Sportsman Notes: Atlanta Dragway’s Final NHRA Event

The final NHRA event at Atlanta Dragway will take place this weekend, April 30-May 2, 2021, with the Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals. Neither Pros nor Sportsman had the opportunity to race there last year due to restrictions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, and so this weekend’s event is one that has been circled on the schedule. NHRA has raced at this facility for four decades, so we’ve got plenty to talk about. Here are a few quick notes to fan the flames of what should be one heck of a send-off.

Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car
From 2009 to 2017, the alcohol classes did not run at the NHRA Southern Nationals. They were also left off the schedule in 2019, and no national event was run at Atlanta Dragway in 2020.

Top Alcohol Dragster’s most recent winner was Josh Hart, who picked up the trophy in 2018 at the soon-to-be-shuttered facility.

Jay Payne, though not entered to race this year, is the most recent Atlanta Top Alcohol Funny Car titlist. Payne also won Top Alcohol Funny Car in Atlanta in 2002 and was runner-up there in an alky flopper in 2001 and 2004. He won Top Alcohol Dragster at the Southern Nationals in 1993, the year after Shelly (then-Anderson) Payne hoisted the 1992 Atlanta TAD trophy.

What’s that you say? You want to know who has the most wins at Atlanta Dragway in any category? That would be Frank Manzo, who was the very first Top Alcohol Funny Car winner there in 1981 and claimed a total of 13 TAFC trophies at the Southern Nationals, including in four consecutive seasons (2005-08). The only guy to beat Manzo in an Atlanta final was that rascally Tony Bartone in 1996.

Comp Eliminator
The category is not on the 2021 Southern Nationals schedule, so reigning Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series champion Craig Bourgeois will go down as the last Atlanta victor. He defeated Brian Browell in the final round for the 2019 title. That’s a pretty neat feat, because Browell has been fairly comfy in Atlanta finals. He was runner-up there in 2018 and was surely looking to avenge that loss, particularly after winning the race in three consecutive seasons – from 1999 to 2001.

Comp Eliminator champion Craig Bourgeois

It will likely come as no surprise that well-decorated and respected driver David Rampy has five wins in Atlanta – four in Comp (1990, 1992, 1998, and 2003) and one in Super Stock (2017). May he un-retire soon.

Just before the Modified class was disbanded, Larry Kopp defeated Eddie Conrad in the 1981 Southern Nationals final round.

A toast to the long-gone Modified class and all those badass racers who were weird and wild in some of the best ways.

Stock and Super Stock
Aaron Stanfield is the most recent winner in Super Stock at the Atlanta national event. He defeated Brandon Bakies in the 2019 final round. Stanfield’s father, Greg Stanfield, was runner-up there in 2006 to Dave Connolly in Pro Stock, and he’s on the entry list for both Stock and Super Stock this weekend. The younger Stanfield is on the entry list for Pro Stock, so there’s all kinds of opportunity for father and son to walk in one another’s footsteps (or better). We’re watching, but no pressure.

Two Super Stock racers have won this event more than twice: Lincoln Morehead and Mike Crutchfield each have three Southern Nationals wins in the category, and they’ve both been perfect in Atlanta final rounds. Morehead isn’t on the entry list for this final go-round, but Crutchfield is.

The 1981 Super Stock world champion, Charlie Taylor, just happened to win the very first Southern Nationals that same year. Lee Shepherd (Pro Stock) and Frank Manzo (Top Alcohol Funny Car) also won the 1981 race at Atlanta Dragway and went on to win the championship in their respective categories. Yeah, it’s a bit of a stretch to call this a relevant note, but what if the winners of the very last race at Atlanta Dragway got a little mojo here that carried them all the way? It would be a cool note then, right? Yes. Yes, it would.

Oh, look: 1992 Comp Eliminator champ Stevie Johns is on the Stock Eliminator entry list with a COPO Camaro displaying that and Berger Chevrolet branding. The Mooresville, North Carolina, resident reached the semifinals at the Gainesville “season opener” (that still sounds weird, hence the quotes that should for sure be visualized as air quotes) a few weeks back in Stock. Johns has three previous national event wins on his resumé – two in Pro Stock Truck and one in Comp – and he’s a longtime engine builder with a lot of diverse experience in drag racing. However, he has yet to reach the final round at Atlanta Dragway. Last chance, sir.

