One of the oldest vintage and historic racing events in the U.S., the 44th running of the Historic Sportscar Racing Mitty at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, April 28-May 1, will introduce a new feature race to honor driving star Gene Felton and a special perpetual trophy reflecting the late road racing champion’s support of Lanier Technical College. The announcement of the new annual race at The Mitty was made during the drivers meeting at the season-opening HSR Spring Fling event at Sebring International Raceway.
The inaugural “Gene Felton Memorial Challenge” will feature a pair of races for HSR Group 8 Historic Stock Cars with the winner determined by total points from the two events. In addition to receiving a special race winner’s trophy, a plaque bearing the driver’s name will be put on The Lanier Technical College Gene Felton Trophy. Based on hardware from Felton’s vast collection, the permanent trophy commemorates the driver’s long association with the Lanier Technical College, where he helped interns in the Motorsports Vehicle Training program get hands-on racing experience.
A former Grand Marshall at The Mitty and a member of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, Felton died in 2020 at the age of 84 from a non-COVID related illness.
Felton’s racing achievements were many, including 45 career victories in the professional ranks of IMSA on board production-based cars and four consecutive Kelly American Challenge Series championships. After a horrendous crash during practice for a Trans-Am race at the Riverside International Raceway in California broke his neck in 1984, Felton returned to his car-building roots with Gene Felton Restorations, maintaining vintage NASCAR stock cars and production-based race cars in the garage behind his house in Roswell. He continued to get behind the wheel and won many a vintage race.
“In so many ways, Gene Felton represents everything that HSR is about,” said HSR President David Hinton. “He was a record-setting and tireless competitor that truly lived to race and clearly loved every aspect of the sport that all of us love so much. To be able to have a race in his honor every year at the HSR Mitty is a true privilege.”
Felton’s plaudits include co-driving to victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona with two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Terry Labonte and car owner Billy Hagan. After winning the GTO class pole at Le Mans in his first appearance at the famed French 24-hour race in 1982, Felton drove to a second-place finish with Hagan. He launched his pro career with two stunning victories in Camel GT races at the Daytona International Speedway in 1972 and 1973, beating a host of Porsches and Corvettes on board a Camaro he built during spare time from his cosmetics supply business.
The Gene Felton Memorial Challenge will be the focus of a fund-raising effort in support of MVT students. Donations can be made at http://www.laniertechfoundation or by sending checks to the Lanier Technical College Foundation, 2535 Lanier Tech Drive, Gainesville, Georgia 30507.
“As long as donors write ‘Gene Felton’ in the memo line of the check or in the comment box online, the funds will be specifically allocated to help MVT program students,” said John M. Leverett, Motorsports Vehicle Technology Program Director and Instructor.
As a teenager, Felton went to the Lakewood Speedway on the south side of Atlanta to watch NASCAR’s earliest heroes of the 1950s, which inspired his own career. In addition to road racing in IMSA and the SCCA, he competed in NASCAR during his early career.
Felton’s best result in the NASCAR came in a Grand American race at Road Atlanta in 1971. Like this year’s inaugural Gene Felton Memorial Challenge, the NASCAR event featured a pair of races under a points format. Forced to start at the back of the field in the second race due to an equipment problem, Felton drove his Camaro up to second place at the finish behind Tiny Lund, impressing the former Daytona 500 winner as well as veterans Bobby Allison and Buck Baker, drivers he passed along the way.
A lone entry in NASCAR’s Cup series came at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1976, where Felton finished the 500-mile race while running in 16th place. A frequent winner behind the wheel in vintage events, he was invited to drive a Chevrolet Nova he restored that was previously driven by seven-time Cup series champion Dale Earnhardt at the Goodwood Festival in England in 2009.
This week’s season-opening HSR Spring Fling runs through Friday at Sebring International Raceway. Tickets are available exclusively at the track.