GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Scotty Cannon is one of the most colorful and successful drivers ever to race in the International Hot Rod Association.
The six-time IHRA Pro Modified champion, famous for his mohawk haircut and fast machines, is the first driver to be announced as a 2021 inductee into the IHRA Hall of Fame. The South Carolina driver, who began his career in 1979, scored his first Pro Mod win at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway at the 1991 Spring Nationals.
He went on to set records with 28 victories and 45 final-round appearances. He received a tremendous honor in 1999 when the readers of Drag Review magazine voted Cannon — the IHRA Professional Racer of the Year. In February, he was inducted in the latest class of the North Carolina Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
He also captured two IHRA Top Fuel victories, and finished third in the 2007 points standings. However, his favorite IHRA moment came in 1989, a year before he turned pro.
“I remember at Gateway (World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill.), winning the Quick 8 shootout on Saturday night, and then I won the bracket race for Top Sportsman on Sunday,” Cannon said. “To do that on the same weekend, that sticks out.”
Cannon took a foray into NHRA Funny Car competition, but returned to the IHRA Pro Mod ranks in 2004. Racing a variety of cars, a couple stand out as his most favorite designs.
“I’d say it was the 1941 Willys (Top Sportsman),” Cannon said. “The most outrageous car I ever had was when I took a Funny Car body cut it up. It was a Lumina, and I made a doorslammer out of it. I cut the front end off, took the whole car body, doors off of it and changed it up. The rules said you couldn’t run a Funny Car body, a one-piece, flip up body. That was one of the best driving cars I ever owned, but they outlawed it and I wasn’t able to run it anymore.”
He turned over the Pro Mod cockpit to his son Scott Cannon Jr. in 2005. The younger Cannon captured the 2007 IHRA World Championship with his father serving as crew chief.
In 2010, Cannon was named by Competition Plus magazine as the top Pro Modified driver of all-time. Cannon won four straight IHRA Pro Mod titles from 1991-94 and his fifth came in 1996. But, three of the next four championships went to Alabama racer Shannon Jenkins in what became a legendary rivalry.
“Shannon was absolutely my biggest rival and before him, you had Freddy Hahn who was always a threat,” Cannon said. “Once Shannon got a grip on it, he was one of the Fulton guys and all those guys were tough. Brad Jeter and Blake Wiggins were tough, but Shannon was the No. 1 contender.”
Cannon truly embodied the words international racer, rocketing down drag strips all over the globe. He has raced in Sweden and Australia, taking his 1953 Studebaker to the Land Down Under to the win the USA versus Australia Shootout.
Off the track, he fondly remembers doing television spots with legendary champions “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and Shirley Muldowney.
It was a far cry from when he first started at his hometown Greer (S.C.) Dragway. Cannon started with a Pontiac Trans-Am which he put racing slicks on, and later built a Firebird to bracket race. When IHRA came to Greer for a points race, he entered the Hot Rod class and was hooked.
While he doesn’t race at Greer anymore, he will go to the track sometimes and catch up with friends and family.
“I usually go up there to see my friends on Thursdays, which are cruise nights,” Cannon said. “My brother has a car he runs, a 275 street car. I will go with him and it runs in the fives. I will tune on it with him to keep ourselves busy.”