Don’t put the pen down yet. Road racing celebrity, Gene Felton hasn’t finished scripting additional pages to his illustrious career.
We all remember our first love. For Gene Felton, that was 50-plus years ago at age 14 when he began to watch the Saturday Night Specials bumping around Lakewood Park Raceway, located outside Atlanta, Georgia. He was hooked! What followed was a young man racing motorcycles while serving a tour with the Marines in Okinawa. Discharged, his passion grew as he exploded on the amateur-racing scene capturing the South Eastern Championship with 42 wins between 1964-1969. Graduating to NASCAR’s Grand American Series in ’69, Felton chased NASCAR great, Bobby Allison, scoring a second place in his very first NASCAR race.
By the seventies, professional motorsports was embracing outside monies’ to support the speedy sport and its contestants. Winning was becoming a direct link to the depth of the pocketbook, and more importantly, the lack of such needed funding created a class of endangered species that was only able to chase the big dogs’ exhaust fumes. Felton bucked this hypothesis with sheer physical skill behind the wheel winning not only his first pro race in his third attempt in ’72 (Presidential 250 at Daytona) in his home-built Camaro, but competing successfully against a who’s who of famed road racers like David Hobbs, John Greenwood, Peter Gregg, Elliott Forbes-Robinson, Hurley Haywood, and others, defeating many well-financed factory teams in the process.
"Traveling the country with one good buddy, cube van and an open trailer", recalls Gene, his spectacular career sped into the 80s victorious in his augural Trans-Am attempt and compiling an impressive laundry list of victories that included 50 American Road Race wins, a record that stands behind another road racing legend, the late, Al Holbert. Unfortunately, Felton sustained a professional career-ending injury at Riverside Raceway in 1984.
Amassing 25 IMSA American Challenge, 11 IMSA Camel GTO, eight IMSA Champion Spark Plug Series wins, four consecutive IMSA’s American Challenge Championships 1977-1980, 73 pole positions, 63 track records, two victories with the Audi Factory Team in the Escort Endurance Racing Series, three firsts on 3/8-miles of dirt, and even bringing home the Manufacturer Championships for both Buick and Chevrolet, Felton fought (and won) many of these battles on a shoestring budget, devoid of the limelight awarded many of his peers. He has climbed the mountain the hard way, almost lost it, but restarted his rise to the apex with a new avocation, restoring ex-Winston Cup cars and jumping head first into vintage auto racing. He has added another 100 victories and still counting, to the books that include GTO class wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring, and a second place victory at Le Mans in ’82.
Gene Felton’s ostensibly tough exterior and indomitable spirit should surely earn this “Unsung Hero” a trip to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Walter Pietrowicz