Greg Slack Earns His First Wally At The Gatornationals
Winning a national event sometimes requires a miracle. Greg Slack knows all too well what a real miracle is and it had nothing to do with winning his first NHRA national event at the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Florida. What it really had to do with was the old requirement of the necessity of a doctor’s physical when renewing an NHRA license. “Old requirement” in the case that it is no longer necessary to obtain a doctor’s physical for an NHRA racing license. But for Slack and many others like him, that requirement was a life saver.
“In 2008, I had gone for my physical to renew my license,” he says. “When I walked in my doctor’s office, his first question was ‘Greg, how long have you had those nodules on your neck?’ I had seen older men with small lumps on their neck and just thought it was a case of getting older.”
In Slack’s case though, there was more to it than that. What it amounted to was Stage IV Mantle Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, something a person is not expected to survive.
Slack’s history in the sport traces back to his father who was also a racer. “My dad Rodger passed away in 2015 but he was pretty much always into cars and performance,” said Slack. “He was my mentor and instilled the work ethics I have, teaching me the desires to do better than anybody else, possibly even when you don’t have the tools to work with.”
Slack’s first foray into drag racing was his attendance in the ‘60s at Sportsman Park Drag Strip in North Carolina which today is known as Farmington Dragway. “But I actually cut my teeth at Mooresville Drag Strip,” he says. “Every weekend we’d go to Mooresville on Saturday night and then over to Shuffletown Dragway for Sunday. In the early ‘80s, I won something like 22 races in one year.”
Slack eventually built the same Maverick he also competes with in Super Gas, earning his first IHRA Iron Man in 1986, adding a bunch more of them before moving over to the NHRA side of the fence. “I am not immune to being in the winner’s circle,” he said. But 2008 tried to put an abrupt halt to his career.
“It was August of ’08 when I went for my NHRA physical,” he said. “The doctor asked if those nodules hurt and I said no. He said ‘We’re going to get a biopsy and I’m gonna’ pray for you.’ The sternness in his voice when he said ‘I’m gonna’ pray for you,’ told me I was in trouble. The life expectancy after treatment from that was three years. I was not having any of the symptoms of the disease and at then 51, I was killing young guys helping me put in a pasture after working in the shop all day. I was just full of stamina, but they told me I woulda’ been dead in three months if it had not been for that NHRA physical. It was fixin’ to be bad, but there were miracles performed in that whole deal.”
October 12th of that year brought about Slack’s 52nd birthday but also Day 1 of heavy rounds of chemotherapy. Doctors wished to harvest stem cells from his body. “After three heavy rounds of chemo,” he said, “I was wasted, living on Ensure for ten days straight. So much chemo has a tendency to kill everything in your body. Harvesting stem cells and storing them allows them to be reinserted into your body after treatment. They said if they could just get 5,000 units, that it would be good. I was miserable and at that point you don’t have any pride left and the people they have working around you are angels, they really are.”
Another miracle ensued when doctors came back and mentioned they had harvested 28,000 units of stem cells. “They had said because they were able to give me back my own stem cells, I’d be able to go home from the hospital quicker,” Slack said. “But I wasn’t home more than two weeks and my fever shot up, my bones ached and one morning I finally told my wife Gina ‘I’m done.’ She said, ‘What do you mean you’re done?’ I said, ‘I can’t beat it.’ And that was the key word. ‘I.’ We both started crying and prayed and she said ‘Don’t you give up!’ But we both saw the numbers and they weren’t good.”
But another miracle was about to be seen. Doctors began to see something in his blood work which allowed them to be a little more positive. “Do you know what that was,” said Slack. “That was nothing more than God having his hand in this. God said, ‘You can’t beat it… but I can!’ It was just that, a miracle of God! I’ve worn the crosses and such on my cars for years way before I ever got sick but they say that if you put Jesus on your shoulder, anybody can knock him off, but if you put Jesus in your heart no one can remove it.”
