Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2012 East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame Racing Weekend and My 'Thank You' Speech

2012 East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame Racing Weekend and My 'Thank You' Speech

I recently had a 'drag racing' weekend such as I have never had
before. Since it meant so much to me, I want to share it with all of
you. In October, 2003, I was inducted into the East Coast Drag Times
Hall of Fame only I didn't get to participate in any of the
ceremonies. I couldn't even go receive my award…it was eventually
mailed to me! That was when I had my wreck…just about ten days before
that year's events. Nancy Wilson, who heads up all this, told me any
time I could get a chance to come to the event, they would include me
in the awards ceremony just like I would have been in 2003 had I
gotten to go. I have never had the chance to go, but it has ALWAYS
been in the back of my mind.

Knowing I was IN the Hall of Fame and having the plaque hanging on my
wall was a wonderful thing, but something was always missing. It
didn't seem real…no one handed me the award, I didn't get to be a part
of the ceremonies…it just didn't seem real. In the early part of this
year, when I learned Frank Teague was going to be inducted, I worked
at trying to figure a way to get TO that event! I didn't really think
about my own award, I just wanted to go see Frank receive his since he
and his wonderful wife Debbie have been such good friends to me and
actually took me to Greensboro in January (2012) to receive my Jeff
Byrd Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award from the North Carolina Drag
Racing Hall of Fame.

Dave and Susie Koffel…Koffel's Place…have attended the East Coast
events for many years, they and many of the racers affiliated with
them are in the Hall of Fame and I knew they would especially be there
this year for Frank, whom they have sponsored…and become close friends
with…for many years. There were other special reasons they were
planning to be there this year, too…I will get to that later. I wanted
to see them, too…they advertised with me and supported Quick Times
Racing News for MANY years and I truly appreciate their business, but
more than that, I have appreciated their friendship all those years as
well. And they ARE TRUE FRIENDS like Frank and Debbie. They showed me
a wonderful time when I went to Norwalk in 1997.

But just TWO WEEKS before the awards ceremonies and other events, I
learned the 'Carlton' cars were going to be there and I absolutely HAD
to figure out some way to get there. I still had not even thought
about my own award, I just HAD to go if for no other reasons than
these I have just written about. A racing friend of ours who lost her
husband over 20 years ago also wanted to go to see Frank be inducted.
We discussed it, discussed our finances…or LACK OF…and finally decided
we wanted to go to this thing bad enough to do without groceries or
something equally important!! I happened to mention to Jeannie I had
never officially been presented with my plaque and at that moment I
remembered Nancy telling me…nine years ago…she would include me in the
ceremonies if I ever got the chance to attend.

I called Nancy and she said, "That will be great! We will include you
just as we would have in 2003!" We discussed it and she seemed to
really be glad to get the chance to include me. Jeannie and I could
only pay for one room for one night so we left EARLY on Saturday
morning and hit the highway to Henderson, NC…I-40 all the way! For
those of you who have never attended this event, you HAVE to go! I had
NO idea it is as huge as it is. I was amazed. When Nancy Wilson says
it takes her all year to get this thing together, I am here to tell
you this: I am surprised she does it in one year! When we got there,
of course, we knew nothing about any of it so we parked on the 'wrong'
end of town.

Luckily, true to Nancy's word, there were several golf carts roving
the streets and we caught a ride. That was a good thing because I was
on crutches!!! I could never have made it otherwise! The entire
community of Henderson, NC works together for this event and they shut
down an entire MILE of Garner Street…one of the oldest streets in a
town which was founded in 1841. From one end to the other, on both
sides of the street, there were CARS. Cars of every shape and size and
make including plenty of homemade ones! They weren't just ON the
street, they were in every parking lot on both sides of that whole
mile, too. As hard as it was for me to put together a drag car show in
a shopping mall, I cannot imagine what these people go through to make
this entire 3-day weekend one of the MOST successful drag racing
events I have EVER attended!

