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IHRA Hall of Famer Gene Fulton Still Making An Impact Within The Sport

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Growing up in South Carolina in the 1950s, it was the perfect place and time for Gene Fulton to fall in love with motorsports.


Fulton, a Sportsman member of the inaugural International Hot Rod Association Hall of Fame class, recalled a car-crazed culture around the Spartanburg area much like that on the West Coast in Southern California.

“I was a kid in the 50s when it was rock n’ roll and hot cars,” he said. “There were hot street cars, hot race cars. That was what it was all about.”

Fulton would parlay that love of cars into a stellar driving career with four IHRA Modified championships and 25 national-event wins. After his retirement as a driver in 1987, he has remained a big part of the sport through his Fulton Competition Racing Engines.

Before his drag racing career took off, Fulton served in the Air Force from 1966-71, including a tour of Vietnam.

On his trip back home from Hawaii where he had been stationed, he flew into San Francisco. Driving across the country, he stopped in Abilene, Texas, where he had spent three years to pick up his favorite race car, the famous white Chevy II wagon.

“I was on my way home. I knew what I wanted,” Fulton said. “I went to Abilene, Texas. I knew most of the people in the town so I was running around there looking for it. I didn’t leave until I found it.”

Gene Fulton 1975 Bristol

Fulton first started racing at Shadyside Dragway, then a dirt drag strip about an hour away in Shelby, N.C. Once Fulton started racing on the IHRA circuit, he found success taking the first of his four Modified championships in 1974.

His first national-event win at Bristol gave him the confidence he could compete against the top drivers like Dennis Mitchell, Bruce Geiger and Lanny Bell. He added a second Modified championship in 1977.

Bristol was also the site of Fulton’s most famous setback when his beloved Chevy II wagon was destroyed in a violent crash. It had already been a bad experience before getting to the track.

“That was a really odd weekend. I drove up there on Friday morning and had a car come into my lane and run me off the road. I almost destroyed my car coming up there,” he said. “I skinned it up and had to go back to the shop and fix everything. Then, I came back Saturday morning and qualified. Then, another car ran into me and destroyed it.”

With the car gone, Fulton switched to a Corvette Stingray which he described as a sweet driving car. Fulton picked up back-to-back Modified championships in 1981-82.

Gene Fulton 1981 IHRA U.S. Open

Fulton loved driving, but decided to get out of the cockpit to concentrate on the business. He became an even bigger influence off the track, instrumental in the careers of Pro Mod racing legends Scotty Cannon and Shannon Jenkins.

Active to this day, he loves drag racing from a different perspective.

“There’s a lot of satisfaction when I see my engines win in numerous categories,” he said. “I’ve got some good customers who have come all the way with me and scored a bunch of wins. I’ve had engines in the top nitrous car in the country running the low e.t. and all that. I’ve got numerous local ones who win.”

He still visits the race track an estimated half-dozen times a year. Always adventurous, he’s an aviator and a skydiver. He loves the fast machines — the hot rods, boats and all — but don’t call him a daredevil.

“It’s not being a daredevil, it’s knowing where you’re at and what you’re doing,” he said. “But, I do enjoy the adrenaline rush. I’m 73 and I ain’t done yet.”

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Last modified on Tuesday, 22 June 2021