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by Chris Martin


February is black history month and we thought it appropriate that DRO address the subject of Afro-American drag racers. There have been many outstanding black drag racers over the past half century, and there is a basis for truthfully saying "too numerous to mention," but we’ll try to squeeze in as many as memory allows.

For example, California racer Eddie Flournoy, whose son Rodney showed well in Funny Car in the 1980s despite a zero budget, wrenched on Hall of Famer Jim "Jazzy" Nelson’s fuel burning coupes and roadsters in the 1950s. Greg Tabler was the first black NHRA eliminator winner when he nailed Super Stock at the 1981 U.S. Nationals. Eric Reed-Dowd was the first black pro finalist when he lost Funny Car to Mike Dunn in Joe Pisano’s Olds Cutlass at the 1989 NHRA Southern Nationals in Atlanta. The first blown and injected nitro-burning pro winner was Reed’s pal, the late Tony McCallum, in Funny Car at the 1989 IHRA Springnationals in Bristol, Tenn.

Since then Michael Phillips, the first NHRA pro winner in Pro Stock Bike at the 1995 NHRA Houston Slick 50 Nationals, and Antron Brown in the same class have torn up admirably. Redell Harris, also in Pro Stock Bike, was a rising star before the budget broke. Brown was really impressive winning last year at the Castrol Nationals at the Texas Motorplex, the Pontiac Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, and the NHRA Winston Finals in Pomona, making him the winningest black drag racer ever.

Below we thought it would be cool (No, I’m not trying to sound like Thelonius Monk) to look back on some of the great ones. In the first segment, we’ll list guys who really rumbled and made national news. I’m going to leave out Phillips and Brown since you already know what they’ve done, but some genuine memory floggers will crop up I’m sure.



One of the truly great pioneer Funny Car racers from the 1960s. Durham’s "Strip Blazer" Funny Cars were all Chevrolets and it’s a safe bet that if he wasn’t the first (and I think he was), he was almost the first in the eight-second zone for Chevrolets. From roughly 1962 (Super Stock) to the early 1970s (Funny Car), the Washington "D.C. Lip" was a fixture on the East Coast match scene racing the Don Nicholsons, the Ronnie Soxes, the Dick Landys, the Ramchargers, the Tasca Fords, and Bobby Woods’ routinely.


East Coaster Ronald Lyles was the best black Pro Stock Mopar racer in history. He joined the Pro Stock ranks in 1971 and raced heavily on the Atlantic seaboard, especially at New York National, Cecil County, Capitol, and the various Pennsylvania and New Jersey tracks. He really hit the big time in 1972 with former Sox-Martin team driver Joe Christie shoeing for the first five months. Lyles took over running elapsed times in the 9.3s at 145-mph and winning numerous two-car and eight-car match races.

In 1973, Lyles stunned the world with the second eight-second Pro Stock run in history, an 8.89 at New York National on March 24 in a Ron Butler-built ‘73 Dodge. He would have had the first eight, except that Nicholson ran an 8.93 a day earlier in his Ford Pinto at Cecil County.

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