As soon as we got to the 'racing' end of town…we started out on the
'car show' end, but after catching a ride to the 'racing' end of the
five blocks, the first thing we saw were the 'Carlton' cars. The theme
of the 2012 event was The Evolution of Chrysler's Pro Stock Missile
Cars…Dodge Challenger to the Plymouth Duster 'Wire Car.' Don Carlton
was always my HERO…I idolized him for as long as I can remember. If
you know anything of racing history, you know something of Don, the
fact I got to meet him one time (and only one time) just added to my
hero worship of him because I learned he really was the man I had read
about and lived up to all the good things people said and wrote about

When I saw those cars, tears welled up in my eyes. I don't know how
many times I went by to tell those guys, "Thank You, Thank You, Thank
You," for restoring the cars and bringing them back to us. I don't
think they ever got tired of hearing that! I cannot tell you how much
I enjoyed talking to the current owners, the ORIGINAL builders and the
restorers. They have poured their hearts and souls…as we say 'blood,
sweat AND tears'…not to mention fortunes and years…into the
restoration of these cars. I won't even mention finances because I'm
sure it has a cost a large fortune! I don't know if you remember or
not, but Betty Sigmon owned and drove one of those cars for many
years. Betty and her husband Ray found our house for us in Vale, NC in
1982 and we were their neighbors for several years…being 'just around
the curve!'

But from our back door to their back door was just a very short
walking distance. Betty has had some health problems over the past few
years but her son made sure she got to come down to see her former
Carlton race car…'The Wire Car'…totally restored. And it was a GREAT
day for her. She even gave the guys a couple pieces of pertinent
information about the car and so did Frank…he actually raced that car
a few times, too. Betty was in her element standing with her former
car talking to all the fans. Her son, Jeep, said it was a very good
day for her. She didn't get to stay overnight but she enjoyed talking
to a lot of people she had not seen in a long, long time.

Dave Koffel was project manager at Chrysler part of the time during
those wonderful and amazing years…I cannot imagine what it must have
been like to work on a project as large in scope as was the original
design and building of all those factory race cars. Susie and Dave had
a nice area set up with their 1937 Dodge humpback panel truck with
seats for everyone and a table for Frank's memorabilia. That's a big
thing down there, everyone is expected to bring their 'stuff' to show
it off!

By the way, Dave and Susie DROVE the '37 Dodge from Huron (way
northern ), Ohio to Henderson and back…they actually still use it in
their Koffel's Place business for deliveries! They were practically
stopping traffic on the interstate as everyone had to slow down to get
a good look! The only thing I took…besides my plaque…was a picture Don
Carlton Don had given me on July 2, 1975 at a match race at Farmington
Dragway…a picture he signed for me… "To Becky, Don Carlton." I really
actually took the picture to use with my speech on Sunday. When I
first talked to Nancy, I told her I didn't want to make a speech since
I had just made one in January and I would just say something like
thanks to everyone and I was glad to FINALLY officially be receiving
my induction plaque!

But during our phone conversations, Nancy said something which
eventually made me change my mind about making a speech. I say,
'eventually' because I had to think about it a while. She said when
she talked to Betty Sigmon, Betty had asked her if she thought the
owners of her former car would mind if she got her picture made with
that car and Nancy said, "Do you think she doesn't realize how
important her role was and has been in all this?" I said, "No, she
doesn't realize it. And neither do any of the others you're going to
have that weekend." Well, the more I thought about that conversation,
the more I realized what I had said is true.

People who have been in drag racing since the '50s and '60s (and many
of them were there) have absolutely NO idea how important they were,
still are and always will be in 'all this!' 'All this' being the
entire sport of drag racing! I called Nancy back and told her I had
changed my mind and I actually did want to make a speech but it wasn't
about me and it wouldn't be long. I just wanted to thank all those
people for making drag racing what it is today! She said that would be
just fine. By the time I called her back I already had the speech
written…once I started, I couldn't stop until I finished it. It is
something I feel very strongly about. I hope all of you will read it…I
know you will agree with every word in it and I'm sure you feel the
same as I do. It follows the end of this story.

One of the things which totally shocked me was what Ted Jones said
when he introduced me. It has never been a secret there was always a
lot of contention between me and 'most' of the powers that be at IHRA
and NHRA. I was more than a 'little' worried about the fact he was the
one who was going to do the introductions!!! But he actually surprised
me and did a good intro…as a matter of fact, I was so shocked at what
he said, I had to clasp my hand over my mouth to keep from gasping out
loud! He gave me credit for single handedly saving IHRA class racing
when Billy Meyer owned IHRA by forming the Sportsman Class Racers

You could have knocked me over with a feather! I really appreciated
that…it made a lot things seem 'worth it' if you know what I mean! He
also said the fact I had worked so hard to bring IHRA back to what it
was 'before Billy' was the reason I received the IHRA Media Award for
1989! And he made sure he talked about how hard I had worked for the
'little guys' all the years I published Quick Times Racing News.