Stock racer Korey Alexander will race the final event at Atlanta Dragway

Can we just be real with you? Maybe don’t mess with Jeff Strickland – especially at this racetrack. This cat has been to eight final rounds in the Peach State. He won Stock in 2013 and 2018 and was runner up in the category in 2001 and 2003. In Super Comp, Strick was runner up to Rod Fuller in 1999, and he won the thing in Top Dragster over Steve Furr in 2014, sandwiched between just-short final rounds in 2013 and 2016. He’ll be in the ’67 Chevy II in Super Street when he’s not in the COPO in Stock. All door cars for the Alabama resident this weekend since Top Dragster isn’t on the schedule.

Super Comp, Super Gas, and Super Street
Oh, hey Ray Miller III. We didn’t see you there. JUST KIDDING. YES, WE TOTALLY DID. It’s hard to miss a guy that’s won this race four times – twice in Super Gas, once in Super Comp, and once in Top Dragster. He’s entered for Super Gas and Super Comp this weekend.

Brad Plourd might have a little bit of a chip on his shoulder entering this final event at Atlanta Dragway. Three times, he’s been on the disappointing end of a final round there – twice in Super Street and once in Super Comp. Watch out for Bad Brad in Super Comp and Stock Eliminator this weekend.

Top Sportsman
Jeffrey Barker was the king of Top Sportsman at Atlanta Dragway with three wins (including the first to be had there in 2010), and he’s racing Pro Mod there this weekend. You know who’s racing Top Sportsman, though? Vince Hoda, hot off a win at the Division 2 race at South Georgia Motorsports Park last weekend. Hoda was the runner-up in each of the two most recent national events in Atlanta, so this should be quite fun to watch.

Good luck to all this weekend! We can’t wait to see how it all shakes out at this weekend’s Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals, the very last time we’ll be racing for a Wally at Atlanta Dragway.

Follow @winlightnews on Instagram for updates from the event throughout the weekend.

Scroll down for a recap of the most recent Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals winners as well as those who raced to victory at the inaugural event.

Most recent NHRA Southern Nationals winners at Atlanta Dragway
Top Fuel (2019): Steve Torrence defeated Brittany Force
Funny Car (2019): Ron Capps def. Tim Wilkerson
Pro Stock (2018): Vincent Nobile def. Tanner Gray
Pro Stock Motorcycle (2019): Andrew Hines def. Jerry Savoie
Top Alcohol Dragster (2019): Josh Hart def. Megan Meyer
Top Alcohol Funny Car (2019): Jay Payne def. Ulf Leanders
Comp Eliminator (2019): Craig Bourgeois def. Brian Browell
Super Stock (2019): Aaron Stanfield def. Brandon Bakies
Stock (2019): Chip Johnson def. Jeff Warren
Super Comp (2019): Trene Cressonie def. Shannon Brinkley
Super Gas (2019): Jim Perry def. Rich Price
Super Street (2018): Keith Mayers def. Jesse McKnight
Top Dragster (2019): Clint Riley def. Steve Cohen
Top Sportsman (2018): Robert Mandell def. Vince Hoda
Pro Mod (2019): Mike Castellana def. Jose Gonzalez

Winners at the inaugural Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in 1981
Top Fuel: Shirley Muldowney defeated Terry Capp
Funny Car: Tripp Shumake def. Kenny Bernstein
Pro Stock: Lee Shepherd def. Frank Iaconio
Top Alcohol Dragster: Joe Amato def. Chet Rickard
Top Alcohol Funny Car: Frank Manzo def. Jerry Gwynn
Competition Eliminator: Ricky Klarr def. Steve Green
Modified: Larry Kopp def. Eddie Conrad
Super Stock: Charlie Taylor def. Dave Brun
Stock: Don Holben def. Bud Rowe

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