On The Road

ON THE ROAD: Southeast Gasser Association

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When I telephoned Quain Stott in November, the day before the season finale of his Southeast Gassers Association event, I was fairly astonished at his predicament. “Van, I’ve got more cars than I’ve got room!” he shouted. Though hardly surprised at the turnout, Quain sounded completely out of breath from running around parking trailers and race cars in the pits of Greer Dragway, the vintage eighth-mile drag strip in South Carolina where the season’s last SEG barn burner was about to unfold.

So what was all the fuss about? Well, like so many entertaining success stories, Quain’s original idea wasn’t supposed to fly either—and plenty of people told him as much.

The concept was to form a “gasser group.” Big deal, it’s been done, right? Well, sort of. There are several groups in existence with “gasser” in their title, but many of them merely take nostalgia bodies and drape them over modern chassis. Quain’s idea was to build period-correct gassers employing technology that’s five decades old! So, after he drew up the rules for this deal, people couldn’t believe he was actually serious.

“That’s why people told me it wouldn’t work; they swore that nobody was going to go to this much trouble to build a car wrong on purpose,” he laughs. “Wrong” in everyone else’s opinion was exactly how Quain thought these cars should be constructed, though. In a nut shell, here’s how this deal works: to be a member of the Southeast Gassers your race car can’t be newer than 1967 in production model. Things that are not permitted include four-link suspensions, two-step rev limiters, coil-over shocks, long wheelie bars, and unless you’re one of the very few grandfathered in with an automatic transmission, you’ve got to use a four-speed manual transmission. “And none of those sissy clutchless transmissions!” barks Quain.

If this all sounds far-fetched or even unreasonable, you’re not alone, and honestly, I’ve barely even scratched the surface of what it takes to comply with the rules of this bunch. The truly remarkable part to all this is the mind-boggling amount of people who are ringing Quain’s phone off the hook to tell him their cars are currently under construction, and how they can’t wait to join his gasser cult! But talk is cheap, and that’s why you must actually send Quain pictures of the said construction before he will even put you on his official “built list.”

So how many existing members does this band currently have? Try 32 active members. If that number doesn’t impress you, it’s because you simply don’t realize how few period-correct gassers are actually in existence. “Oh, sure, there’s authentic gassers out there; just none that anybody wants to race. They’re all restored show cars!” Quain declares.

When he launched the Southeast Gassers just a few years ago, Quain found roughly six suitable cars within a 400-mile radius of his Columbus, North Carolina, base that met the requirements. So I asked legendary drag racing announcer and historian, Bret Kepner, who was in attendance and on the mic at the season finale to verify the rarity of these vehicles.

“Look, Quain is going to describe this race as the largest gathering of period-correct gassers ever assembled and he’s absolutely correct,” Kepner said. “I don’t know of a single group that has more than about 15 members; and I’m talking about true, period-correct gassers here.” All told, of 32 SEG club members, 29 of them actually showed up at Greer for the season-ending race, including Will Bailey (pictured in near lane) along with the wheel-standing Dodge of Tony Turner. “The overwhelming difference in appeal in Quain’s program is that these cars are simply the real deal. He’s such a stickler for realism, if Quain could find a way to make these cars run on 40-year-old dry-rotted tires he’d make it a rule,” chuckled Kepner, obviously relishing the thought.

Does this outfit sound entertaining so far? Well, check this out: this is no bracket racing deal; these cars actually compete in gear-jamming, heads-up eliminators with the clocks turned off! And speaking of realism, Quain doesn’t even allow modern decals on these cars. Believe it or not, he’s even turned down sponsorship money when the proposed company declined to create a “nostalgia looking” sticker!

If Quain seems rather fanatical about the whole thing it’s not your imagination, and he’ll be the first to admit that anyone who’s involved with the Southeast Gassers truly goes to great and ridiculous lengths to do so. Another thing you’ll notice if you ever come to one of these meets is the majority of the cars have catchy names across the door, but even that decoration must be hand-lettered!

So what’s the upside to all this effort? Well, to some people it doesn’t mean squat, but to a surprising, larger-than-anticipated group of drag racing purists, this is the coolest thing since cantaloupe! And by “purist” I don’t mean just a bunch of crusty old men—although admittedly Quain’s club does have its fair share of them, too! In fact, his 22-year-old nephew, Donovan, won the points championship this year, which was only separated by a few rounds and ultimately decided at the Greer season finale! Then there’s a kid from California (yes, California!) who even commissioned the assistance of legendary 1960’s-era chassis builder Don Long to oversee the building of his gasser, which is currently halfway complete. “I asked this kid if he was seriously going to tow this car across the entire country to race with us and he assures me that we’ll see him and his dad a couple times next season,” says Quain.

Ok, so that begs another obvious question: is there anyone still alive who will actually buy a ticket and sit in the stands to watch this period-correct stuff? Well, judging by the turnout the answer is a resounding Yes!—that is, if they could even find a seat! All told, the total number of spectators at Greer Dragway that perfect November day was maybe 50 tickets short of breaking the all-time attendance record—and we’re talking about a track that opened in 1958! “And we’re gonna’ shatter that number next year,” promises Quain, who also anticipates upwards of 40 period-correct SEG race cars in attendance at several events on his 10-race circuit in 2016.

So folks, if you happen to have missed this era in drag racing the first time around, don’t miss it this time. Thanks to Quain Stott and his Southeast Gassers Association, revisiting the past just got a whole lot easier!

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