Don Carlton's daughter Robin and wife Jonnie were there to accept the
Ronnie Sox Memorial Award posthumously for Don. Most of you know
Ronnie and Don were friends and raced together for a lot of years. I
met both Robin and Jonnie for the first time and was really glad for
that opportunity. Frank and I sat with them during the awards ceremony
on Sunday afternoon and talked with them later. We all got our
pictures made together and it is GREAT to have those pictures to
reflect on for many years to come. I enjoy my racing pictures more
than anyone can imagine…all of them…mostly the 'people' ones! They
make everything even more real and keep my wonderful memories vividly
alive. These photos from this weekend have been added to the 'treasure
trove!' I want to thank Ernest Burwell from the bottom of my heart for
sending me a lot of those photos.

Four of the men who worked for Chrysler Corporation and originally
built these Carlton cars were present…they were Tom Hoover, Dick
Oldfield (who owns one of the cars), Joe Pappas and Ted Spehar. Then
of course, Dave Koffel was there. They held a seminar on Sunday
morning after church services on the actual building of the cars. I
cannot begin to imagine what kind of life those men led during those
years…HOW exciting it had to have been during that time in factory
sponsored drag cars. I wish I had had the chance to do something like
that in my lifetime.

I did a story on Betty Sigmon in 1982 and I wrote all about her car,
how it was built, etc. but I did NOT know that was a one-of-a-kind
car. It is the only one like it EVER built anywhere in the world!
There IS no other and will never be another one built even similar to
it! It is called a 'wire' car and I won't even begin to try to explain
that to you but they talked about that, how they did it, why they
built it, the great things about it and why they didn't build another

They discussed so MANY pertinent things during that time and I mean
they talked about things which are STILL pertinent to drag racing and
always will be. Things pertinent to the way cars are built today, how
the changes and improvements have come about over the years, what
makes drag cars SO special. The spoke about how these particular cars
were built, why they were built the way they were, how they performed
on the track and how that transferred to highway performance for
future cars. These were true factory experimental race cars and
basically were built as a way for Chrysler to learn how to build
better cars for the public. There was standing room only in the
seminar, proving how popular these cars were and still are.

These were TRUE factory experimental race cars…they were built by the
factory, at factory owned shops by people who were Chrysler
employees...ALL engineers. Basically, they were built as a way for
Chrysler to learn how to build better cars for the public…you can
thank a lot of our safety features and other great features on the
cars of today to these men. There was standing room only in the
seminar, proving how popular these cars were and still are. There were
so many people viewing the cars during the exhibits on Saturday, there
had to be special photography sessions at a different time away from
the crowds so the cars could actually be photographed.

It was fascinating. I couldn't stay in it for the whole time, but I
was mesmerized the entire time I was in that room (I would love to
have a DVD of that seminar…if anyone made a video, PLEASE call or
email me). Dave Koffel and many other people who were at some point,
somehow involved in this project joined in these conversations…if you
ever get a chance to sit in on a seminar like that, make sure you do
so…you will learn a lot about our sport as a whole! The men who are
restoring these cars, along with those former Chrysler car builders,
were also in the seminar and talked about some of the things they have
learned and done in this restoration!

Don Carlton of Lenoir was the most honored racer at this year's
event…if y'all know anything about Don, he was killed in a testing
accident in Detroit in 1977 at the young age of 37, but his
sportsmanship and major accomplishments in the sport made him one of
the most popular, most important and most honored drag racers of all
time. He made his mark in a short amount of time because of the person
he was. For many years after Don's death, IHRA presented the Don
Carlton Award for Exceptional Sportsmanship to a deserving racer every
year because Don was always the epitome of a great sportsman, always
respectful of everyone he met, worked with and raced with.

This year, Don was honored, posthumously, for his contributions to
drag racing. Don's daughter Robin accepted the Ronnie Sox Memorial
Award for her dad with her mother Jonnie looking on. Don and Ronnie
were racing competitors and friends all the years they raced together;
they both worked and drove for the Chrysler Corporation. A native of
Lenoir, Don had a busy early career racing locally, then drove Pro
Stock and Super Stock for Chrysler for many years until his death. Don
was named to the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, associated
with the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, FL in 1992 and to
the N.C. Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2007.

