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Home State Heroes: South Carolinians Kevin Brannon and Wallace Wilson Claim Big Bucks Victories at Carolina Dragway

Theresa Howard photos

Carolina Dragway’s Big Bucks Bracket Race is among the most celebrated gatherings at the NHRA-sanctioned facility in Aiken, South Carolina. With a pair of 20-granders on tap, as well as Wally trophies to the winners, the early November event (now in its 19th running) always packs the place with racers eager to score a late-season payday. 

[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #186, the Photo Annual Issue, in Jan/Feb of 2024.]

The weekend weather forecast in Aiken was near-perfect for this event and came as a much-needed break, as this event had fallen victim to rainy weather in the two years prior, forcing a total cancellation in 2021 and 2022. For Saturday’s main event, it took eight rounds of stiff competition before Kevin Brannon parked his familiar 1980 Chevy Monza in the winner’s circle. Brannon’s .008 gate job in the finals was enough to hold off Shaun Lingerfelt in the thrilling and very close final round. 

A two-time Million winner, Brannon is no stranger to big-money finals and is known for keeping his cool under pressure. Among his other notable achievements, the South Carolina native has also won championships in NHRA as well as IHRA, and scored a $100,000 win at SFG. His vintage Monza is more of a family heirloom than merely a race car. “It’s something of a never-get-rid-of car,” says Brannon. “Both my parents have driven it, and it was also the first big car I ever made a pass in after Jr. Dragsters, so it’s kind of a family car. 

A resident of Gaffney, South Carolina, Brannon calls Greer Dragway his home track, but has also been coming to Carolina Dragway for most of his career for special events. “Very fortunate and blessed” is how he describes his drag racing exploits to date. 

For Sunday’s main event finale, Wallace Wilson accomplished something that’s not easily done: Enter the quickest car on the property in a bracket race and win! His 2023 Maddox dragster is motivated by a PAR Racing Engines 665-cubic-inch powerplant and was clocking low 4.20-second elapsed times (the quickest numbers of any car in the event) and turning on one win light after another all the way to the final round, where he sealed the deal by getting past Turtle Brannon. Wilson drove exceptionally well, recording many .00X reaction times throughout eliminations. 

In the finals, he was out of the gate with a slightly more conservative .014, which was more than enough to get the job done, since Brannon was uncharacteristically late with a .187. Brannon was forced to chase Wilson pretty hard at the stripe and broke out with a 5.057 on a 5.06 dial. Wilson, sensing he was far ahead in the contest, let off early and coasted to a 4.338 on a 4.26 dial to win the $20,000 on the final day of the event. 

The Big Bucks win is the largest purse ever for the Taylors, South Carolina, resident, who had a decorated Jr. Dragster career, winning his first event at Atlanta Dragway at age 8, and later clinching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016. 

These days, Wallace says he tends to come on strong at the end of the year, and it was especially evident in 2023. Two weeks before his Big Bucks win at Carolina, he runner-upped at Darlington, and then scored yet another final-round appearance at Union Dragway just one week prior to his victory at Carolina. “Typically, I always do pretty well at Carolina, and for some reason I tend to do better at the very end of the season,” he concludes.

This story was originally published on March 15, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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