Speedy Ball still goin' strong
at 68 years young, with a 47-year string of
Story and photos
by Dale Wilson
68-year-old man in drag racing is not that rare any more. Look at Chris "the Greek" Karamesines, at 77 or so, still going strong. The "old man" of drag racing, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, is 72 and counting, and still zooming down the quarter-mile. Don "the Snake" Prudhomme, now past Social Security retirement age, is still at it, albeit behind the scene, and so is Tom "the Mongoose" McEwen. There are others.
Then there's Donald "Speedy" Ball, a mechanic from Anniston, Ala., who at 68 is still steadily hitting southern drag strips of eighth- and quarter-mile in length. Sixty-eight, you say? What's so special about him? Well, 47 of those 68 years he has spent drag racing. Oh, and we better make that 47 CONSECUTIVE years of drag racing. Forty-seven years without taking a single season off. Speedy Ball has been racing longer than many of today's drag and bracket racing competitors have been alive.
Speedy Ball began racing on dirt drag strips with flagmen for starters, and today his '91 Probe, powered by an alky-burning small-block Chevrolet, is equipped with all the right stuff for Super Pro bracket racing. A car that he built himself, his red-and-white Ford, with his name, "Speedy Ball," proudly emblazoned on both doors, goes 6-ohs in the eighth-mile at tracks from Huntsville (Alabama) Dragway to Montgomery Motorsports Park to Bama Dragway and places in between. Ball is still "mechanickin'" (his word) at a shop by his house in Anniston, Ala.
"It's been 47 years this year," Speedy Ball said. "I never quit. I race because
I like it. I don't like nothing else, no football,
no baseball, no round trackin'. All I've ever
liked is drag racing."
that drag racing of all kinds, from class racing
in Stockers to gassers to gas and fuel dragsters
to Modified Production to brackets. Talk to
Donald Speedy Ball and you'll get a quick history
lesson in drag racing all over the South and
from the mid-1950s to today. Ball has been there
and done that, and is still looking to do some
He started racing on the street in, believe it or not, Chicago, in a 1952 Oldsmobile. "There were a lot of people who went up there in the early 1950s to work. You couldn't buy a job around the Anniston area in 1953 and '54," Ball says. He returned to Anniston in 1957 and began going to a drag strip in Ragland, Ala., experiencing his first legal, organized drag racing. From that first day until one seven years later, Ball never missed a race. "I missed that one race to go to the funeral of an uncle," he said. His car of choice was the '52 Olds that raced in D/Stock.
A '50 Olds Stocker and later a C/Gasser followed. That one, rescued from a local wrecking yard, was nicknamed the "Green Door" by friend and local legend M.A. "Chicken Picker" Madden of Anniston. "That was one of the first cars that had a name on it," Ball says. "I got it out of a junk yard, painted gray, with no door on it. So I got another door from a Pontiac and put it on and drove over to M.A.'s chicken farm to show it off. I pulled up there and he said, 'Speedy, what do you got behind that green door?' I said, 'When we get to the races, you're gonna find out.'" Madden had already started his career in a '55 Studebaker that went from a Stocker to a goin' gasser.
So who gave Speedy Ball his nickname? The guy who ran the Ragland drag strip
and later, Lassiter Mountain Raceway and Helena
Drag Strip, the late R.V. "Fuzz" Parker did.
"I'd always come in to Ragland late, so one
time, Fuzz said, 'We're gonna give you a reverse
name. We're gonna call you 'Speedy' Ball," Speedy
said. "You know how a tall man is called 'Shorty'
and a bald man 'Curly?' Well, that's what a
reverse name is. Fuzz Parker said, 'You're so
slow about getting here every week, we're gonna
call you 'Speedy.' So I signed in as 'Speedy'
Ball. R.V. was also the Ragland announcer, and
in those days, they called you 'Madden' or whatever.
They didn't say your first name. When I come
around to race, he'd say, 'Here's Speedy Ball
gonna race so-and-so. And it stuck."