Five of Don's former Chrysler-built factory race cars were on display
during the 3-day event...
four have been completely restored and several are being raced in
Nostalgia races and are being taken all over the country for people to
see. Those cars included: his 1971 Motown Missile Dodge Challenger
owned by Arnie Klann of Phoenix, AZ; his '72 Motown Missile Plymouth
Barracuda owned by Mark Williamson of Canada and Eara Merritt of
Richmond Hill, GA; his '73 Motown Missile owned by Ben Donhoff of
Melbourne, FL; the '77 Macomb Missile Aspen owned by Mike Ricketts of
Macomb County, MI and last, but most unusual, the '75 Mopar Missile
Plymouth Duster (aka 'The Wire Car'), also owned (now) by Arnie Klann
and previously owned by Betty and Ray Sigmon of Vale.

Restoration of the Challenger is not complete but it was displayed as
a chassis and 'back half work in progress.' It was interesting for the
spectators to be able to see what the under parts of a drag race car
look like and how they are made. This may be the only time these cars
will ever be seen together since they are owned by people from Florida
to Arizona to Canada, but hopefully they can and will be shown
together more often! This entire event was a major undertaking and
practically took miracles to pull it off in such grand fashion!

All in all, for me, this was the MOST rewarding weekend I have ever
spent in drag racing! I can't explain that to you…the people I was
with, the circumstances of the weekend, the way this whole thing came
together…for me…for people I care about, for the sport I have ALWAYS
loved! It was an amazing weekend, I learned so much…and no matter who
you are, what you do, where you go or what your past or future is…you
can ALWAYS LEARN something. I saw people I had not seen in a long
time…Roger Gustin, Bunny Burkett, Lew Silverman, Ernest Burwell…whom I
helped get started in drag racing photography, Geoff Stunkard… who
probably has as much MOPAR memorabilia as anyone (and maybe more)…and
on and on…TOO many to mention! I met people I had only read about,
heard about and/or watched in our sport. I was both totally amazed and
awed and treated with SO MUCH respect from everyone…even people who
had never known me before.

This group of people who are restoring the Mopar Missiles is one of
the neatest bunches of guys and gals I have EVER met in drag racing
and, let me tell you this…they are going through a LOT of heartache
doing this love of theirs but they are having a blast! If you ever get
a chance to see them where they are nostalgia racing or just have
their cars on display…talk to them. You will be amazed at what a great
group of folks they are, just as I was. I am SO glad I got to meet
people who CARE this much and that I got to hang round with them and
LEARN from them. I can only hope maybe they learned just a smidgen
from me, too…if nothing else but the fact I love drag racing so much!

I am so thankful for this weekend. If I never get to do anything in
drag racing again, this will go down in history as the culmination of
a helluva career…a career like no other person ever in the entire
history of drag racing has EVER had! My life and career in this sport
had never been done before and can NEVER possibly be repeated by
anyone! I have done something in my life no one in the world has ever
done and will NEVER do in the future. What I did cannot be repeated,
it is literally, physically AND historically impossible. I am so glad
I had what it takes to stick it out all these years. I'm not done! DO
NOT count me out just yet. I may still have some surprises left in me!
The 2012 weekend of the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame gave me
something I've been missing these nine years since my accident…let's
see what happens from here on out. Now…the following is the speech I
wrote and made at the 2012 East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame awards

My Thanks to Our History Makers from Becky White

"I had originally told Nancy I did not want to speak because I have
already given a speech this year and I am not good at speeches. But
she mentioned something to me later in that same conversation which
made me change my mind. I don't want to speak about me, but there is
something I would like to say to all of you about YOU, people you have
seen this weekend and hundreds of others you haven't seen but who,
nevertheless, are all cut from a similar pattern. What I really want
to stress is this: I don't think any of you here have any clue what
YOU mean to all drag racers everywhere! I spent a lot of time at home
raising children before I got heavily involved in drag racing but I
continued to read my hot rod magazines, etc. and I went to a race once
in a great while. (I held up my picture of Don Carlton and said)…This
IS my pride and joy…you can't read it but it says, "To Becky, Don

From the '40s on, there were groups of people in small areas all over
the country who got together to discuss cars, who's was faster, had
more horsepower, more cubic inches and all the other things drag
racers still discuss today…we have heard that for years. From those
groups of racers…like the bunch which came out of the Hickory, Hudson,
Lenoir area and others like them all over the U.S…they can have NO
idea how they impacted, not just local drag racing, but the sport as a
whole. People like Don Carlton and Clyde Hodges here and all their
followers…the people who idolized them and wanted to be just like
them…just like groups all over this country. They MADE drag racing
REAL. They made it legit.