It’s also quite possible that when doctor’s ran Slack’s blood work, there’s a chance they found some Ford blue in there, as he’s been a dedicated Ford man for years. A little unorthodox in a sea of Chevrolet engines in the super classes, both of Slack’s cars carry Ford-based powerplants. Behind each though are torque converters built by himself in his Greg Slack Converters company. “I started building converters in the late ‘80s when I wasn’t happy with the units I was purchasing elsewhere,” he says. “Now we’ve got a lot of racers using our converters even in the fast Top Dragster and Top Sportsman classes.”
Years now removed from his health scare and only a short amount of time out of his race car, even with other health problems, Greg Slack is back on track… literally.
With his Maverick and Race Tech dragster in tow, Slack proceeded to begin his 2018 season by traveling south to Lights Out 9 in Georgia. Down to three cars in the 6.0 class with the Maverick gave him confidence with his combination. Two Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series in Florida found the Maverick going rounds at each. Then came the Gatornationals.
“My wife has always been with me everywhere but she wasn’t able to travel with me down south,” he says, “so she sent Spot with me; a little stuffed dog; and I belted that dog into the passenger’s seat of the Maverick to remind me of her. I missed her so much and this represented her. My crew guy, ‘Dewey,’ Drew Dennis, and I would talk to that dog.”
The next question comes in as: What was the significance of the other stuffed animal strapped to the cage of the dragster?”
“Oh, that’s just Donkey from the movie Shrek,” Slack says. “He’s been with us a while and I have to say that when little kids see that, their eyes light up. And what are we if we don’t enlighten our youth. I’ll admit, I hate the sound of Jr. Dragsters, but at the same time, that’s the future of drag racing. As longtime friend Jeff Pittman once told me, ‘We are so blessed to be able to do what we do. There are some people who never get to be a part of this, don’t even get a chance to come here and the first time we lose sight of that, we don’t need to be a racer anymore.’”
A first round loss at the Gators with the Maverick wasn’t what he was expecting and an almost first round loss with the dragster might have also occurred had it not been for a bit of luck.
“I was in the first pair of Super Comp cars out that Friday morning in the first round,” he said. “I was racing Tyler Caheely and we both got real loose. I was fixin’ to abort that run. It shook, vibrated, spun and I was completely out of the groove. About that time, I saw Tyler moving up on me and immediately it looked like he dumped, but it was too early in the run to dump so I just lifted off the gas and saw my win light. The only reason I won that round was because he aborted before I did.”
As a point to the story of the round, Caheely stopped his car on the track and notified officials the track wasn’t safe. Officials took a look at the track and deemed it otherwise. The next pair of cars to go down featured Caheely’s father Eddie in the very same lane as his son. As the record shows, Eddie crashed hard causing quite a stir in the staging lanes as to the actual safety of the track.
“That was Friday morning and in the second round on Saturday morning,” says Slack, “I had to run Rick Mann and he also had a problem with the track giving me another win light.”
As the record shows though, Slack and his 435-cubic inch Ford-powered dragster went on a tear after that with wins over Dave Dahlem and Scott Sattler to finish up on Saturday. Sunday morning’s quarterfinal round was a two-for- one with the winner earning a semifinal round bye run into the finals. Two great double-0 reaction times with Sherman Adcock found the win light shining in Slacks lane, moving him into his fourth NHRA final round. And of course, the final against race car builder Ray Miller II earned Slack his first Wally.
“I’ve got a decent year going so far and we’ll try to keep it going,” he says. “But the main thing are the friends we only see at the track. That’s worth more than anything else and what I missed the most when I couldn’t go very much. And during that time, my wife, bless her heart, had to juggle around a lot of things when I was sick in order to keep what we had built up together before I got sick.”
Greg Slack is a racer who enjoys the sport but is full of life itself. “I feel so fortunate to just even be able to go out and race,” he said. “I have to first thank my Lord though for giving me the ability to do what I do. And besides my wife and two daughters, Rachel and Ashley and my granddaughter Kyleigh, there’s also Mickey Thompson Tires, Doug Flynn at Holley EFI, Pete Harrell from HED, Jeff Pittman and Angie Travis at Hickory Enclosed Trailers, Sandy Wilkins for the baddest Ford powerplant ever, and Sunoco Race Fuels.”