SP’s Earwood Among 2012 HoF Inductees
Southern Pines resident Steve Earwood, who created the Southern Pro Stock Circuit, managed Gainesville Raceway and Atlanta Dragway, ran the NHRA’s national media department and directed Rockingham Dragway’s resurgence in the 1990s when the North Carolina track played host to the National Hot Rod Association’s (NHRA) Winston Invitational, will be one of three 2012 inductees into the NHRA Division 2 Hall of Fame.
Earwood, Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson of Sugar Hill, Ga., and sportsman standout David Rampy of Piedmont, Ala., will be inducted into the Division 2 Hall in Jan. 14 ceremonies at the Windham Peachtree City Conference Center.
“This is a very humbling experience,” Earwood said, “especially to go in with two of my racing idols — WJ and ‘Rambo.’ This isn’t something I ever expected. Anything I have achieved in the sport I owe to Wally Parks, who gave me a chance back in 1975, and to all the friends I’ve made over the years. It’s been a great ride — but I hope it’s not over yet.”
Earwood, whose Rockingham track remains one of the most active in the nation with more than 90 events on the schedule each year, began his drag racing career in the 1970s when he and his older brother, Terry, managed Gainesville Raceway and promoted the Southern Pro Stock circuit, which featured big block outlaw stock cars.
In 1975, after briefly working as a “hired gun” public relations specialist, Earwood accepted a job as the NHRA’s national media relations manager. After 11 seasons, during which he gave the NHRA an identity in the national media that paved the way to an eventual marketing partnership with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and its Winston brand, the Atlanta native left to address the challenge of opening the new, all-concrete Texas Motorplex track south of Dallas.
After two years as the track’s public relations director, he left Texas to become vice-president and general manager of Atlanta Dragway, where he supervised a complete makeover of the facility. Three years later, he realized a career dream when he purchased Rockingham Dragway from the L.G. Dewitt family.
Under Earwood’s ownership and supervision, the Top Fuel and Funny Car winners’ share of the Winston Invitational purse grew from $35,000 in 1992 to $100,000 in 1997. At the time, $100,000 was more than a Top Fuel or Funny Car driver could earn as the winner of any other event in the national series.
The success of the Invitational culminated in Earwood’s acceptance of the NHRA Southeast Division “Person of the Year” Award in 1994.
Although his roots are in drag racing, Earwood grew up in sports car racing as the youngest son of former Georgia insurance executive Charles L. Earwood, who at one time served as chief steward for virtually every major American road racing series from IMSA to SCCA.
In addition, even after settling on drag racing as his specialty, Earwood independently promoted a number of road racing events with longtime partner Dave Densmore, most of them at Road Atlanta. Those included the SCCA national runoffs, IMSA Camel GT races and SCCA Trans-Am races. The two also promoted a Trans-Am race featuring the late Paul Newman at what was then Moroso Motorsports Park in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Today, Earwood is a founding member and chairman of the North Carolina Motorsports Association, a member of Gov. Beverly Perdue’s Governor’s Motorsports Advisory Council, a voting board member of the National Fire Protection Association (which was responsible for drafting document 610, which serves as a fire safety guideline), a member of the board of the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the board of Racers for Christ International.
In 2010, Earwood accepted the Richmond County “Citizen of the Year” Award, which recognized his contributions to the local community and economy through both the race track and his many other charitable endeavors.
Contact Hunter Chase at email@example.com.
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