YOU…all of YOU are the people who made all this possible…this entire
sport…you came before…you are the ones who made drag racing what it is
today. YOU…you gave us our deep, fierce abiding love for cars with
MUSCLE, for big loud engines and little loud engines, YOU…you gave us
our heritage and taught us things like respect, sportsmanship, caring
for our fellow racers and what it means to be a part of something as
grand as drag racing. YOU…you showed us how to be fierce, mighty
competitors while all the time, teaching us how to share and share
alike, help anyone who needed it and be there at all times for your
fellow racers.

YOU…at least most of you…came from shoestring backgrounds where you
had to rake and scrape and scrimp and work a second job to raise a
family AND a race car! Most of you worked on your own cars…maybe with
a little help from friends sometimes…and you taught us how to do the
same…you let us KNOW and showed us ALL THIS IS POSSIBLE!

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you…every racer who came before
us who taught by DOING and NOT by TALKING. Thank you for teaching us
we can be the absolute best of friends and the absolute fiercest
competitors while all the time being good sportsmen and sportswomen.
The battles we have fought in drag racing for so many years are
nothing compared to what you went through in making drag racing the
grand sport it has become. WE cannot thank you enough, there are no
words to describe what you have meant to the sport, to all the little
guys who came after and KNEW they could do this because they watched
all of YOU struggle and fight to be able to do this singular thing you

Clyde Hodges told me a story about one time when he and Don Carlton
had been to Detroit, I don't remember why. They probably weren't
testing a car because he told me how cold it was during the trip. Yes,
sometimes they got paid by Chrysler and sometimes they raced FOR
Chrysler and sometimes they raced independently, but as Clyde said,
"They didn't pay for everything!" They didn't pay for that old car
hauler they were driving on that trip and not long after they left
Detroit heading home for good old North Carolina, that old rickety,
falling apart car hauler…which probably already had a hundred thousand
more miles on it than it should have…started smoking. Like the smoke
coming from the stack on a coal fired steam train!

They just happened to have a case of 'racing' oil on the back of the
truck…they pulled over, checked it, yep…it was low so they started to
put a quart of that oil in the engine. Only the oil wouldn't pour out
of the can…it was so cold it was almost solid! They laid the can on
the engine and finally got it barely warm enough to pour in. They
started on down the road. Shortly thereafter, they had to stop and put
in another quart…only this time they had been smart enough to put a
can in the truck with them…near the heater. That worked. They put that
one in, but their fingers were freezing and they were having a really
hard time.

Being the 'engineers' all drag racers are known to be, they stuck a
piece of hose in the hole in the valve cover and ran it into the truck
through a crack in the window and stuck a funnel in that end of the
hose. They put that whole case of oil in the front floorboard with
them…they knew they were going to need it! From then on, all the way
home, they just poured warm oil in one end of the hose and let it run
right into the engine. He said they never WERE so glad to get back to
get back to good old Lenoir!

There are a MILLION or 20 million stories like that in drag racing.
Every racer you meet has several of them. Not many of them ever get
published. I thank God I had the chance to publish a lot of those
wonderful stories. I thank God I had the chance to have so many people
like YOU help me raise my children…in their crucial teenage years…all
drag racers who taught my girls how to be REAL people. THANK YOU for
being who and what you are, the spectacular friends of drag racing.
Thank God for DRAG RACERS…those who continue to carry on our sport but
even more importantly, those of you who made it possible! Thank YOU!
Becky White


Anonymous said...

Wow!!!! Who knew? Wish I would have been there. Oh, by the way, don't sell yourself short on speeches. That was great!!

God Speed

Gary Bingham

Anonymous said...

Keep on writing Becky, always a good read and I always learn something............Marlin Huss