
“Well, it was a bad driving call that turned into a decent show for everybody,” Burrell explained later. “I left a little late, but I could still see him there. The car got out of the groove to the right and I went ahead and stayed in it, and I kept putting steering in it, but it wouldn't come back. I knew it was probably going to bite me soon and it finally made a move. Caught it but lost the race. But it should be a good video.”
Meanwhile, Varner said he wasn’t even aware of Burrell’s hairy ride.
“I really don't look over to see who I'm racing. I look at the tree and do my job and it just falls out the way it is,” he said. “I just do the best I can.”
In victory lane, Varner credited his crew for the double-up wins, praising them for keeping two cars on point and giving him a significant moment in SEGA history.
McKEE MAKES IT HAPPEN IN B/GAS
Winning from the number-one position, Ted McKee dominated B/Gas at Silver Dollar with his “Rocky Top Missile” ‘67 Nova out of Lenoir City, TN.
McKee led 14 entries in qualifying, though only 13 made it into eliminations after Scott Butler withdrew his “Lil’ Varmint” Morris-Minor from competition.
A solo pass in the opening round gave McKee lane choice for round two, which he won handily over Art Copeland in his “Kryptonite” ’41 Studebaker. Next came Charlie Lee in the semis with his “Tennessee Charlie” ’66 Mustang.
Meanwhile, defending class champion Colby Welch raced his “Moonbeam” ‘64 Ranchero from a number-two start through Dennis Shepherd before making a bye run in the second round due to the uneven number of qualifiers. Still, Welch retained lane choice over Daniel Haynes in the “Patriot” Falcon for the semis, where he also secured lane choice for the final with a quicker win than McKee posted against Lee.
Leaving from the right lane for the first time in eliminations, McKee was ready for Welch, leaving first to allow his slightly slower pass to turn on the event win light.
After the race, McKee credited Blake Housley for his remote tuning prowess from his shop near Kansas City.
“Blake and his dad (Terry), it’s amazing what they can do,” McKee said. “Really good, I couldn’t have done it without him.”
HALL HAS C/GAS COVERED
With 17 entries C/Gas provided the largest field at Silver Dollar, but only 15 made it to the final qualifying list led by Brad Wimberly in his “Southern Sizzler” ’65 Comet. Tim Hall, the 2022 class champ in his “Scalded Dog” Rambler qualified second and the two eventually met in the final round.
To get there, Wimberly enjoyed a first-round free pass, then downed Diana Castro in the “Quick Draw” Falcon and Larry Cummings to reach Hall in the final.
Hall, meanwhile, took down BB Brown and his “Deputy Dawg” Chevy, Arthur Russell in the “Pink Panther” ’53 Plymouth and Ricky Jones driving the “Stud Muffin” Chevy wagon.
In the final, Hall was ready, running nearly a tenth quicker over the eighth mile to take the event win.
Later, Hall revealed his day was anything but easy. In fact, he barely made it into eliminations.
“First qualifying run, we stripped the spines out of the clutch disc,” Hall revealed. “So we had to pull the transmission, pull the clutch. I had an old, used disc in the trailer that we put in there. But then it scarred up the input shaft,” Hall explained.
“So we put a different transmission in because I had a spare. Lots of work. So then we made the second qualifying run and the shifter fell apart on top end. It was after the run, but really lucky. I had to take my pocket knife out and used it to put it in gear so I could drive back up here (to the pits).”
Despite its earlier mechanical woes, Hall credited his ride for delivering the win in the final.
"The car made a really good run, but I didn't do a good job driving. Me and him (Wimberly), we both were late on the light. I probably shouldn't have won the race, but luckily, he had a bad light, too,” Hall said. “So we were even on the lights, neither of us had a very good reaction, but down track the car ran really well. It really ran well all day and pulled me through.”