by: Tim Glover
Steve Taylor has experienced a long and storied career in drag racing. Although many on this forum have only known or heard of Taylor since the 1990s, he actually began racing in 1964.
Taylor met his wife Brenda (a great racer in her own right) while they were in high school. Both of them were high school basketball players (from different schools), and met one day at a game. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history. Steve is now retired from IBM, and Brenda is a retired schoolteacher.
The Taylors became high school sweethearts, and Brenda began going with him to watch races at Greer Dragway when she was a senior in high school. After she graduated college, they bought a 1950 Chevy from her dad. Steve rebuilt the engine, put in a Hurst shifter and began racing it at the local tracks.
Steve built his own racing engines after working all day at IBM, along with most of the electrical work. He also enjoyed preparing racing heads for other racers during the 1980's.
Contrary to many people’s belief, Taylor also loves fast cars, not just Cavaliers. Although notorious for racing (and winning with) slow cars, Steve Taylor has always enjoyed fast cars. His first quick race car was a white, 1966 Chevelle, complete with a 396/375hp four speed transmission that he bought new. This was the first of its kind sold in North Carolina. His first National Event win was in Pure Stock at Bristol Dragway in 1971, behind the wheel of his Chevelle. Later, he earned the national record in IHRA Factory Optional class, 12.62 at 110mph, using only nine inch slicks and cutouts. “He was so good. He power shifted so smoothly that some spectators didn’t realize he was shifting a four speed,” added Brenda. Taylor won a lot of events with the ’66 Chevelle, which he raced until 1978, when Sunoco 260 fuel became unavailable.
Taylor then switched to a ’69 Nova equipped with a four speed manual transmission and kept on winning races. In 1988, he changed it over to automatic. The switch paid off in a big way during a 1990 Tenn-Tuck race at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Ky., when Taylor took home $20,000 for a weekend’s work, winning Friday and Sunday.
Another one of Taylor’s favorite cars was his “Natural High” 1969 Nova Super Stocker that he bought in 1984. Brenda recalled a day he had it entered in four different races, and won three. “He had a hard time cooling off everything,” she noted. Natural High set the record in S/S Formula One C/Automatic, 10.01 at 133mph. The car weighed 3600lbs, and was equipped with a 427 engine, Turbo 400 automatic and didn’t even use a two step. Taylor enjoyed finishing number two in the world in the 1987 IHRA Super Stock points series. One day, Taylor thrilled the fans at Kinston Dragway by putting Natural High on its bumper for the entire length of the launch pad.
Because of his on track performance, race promoters gave him several titles, including “Mr Consistent” and “The Professor”. Some of the names several fellow racers have given him are not quite as printable, but it demonstrated their sometimes grudging acknowledgement of his talent.
“He won a LOT of events. If he entered four events during the weekend, it wasn’t unusual for him to win two or three,” said Brenda. Taylor has won races at every track in North Carolina, and many more in other states. Taylor won Pro, Super Pro and Footbrake events partly because he knew the benefits of deep staging long before many realized how that tactic affected reaction time.
Taylor usually had at least two cars to race. “He had to have two cars,” added Brenda. He enjoyed racing one in the slow bracket and the other in the fast bracket. “He would take anything and race it, and would usually win at least once per weekend,” stated Brenda. For slow cars, Volkswagens were the ticket in the ‘70s for him, and he campaigned an X-11 in the early ‘80s. “It has been….. interesting,” said Brenda. “If you had a car for him, he’d race it.”
The Taylors bought their first Cavalier in 1989, but sold it a few years later. In 1993, Taylor tried out Brenda’s ’93 Cavalier Z-24 at the track, and noted it was remarkably consistent. Taylor then bought a new ’94 Cavalier Z-24, and in less than a year’s time, paid for it several times by winning over $15,000. They eventually bought a total of six, and still have them all. Taylor might love fast cars, but he also raced smart.
