The Southeast

Text by Danny White

There were some great funny car racers from the Southeast in the 1980s, including stars like Whit Bazemore, Al Baldwin, Shirl Greer, Paul Smith, and others! — Updated March 19, 2008

West Virginian Al Baldwin raced the “Barbarian” AA/FC Arrow. Baldwin, a car dealer from Pineville, West Virginia, raced a Hemi Cuda and a Camaro in Pro Stock when that class started. He retired from racing for a few years and then built the “Barbarian” funny car in the late seventies. The Hemi-powered Arrow raced primarily in the South in IHRA, NHRA, and match races. The “Pineville Flash,” as Baldwin was known, had moderate success with the car. He ran 6.41 at 225 in the Arrow before retiring from drag racing in the early eighties. (Photo courtesy of Tom West/Replicas West; info from Draglist files)

Paul Smith had many funny car rides before and after the Jerome Bradford Camaro in the 1983 season. Jerome Bradford had gained fame as the owner of several Pro Stockers that Warren Johnson had driven for him; Bradford had even driven a Cutlass Pro Stocker himself. In 1983, Bradford stepped up to fuel funny cars with the veteran Paul Smith. The red and silver Camaro was a good-running funny car in 1983. The known best for the team was a 5.98, 247.98 that set a record at Moroso Motorsports Park. The team built a new Corvette in 1984 that was destroyed in a crash at the Gatornationals. The team disbanded, and Smith left to drive the Custom Body Daytona for the Castronovo Brothers. (Photo and info from Draglist files)

Dennis Lockaby raced one the best funny cars out of the Southeast in the seventies but retired from racing. In 1984 Lockaby decided to return to funny car racing with this Trans Am. Lockaby bought the Don Prudhomme Pepsi Challenger Trans Am that ran 5.63 in 1982. Lockaby hired former Top Fuel world champion Jeb Allen as the crew chief for the team. Lockaby ran a few IHRA races running a 5.89, 242 best, but soon retired due to the high cost of running a nitro car. The funny car sat in Lockaby’s car dealership showroom until he sold it to Monty Todd. The car was later bought and redone as the Pepsi Challenger by Don Prudhomme. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Nagy; info from Draglist files)

Rickie Bowie was a low-buck alcohol funny car racer who became a low-buck nitro racer. Bowie, who worked for the state highway department, decided to step up to nitro when IHRA expanded the funny car field to 16 cars in the mid-eighties. Bowie ran the Nitefire Challenger on 50% nitro, getting the car in the bottom half of the fields. Bowie did well enough to get in the Stroh’s Shootout in 1986. A crash that Bowie suffered was replayed many times by ESPN. Bowie rebuilt the car as the Outlaw and raced a few more times until he retired from funny cars. (Mike Beach photo courtesy of Curt Swartz; info from Draglist files)

The Nitro Fever funny car was only around for a couple of years, from 1985 to 1987. The Corvette was owned by Gary Craven and was unrelated to the Nitro Fever of Californian RT Mehlville. Longtime racer John Pott was chosen to drive the funny, and the team made an immediate splash on the IHRA circuit. Pott ran a 5.711, 257 best in 1985 while racing on the IHRA circuit. Paul Smith replaced Pott as the driver of the Nitro Fever Corvette in 1986 while in the middle of a points battle on the IHRA circuit. The team was parked at the end of the 1986 season. (Mike Beach photo courtesy of Curt Swartz; info from Draglist files)

Al Hofmann was known as Atomic Al during the first part of his funny car career. Hofmann’s nickname came from numerous on-track incidents. The tide was turning when the Gemini II was built in the middle of 1987. The Gemini II was built to replace the short-lived American Eagle Trans Am that was destroyed in a two-car accident with Jerry Caminito. Al started to lay down more consistent runs by the end of 1987. The performance improvements led to the 1988 sponsorship deal with Blower Drive Services. The sponsorship led to Hofmann becoming a national event threat for the better part of the next decade. (Photo courtesy of Tim Neumeyer; info from Draglist files)

Whit Bazemore’s first nitro funny car ride was as the hired driver for Californian Ted Combis. Bazemore was the last in a long line of drivers for Combis, including Rick Johnson, Jody Smart, Darrell Amberson, Glenn Mikres, Gary Southern, and Bazemore. Bazemore was given the ride after driving the alcohol funny cars of Rick Fenwick and the Jamie Hopheimer-owned Bad Attitude Camaro. The ride for Combis lasted from late 1988 into the 1989 season. Whit Bazemore and crew chief Gary Evans received the funny car as back payment from Ted Combis, and they formed their own funny car team. (Photo courtesy of Ted Neumeyer; info from Draglist files)

Ernest Wrenn, like Rickie Bowie, looked for a way to race a nitro funny car on a budget. Ernest owned Compucar Nitrous at the time, and he decided to use a system on the funny car. Wrenn used the system with straight alcohol without much success. The J. Ed Horton chassised car ran 6.02, 232, off the pace that a nitro car needed to run at the time. The experiment did not last long, as Wrenn built a nitrous-powered Chevy pickup in 1989. (Michael Beach photo courtesy of Curt Swartz; info from Draglist files)

Gary Litton had a career as a local match racer around his Tennessee home off and on since the mid-seventies. By the end of the eighties, Litton had procured the sponsorship of All-Pro Auto Parts. This led Litton to return to nitro funny cars and the national event scene. The funding allowed Gary’s son to run a second Tennessee Shaker. Gary Litton would enjoy moderate success with the Tennessee Shaker Thunderbird, getting into the field on most occasions. (Photo courtesy of John Kilburg; info from Draglist files)

Legendary funny car racer Shirl Greer had great success in his series of Tension and Chain Lightning funny cars from the late sixties into the early eighties. Greer came out of retirement to drive the Tosti Asti Spumante Corvette of Carl Fumerelle in 1989. The unique thing about the Corvette was the double overhead cam Batten Chevrolet engine that the car ran. The team struggled with the car running a known best of 6.33, 232. Carl Fumerelle switched the funny car over to alcohol and a standard Hemi combination and enjoyed much more success as the driver of the Awesome Force Corvette. (Michael Beach photo courtesy of Curt Swartz; info from Draglist files)