Steve (Stephen) Earwood, one of drag racing’s most effective marketing specialists, and highly respected track owner/operators, has been named the 2016 recipient of the prestigious Founder’s Award by the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame (a part of the famed Don Garlits Drag Racing Museum in Ocala, Fla.). He will receive the honor at the 26th annual Hall of Fame induction dinner on March 17, 2016 in Gainesville, Fla. The Rockingham, N.C. businessman has been an influential part of the growth of the sport in a number of key roles.
A native of Atlanta, Ga., Earwood grew up with the smell of race fuel and howling engines in his youth. His father, Charles (Charlie), was the Chief Steward for the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and other road racing series, overseeing the operation of the on-track events. He graduated from Briarcliff High School in Atlanta, Ga. In 1966, he entered West Georgia University in Carrolton, Ga, graduating in 1970.
After his college years, he was influenced by his brother Terry, who drove for legendary Plymouth Super Stock team owner Steve Bagwell, winning the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) US Nationals in Super Stock in 1973, among other NHRA events. But Earwood’s focus was not on the cars, rather the idea of telling people about racing, and getting them to buy tickets. The enterprising Earwood organized the Southern Pro Stock Circuit while in the early 70’s, after a stint as co-manager of Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway with brother Terry. His efforts did not go unnoticed, and he was tapped by the NHRA to oversee the public relations effort for the 1975 Gatornationals at Gainesville, one of the sport’s oldest and most important annual events.
Impressed by his efforts and results, the NHRA hired him to join the Publicity Department in 1975, and joined his now long-time friend and oft-time collaborator, Dave Densmore (winner of the 2015 Founder’s Award). For 10 years, the pair charted an ambitious and highly effective effort to build rapport with the major media outlets in the markets where the major NHRA National Events were being contested. Throughout those years, the pair steadily grew the media recognition of the sport, and for the first time, the press room, starting line and pits had local newspapers and television stations following the events.