In the Super Chevy Show series, Taylor would enter at least two, if not all three classes, and would usually leave the weekend as a winner in at least one category. Initially, the October 1998 Super Chevy Show at Rockingham Dragway was just another race weekend for the Taylors, until Steve made it to all three final rounds with his white Cavalier, winning Super Pro to the astonishment of many and finishing runner up in DOT and Pro. Taylor raced 21 rounds that weekend. Rockingham Dragway owner Steve Earwood said, “I’ve been in this business for 28 years, and have watched the likes of Garlits, the Snake, and so many others. I’ve never seen such an outstanding demonstration of driving talent. Ever.”
Taylor has many track championships, including, but not limited to:
1981 Fayetteville Dragstrip Footbrake
1984 Roxboro Raceway Footbrake
1985 ThunderValley Super Pro
1996 Piedmont Dragstrip Footbrake
1997 Farmington Dragstrip Footbrake
2001 B&M Series Division Four Footbrake (three semi-finals, four finals, two $5000 wins.)
2003 Virginia Motorsports Park Street
(also #2 in the Atlantic Coast Bracket Series.)
Some of his career highlights are:
A memorable win was against Bo Moxley, a well known bracket racer, in the 1970s at MIR. Taylor beat him in the finals, taking home $300, a good purse for the time, for his efforts.
In 1985, Taylor split the money at Suffolk Raceway when the curfew hit, pocketing $2000 for his efforts. After two hours sleep, they went to Thunder Valley Dragstrip near Clinton, NC and ran for the track championship, winning it in a runoff.Winning an IHRA National event in 1971 at Lakeland, Fla.
Finishing number two in the world in IHRA Super Stock points in 1987.Winning a 1988 NHRA Division Two race in Hollywood, FL.
In 1991, he placed eighth in the Moroso Five Day points series, in a field that was somewhere between 400 and 500 cars.Won $20,000 (two $10K wins) during one weekend in1990 at Tenn-Tuck race at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Ky.
Won Super Pro class during a B&M race at Rockingham Dragway in his white Cavalier, with four .00 lights, one .000 light, two .01s and two .03 lights in 1996.
In 1998, he finished runner up at the IHRA Bracket Finals, held at Darlington.
Two $5K wins in the B&M Series during the 2001 season
Another highlight came when he was honored with an invitation to participate in the Inaugural Drag Racing USA (DRUSA) Magazine Footbrake Allstar Shootout in 2000, which was held in conjunction with the Million Dollar Race at Montgomery, Ala. (Sixteen of the best Footbrake racers in the nation were invited by DRUSA to participate in the Shootout.) Taylor went out in the second round, and then drove immediately to the Darlington Bracket Finals in Darlington, SC, had no time runs, and went several rounds there. Brenda also competed with no time run, and scored a 10.734 on a 10.73 dial, coupled with a .03 light in round one.
Brenda currently owns another Footbrake car besides the Cavaliers, a 1999 Camaro she bought in 2002. Even though it has a 2.73 rear gear, it runs 8.90s in the eighth and 13.60s in the quarter mile at 105mph.
One idea Taylor has promoted over the years is his “Worst Red Light Rule.” He drew a lot of flack from many people for suggesting the change, but has held fast to his beliefs. Currently, the first person to red light is disqualified. Taylor’s vision was a system that, in the case of a double red light, would disqualify the racer with the worst red light, not necessarily the first. A recent example of how that would change the outcome was the Friday Sportsman final featuring Luke Bogacki vs. Jeremy Hefler at the 2007 DRR Series Texas Stampede. Hefler went -.003 red, but left before Bogacki, who was also red, with a -.010 light. It’s something to think about.
One time he was asked by a reporter, “If you didn’t drag race, what would you do?” Taylor thought a moment, then replied, “Is there something besides drag racing?” When asked who was the last person he would want to meet in a final, he thought another moment and quietly said, “That person doesn’t exist.”
When asked about Steve’s philosophy about racing, Brenda said, “He was a great racer. He could come across as being arrogant, but he was just being confident.” He always told me, “If you don’t feel like you can win it, you don’t need to be there. You have to think you can win.”
Steve, we’re all rooting for you to win again.