Tri-5 Guys

Here's a slightly grainy memory of yesteryear drag racing provided by Bobby Anderson. It's Bobby's 'Lil' Honker' 55 Chevy 210 sedan poised in attack mode and aimed down Carlise Drag-O-Way sometime during 1969.

Bobby is one of several local guys that made their presence known in Memphis drag racing circles, by racing a well recognized Tri-5 Chevrolet. In fact, each of the competitors that I will mention in this post are easily identified in our neck of the woods by their long term connection to these mid-fifties era Chevrolets. I kind of like that... It seems that ever since I noticed there was such a thing as drag racing, there have been 55-57 Chevys working hard on the 1/4 mile. Maybe that's why I find them to be synonymous with doorslammer drag racing, and maybe that's why I have one stashed in my garage... waiting.

Here's Bobby and the 'Lil' Honker' at Jackson Dragway. Bobby got around... He not only raced at Lakeland in Memphis, but he also did time on the tracks at Carlise AR, Stuttgart AR, Jackson TN, Nashville TN, and all points in between. Bobby also worked at Coleman Taylor Transmissions for years, and when Larry Nolan built an A/Altered, he turned to Bobby to unleash the beast that was sleeping in the big block Chevy powered Bantam altered. It seems Larry's altered was a bit lazy off the line when it was brand new. The addition of one Anderson built Chrysler Clutch-Flite transmission fixed that right up... in a hurry!

Bobby raced a few different Chevys over the years, but as far as I can tell, they were always 55's. Note the unusual use of a Ford Thunderbolt hood scoop on his mid century stovebolt. Also be duly impressed with the fact that Bobby is still at it. He currently has another 55 2-door sedan which he has built into a fine weekend racer, and is remarkably similar to the 'Lil' Honker' modified production racer of years past. In fact, it was one of the featured display cars at the 2007 Rodder's Reunion. Observe the familiar red paint (sans lettering and graphics) and the T-Bolt hood scoop. Under the hood lies a serious small block, a full roll cage, and Centerline rolling stock. So be forwarned... Bobby may show up at a local mid-south drag strip and embarrass a few folks with this solid but straightforward 55. Also appearing on track may be Bobby's son, who races a flamed 55 Chevy Nomad... just to keep it all in the family.

Also well known for their drag racing exploits with 55-57 Chevys were the McAtee brothers. Bill & Claude McAtee had a thing for going fast, and their preferred vehicle was most often a Tri-5 Chevrolet. Here is their stock class 56 Chevy making a move on a later model competitor at Lakeland Raceway. The McAtee's were feared racers who made the tow to national meets far from home. The innocuous looking 56 shown above was equipped with Stahl 'total tuned' racing headers, a very trick racing advantage of the day. In fact, Stahl headers are still just about as high tech as exhaust headers can be in the ultra competitive world of drag racing. The McAtee's would later go on to be in on the ground floor of NHRA's new Pro Stock class at the dawn of the 70's. They built a Chevy Nova for the then new class while it still had some connection to factory production cars. Sadly Bill passed away recently, but Claude McAtee is still involved with 55-57 Chevys, and is currently restoring a 57 hardtop.

Lastly, representing the legions of 57 Chevy admirers, is Larry Chambers' 'Chomper'. Larry has owned this car forever it seems, and raced it for years in NHRA's stock eliminator category. Larry once won the Memphis Rodder's year long, club points championship with this car. He raced it often, and did well with the Colonial Cream - India Ivory hardtop (it's really a light yellow regardless of GM calling it cream). A wool club jacket was an award to Larry for his efforts... He still has the jacket... obviously it meant something special to him.

Larry took the 'Chomper' all over dragdom. The Indy Nationals was a favorite journey. He also held the NHRA National record in his class with this car. In more recent years, Larry has plopped a streetable Chevy small block between this 57's fenders and returned the unrestored racer to highway duty. He drives it everywhere now as a legal street car, and is a regular attendee at area car shows. The 'Chomper' made an appearance at the 2008 Rodder's Reunion as a display vehicle, and may have caught many reunion attendees off guard with the history that is associated with this locally familiar 57.

Of course, there were many others. Like the colorful 'Skateball Special' 57 wagon shown above. The RHS 55 Chevy sticks out in my mind as a classic drag racer. Appliance white, and usually dragging the rear bumper across the strip while pulling a giant wheelstand. It as a feared machine in the now defunct Modified Production class... but the Anderson 55, the McAtee's 56, and Chambers' 57 may well have the most identifiable history on a local level among Tri-5 fans. These same Tri-5 enthusiasts were also among the founding members of the Memphis Classic Chevy Club which came to be in 1976, and is now one of the oldest continuously operating car clubs in Memphis. So hats off to you for helping to forge a place for the 55-57 Chevrolet in drag racing lore. These immensely popular cars, owe much of their global appeal to the efforts of racers like these, who made them fixtures on drag strips nationwide.