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Where old rubber meets new road

Published in blog.hemmings.com

 

Photos courtesy Southeast Gassers Association, Caleb Sewell, Hoosier Racing Tire

Quain Stott. Probably the best name in motorsports right now – not just because it’s the one behind the Southeast Gassers Association, but because it’s just fun to say. Like, when you say it right, it’s the audible version of drinking a beer and a shot.

And, in maybe a slightly awkward segue, there are some parallels between that can and shot glass combination and what Quain has created with the Southeast Gassers: when you belly up to a long, narrow strip, ready for some fun, Quain’s vintage drag racing series is the enduring, classic, always-cool drink order surrounded by loud, brightly colored mixtures that end way too fast and cost way too much.

“When we started this deal in 2011,” Quain explains, “the same problem existed as it did in 1975, when I was 15 and wanted to get into drag racing: a 15 year old kid has nowhere to go race. To build a 10:50 car, it costs $200,000.00.” Now, it’s one thing to host a series at local dragstrips accessible to teams that spend more on lunch than sponsor jerseys, but it’s something else to create a time capsule of kinetic energy that captures the coolest period of drag racing history and make it easy for a 15 year-old or a 55 year-old to take part.

“When I make a contract with the race track, there is NOTHING. ELSE. allowed on the dragstrip all day long. Except Southeast Gasser-legal cars. Cuz we don’t want one car gettin’ on that dragstrip that’s outta character, or it’ll ruin the whole day. When we take everyone back to 1967, we want them to stay there, all day.”

In Quain’s mind, 1967 was the last great moment in time for drag racing. And, it was never lost on him that it was an actual race: no brackets, no buybacks, no test-n-tunes. “Early on, we were doing Chicago-style match racing. Just a test-n-tune with no real competition,” Quain goes on, “And I had this one guy in the stands tell me that this was kinda like watching a ball game and nobody keeping score.  And that day, I told my racers that we’ve been lying to the fans. That we’d been advertising a race and we ain’t been having one. So now, when you get beat, you go on the trailer. And our fan base really started going up when we started racing.”

Put those elements together and the SEGA is a time capsule drag race that cars are being purpose-built for and, by design, are accessible to just about anyone who wants to have fun racing or watching. No such thing as a low-4.0 car and nary an energy drink logo to be seen. What Stott does offer, though, is a race to remember: period-correct ’60s-era cars, shifted through four speeds, that tend to get outta shape and spend more time on the track than a sneeze.

Now, the Southeast Gasser Association is not only gassers, but there’s a Super Stock class, too. And in the SEGA style, the cars strictly adhere to the limits of 1967 technology, style and all the little details that are way too convenient to ignore by anyone else attempting such an historically accurate racing series. And none of this has been lost on the biggest name in racing tires, Hoosier.

The purple Hoosier Racing Tire logo is well-known to anyone who’s spent time at a track – oval, drag, serpentine, or other. And in a nod to the strength of the idea behind SEGA, Hoosier is developing a 15-inch drag slick with a 7-inch tread, specifically for Quain’s Super Stock class. “It’s hard to get stuff for those old cars – especially if you’re gonna try to maintain the originality of what that class really was,” explains Hoosier’s Frank Papp. “Y’know, it’s not always about selling hundreds and hundreds of tires.” And that’s a fact not lost on anyone involved. “We might only sell twenty sets at first,” Quain goes on, “but any car in our Super Stock class is gonna be required to run these.”

As any armchair historian of drag racing knows, tire technology in the last days of the ’60s changed everything. Till then, slipper clutches and hard rubber compounds not only saved parts from breaking on the starting line, but made for one of the greatest spectacles in motorsports. Nothing compares to a giant, smokey burnout and a squirrelly ride down the 1320 in front of a beer and a hot dog from the stands. But all that started to change when tires got stickier, track prep became a thing and cars started to “hook.”

The new Hoosier, a 7.00/29.0-15, will be a black cheater slick, complete with a groove and conspicuously lacking raised white letters. “No white letters on the outside wall,” Quain reiterates, “You didn’t see that in ’67 and you’re not gonna see it here.” To Stott and the SEGA faithful, tires carry the same weight as decals, paint, drivetrain and make/model. “No raised yellow letters, either.”

What’s it mean for one of the biggest names in motorsport to go through the expense of designing, tooling-up, manufacturing, marketing and selling a tire that, most likely, won’t see 100 unit sales upon release? When we look in on the friendship between the Southeast Gasser Association and Hoosier Tire, it means that there’s still a demand for “cool.” That there’s a grassroots backlash against the giant money being thrown at a sport that’s been homogenized to the point of boredom. That the analog roots of drag racing can be more important than all the live streaming data captured in an onboard monitor. That finding a gear at 100mph is still more fun on both sides of the dashboard than a sub-4.0 burp.

The new Hoosier isn’t available just yet. Still in production, as of this writing. But we expect to see this 7-inch slick under a growing field of Super Stocks across the 2019 SEGA season. “We had eight cars in Super Stock this year,” Quain says, “but we expect that field to more than double next year.” And with the S/S class showing up at all 11 stops on the SEGA tour next year, we can all look forward to a World Champion being crowned when the tire smoke clears. Hoosier 7-inch, blackwall tire smoke, thank you very much.