On May 18 this year (2013) I was proud to be invited and happy to attend the Fourth Annual Shirl Greer Memorial Birthday Bash in Kingsport, TN. This was the first one of these I have attended and I had a blast along with every other person who was there. The weather was crap, but everyone had a good time despite the bad weather! Van Greer and Brian Greer, Shirl’s sons. are the guys who put this on. They have a beautiful cake made with the photo of the original championship funny car on one half…with white cake underneath and the last funny car Shirl raced on the other half…with chocolate under it. EVERYONE got their favorite flavor! NEAT cake!
This event is held each year at the Bloomingdale Pike garage in Kingsport, TN where Shirl worked for many years and also where he lived…upstairs over the shop. Brian cooked up burgers and fries for anyone who came hungry, there were several guitars and people to ‘pick and grin.’ The BIG deal, as always, is when they crank that funny car! Normally, they sell dollar raffle tickets to help cover the cost of the party and the person who wins the raffle gets to sit in the funny car while they crank it and let it run a few minutes. They didn’t do that this year because of the weather and the car more or less has to be outside when it is cranked.
They did have a tarp over the car but there wasn’t a single person there who didn’t mind standing out in the drizzle to be able to see and hear this. While they were priming the car and getting it ready to crank and Brian was making his speech, he mentioned the fact Shirl didn’t ALWAYS race funny cars. He turned and looked at Dee, Van’s mom and Shirl’s partner in racing crime for many, many years and asked her what Shirl’s first ‘funny’ car was and she popped right out with it….a 1962 Dodge with a 413 Hemi .040” over! His first ever race car was a ’32 Ford 5-window coupe with an Olds engine!
The little lady got a huge round of applause and quite a few cheers herself. (Dee said the fastest time she ever ran was at A&H (Asheville Henderson) Dragstrip in western N.C. when she was seven months pregnant with Van. She said, “It isn’t any wonder he loves drag racing!”) This party is a ceremony everyone has come to love and look forward to over the past four years…someone makes a speech…this year it was Brian. Then the car gets fired up…what a sound! A sound I personally have not heard since the last national event I attended in 2003! It WAS beautiful! After letting it run and warm up, they gave it several ‘wa-pows’ (one of my daughters can do that and it sounds just like whatever she’s imitating!) to cheers and tears!
Cheers to the man who won the first EVER Funny Car Championship in the world. A lot of champions have come and gone since then, but no one will ever be the FIRST again! Cheers to the years of hard work and the love Shirl had of racing. Tears for the loss of an icon, the man who worked so hard for so long to make all that happen. The weekend Shirl won the first ever funny car world championship was a hard one for this bunch. Shirl had a bad wreck and fire on Saturday. He was taken to the hospital with severe burns on his hands, neck and face…even his hair was singed around his helmet.
When they pulled off his racing gloves, the skin from his hands came off with them! The crew and friends took the car to a shop in Modesto and worked on it all night…Shirl told them if they got it fixed, he WOULD be there to drive it. And he was. A doctor even went to the track with him when he left the hospital that day! He could not even get the racing gloves on. He and Don Prudhome were the two drivers in contention for the championship. Don just happened to have some ‘gardening’ gloves in his trailer and he gave them to Shirl to wear! Shirl HAD to make a trial run to make sure the car was track ready and he did…finishing up that run in a ball of fire! But he was bound and determined to run that race.
While they were in the pits thrashing on the car, Prudhome and Dale Pulde had to run each other and when they heard them announce Pulde had won that round, there was jubilation and celebration in the ‘Tension’ pits! Shirl became the world champion at that moment and, thankfully, he did NOT have to make that run! He truly should NOT have been driving anyway! That was a championship which was as hard fought for and as hard won as any championship ever has been…maybe more!
Back inside and getting dried out…music was made…you would have thought George Jones was with us! Brian made up a song dedicated to Shirl with Van and Dee on either side of him and other friends did some of that old timey pickin’ and grinnin’ and even a few got up and did a bit of dancing! Brian even got me up and made ME dance!!! I haven’t done that since I got hurt and dancing was ALWAYS one of my favorite things to do! All in all, everyone had a blast…and let me tell you this…that Van Greer makes the absolute BEST iced tea I have EVER had in my life! (And, no, it was not scotched!) The food was good, the company was great and the memories are wonderful!
The guys had worked hard to get lots of Shirl’s memorabilia put on display for everyone to see…photos, newspaper clippings along with clippings from National Dragster and Drag Review, car parts…body panels, pistons, cranks and other pieces too numerous to mention. Again…I saw SO many people I have not seen since early 2003 and I enjoyed it immensely for many reasons…this was one of them. Memories abound when you get groups of racers together for they are all so diverse and come from so many walks of life. These are just some of the reasons I did what I did for so many years.
Thanks again, folks…for inviting me to this annual event. I hope you continue to have this party in Shirl’s honor for many years to come and I hope to attend every one (got to go back for that tea not to mention listening to that funny car run…there’s nothing like it!).
I wonder how many of you remember just exactly WHO started Charlotte’s Speed Street? It is now a kick off for the Memorial Day weekend races at Charlotte Motor Speedway but that isn’t what it started out to be! Way back when…when Shuffletown Dragway was still in operation…the Shuffletown racing family got together to try to educate the public about drag racing. Eddie Knox was the Mayor of Charlotte and we got him to declare one day a year as race day! We started out having drag cars on the streets in Charlotte on a Friday so we could talk to the public and hopefully get more people interested in drag racing.
Charles Carpenter nearly got put in jail for doing a burnout right smack in the middle of downtown Charlotte! Talk about windows rattling! Everyone involved had such a good time during Charlotte’s Official Race Day and we DID educate a lot of folks. Oh…by the way, the round track racers were invited to bring their cars and put them on display as well, but they declined. Now they take the credit for Speed Street but had it not been for everyone involved with Shuffletown Dragway, it may never have happened!
They took what we had already started and made it bigger…it is now one of the biggest events during race week in May and one of the biggest events Charlotte has in town every year! I just wanted to clear the air about that one. Give thanks to the drag racers for one of the LARGEST racing events in downtown Charlotte every year!