It's no wonder Gene Felton has been nominated for the voting to determine who will enter the International Motor Racing Hall of Fame at the Talladega Superspeedway. For nearly 15 seasons, Felton was king of the American road when it came to racing. No driver won more major races or more consecutive championships while driving American cars on U.S. road circuits than the man from Atlanta, who first learned his trade while delivering beauty supplies with a Ford Mustang in the north Georgia mountains.
A hallmark of speed and consistency, Felton scored 46 career victories in the International Motor Sports Association from 132 starts. Even more incredible are his qualifying statistics. He started from the pole 73 times in IMSA's professional categories, or 55 percent of his races. Counting qualifying and race laps, Felton set 63 track records during competition on the high-speed courses like Daytona, Sebring, Road Atlanta, Michigan and Pocono as well as the more technical venues like Mid-Ohio, Sears Point, Riverside, Ontario, and Charlotte.
Having started his career as a NASCAR track champion at the legendary Peach Bowl in downtown Atlanta, the easy-going Felton personifies one of the most unique eras of American racing. He vaulted to stardom during a time when ingenious, hard-working individuals built their own cars on nights and weekends after they took care of the regular day jobs -- then climbed on board at the race track to prove who had the fastest machine.
Felton decided to switch gears from the ovals and took the road racing world by storm in November of 1972 and again in July the following year when he scored 250-mile Camel GT victories on the original ultra-high-speed oval and infield road course at Daytona. Piloting his home-built Camaro, Felton blew away fields of factory-backed big block Corvettes and a Porsche brigade that included the Carreras of Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood.
Gene said “I guess I just didn’t know that I couldn’t win one of my first races!”
Felton went on to collect four straight Kelly American Challenge Series championships in 1977-80, a record for consecutive titles in IMSA that stood for 11 years until tied by Geoff Brabham. The Georgia driver swept nine straight races from the pole aboard a Chevy Nova in the final year of the streak. The following season, he became one of the first drivers to win under power from GM's history-making V-6 race engines. Felton eventually racked up 25 career American Challenge victories behind the wheel of Buick Skyhawks, Novas and Camaros, all built and prepared in Atlanta by the driver plus a single crewman.
Felton made his mark in major endurance races with victories in the Daytona 24-hour and the Sebring 12-hour races in 1984, when he co-drove a Camaro with two-time Winston Cup champion Terry Labonte and Billy Hagan. Felton first began racing with Hagan in the Camaros prepared by legendary NASCAR crew chief Tex Powell in 1982 at the world's greatest road race at Le Mans, France. In his first appearance on the mammoth 8-mile circuit through the French countryside, Felton set a qualifying record before finishing second in the IMSA class with the Hagan team.
The 13 victories in the Camel GT coupled with his Kelly American Challenge record and eight victories in the Radial Challenge series aboard an AMC Gremlin gave Felton a total of 46 victories, ranking him second behind Al Holbert in career IMSA victories. Only five drivers have scored 40 or more career victories in the professional classes under the IMSA sanction, now including the American Le Mans Series. In additon to Holbert (49 victories) and Felton, the others are Irv Hoerr (43), Peter Gregg (41) and Jim Downing (40).
As for the SCCA Trans-Am, Felton scored a victory in his very first appearance in America's longest running professional road racing series in 1983 at Moroso Park aboard a Pontiac Trans-Am. But in the fall of 1984, he suffered a fracture in his cervical spine in an accident during practice for a Trans-Am event at the Riverside (Calif.) Raceway, which ended his professional career prematurely.
Having started by winning a motorcycle championship in Okinawa as a Marine, Felton's love for racing never waivered. After recovering from what many concluded was an injury that would prevent him from racing again, Felton returned to his NASCAR racing roots. The former Peach Bowl champion made a proud comeback to building and racing American iron by launching the Historic Stock Car Series, a vintage organization for Winston Cup cars competing on road circuits. At age 70, Felton continues to restore, prepare and race vintage stock cars from his shops in Roswell, Ga., adding numerous trophies to an extensive collection that represents a lifetime of dedication to motor racing success.
As internationally famous Bill Elliott has said “GENE FELTON HAS DONE IT ALL!” Having started by winning on motorcycles, Gene has raced from Georgia dirt tracks to 24 heures du Lemans.