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Ellis cruises down drag strip in classic ride

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 25, 2020 at 12:00 PM

ELIZABETHTON — While it looks like a car more suited for the drive-in than the drag strip, Randy Ellis’ 1957 Chevrolet is a true hot rod.

With a 496-cubic-inch engine under the hood, Ellis has driven the classic car to a 9.60-second pass down the quarter-mile at 141 miles per hour.

Last August, Ellis was cruising in the classic car, taking the win in the Super Pro class of the DER Bracket Series at Bristol Dragway. It was a moment of pride for the Elizabethton racer, who explained his love of the classic cars is a family tradition.

“My dad and uncle always had old cars,” he said. “My dad had a ’55 Chevrolet and a ’55 Nomad. My uncle had a GTO, all the ’60s models. We’ve just always liked the old cars. We always like the General Motors cars. I had one Ford Thunderbird, but I didn’t like it.”

His father and uncle also passed down their love of drag racing and it has created a strong bond among them.

Ellis, a 54-year-old Unaka High School graduate, first remembers going to the track to watch his uncle Bill race. Once Randy started to race in his mid-20s, it was his father, Rondle, and uncle who helped him get up to speed.

It didn’t take Randy long to get the hang of it. His first weekend going down the track in 1993, he finished runner-up on Saturday and followed up with a win on Sunday.

“I was definitely hooked after that,” Ellis said. “But more than that, I love drag racing because of the people and the friendships. You can’t find any nicer people. You can leave your trailer open. I’ve never heard of anything in 20-some years getting stolen from someone’s trailer. Everyone is like a big family.”

His own family remains a big part what drives Ellis, a retired Forestry Service worker. His father served as crew chief, a role now held by Randy’s girlfriend, Tina Roberson. Over the years, Randy is thankful for all the memories he’s shared with his family.

“We used to do all the car shows together, including the big one at Poplar (N.C.),” he said. “My dad and uncle still take cars to Elizabethton, to Bristol and places. I got out of the car show business, but I still race at different places.”

Bristol is his home and his favorite track. Ellis mentioned the tough competition, facing guys like Kingsport’s Van Greer, the son of former NHRA Funny Car World Champion Shirl Greer.

He also races at other tracks in the region like Cherokee Dragway in Rogersville, along with Elk Creek (Va.) Dragway and North Carolina tracks Wilkesboro and Farmington Dragways. With the NHRA and IHRA both having longstanding junior drag racing programs, Ellis said the competition is tough everywhere.

“You have these young kids graduating from Junior Dragster and lot of times going right into Super Pro,” Ellis said. “For us older guys, it’s hard to keep up with those kids.”

Still, Ellis holds his own.

He is particularly strong at the starting line, with multiple perfect lights. To win last August at Bristol, his .008 reaction time get him the edge over runner-up Roger Hughes. Besides a fast start, Ellis said the key to being a good bracket racer is being consistent.

“A lot of people think the first car that gets down the track wins, but bracket racing is about a good light and consistent car,” he explained. “You have to run your dial-in (time). If you’ve got a good combination, you can go some rounds and win some races.”

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