Shannon Wilkerson didn’t mean to set social media on fire…or maybe he did. Either way, that’s exactly what happened after he announced The Come Up: Quarter Million Dollar Small Tire Invitational.
The race, taking place October 29-30 at Crossville Dragway in Tennessee, will feature both a massive count of 256 cars, and a whopping $250,000 payday to the winner. As the name suggests, this is an invitation-only race, which Wilkerson personally sent out to each driver. As word spread online, countless drivers proudly displayed their invitations for everyone to see, while others inquired when or if they might get one. Needless to say, with a quarter million up for grabs, the spots were snatched up quickly.
“In seven days of me promoting that I was doing a quarter million dollar race, we were locked in on 256 cars,” says Wilkerson. “I have 256 that have paid their pre-registration fees, and I have 60+ cars on a waiting list.”
Chris “Limpy” Collins and B.J. Da Flagman, two of the most well-known flaggers in street racing, will be on the flashlight. The field will be cut from 256 to 64 on Friday night, and a champion crowned on Saturday.
While The Come Up is garnering a lot of the attention, Wilkerson and his Grand Hustle Racing team have already made a name for themselves with their Civil War no prep series, and this year will be no different – Civil War 3 is scheduled for August 28 at Muncie Dragway in Albany, Indiana. The race pits 64 Small Tire cars against each other, with 32 entries from both the North and South respectively.
“CW1 came down to the finals, and you had our number one small tire racer taking on the baddest guy they could pull from the North. And the South won,” recalls Wilkerson. “In CW2, you had two North cars that came in, and they knocked the South completely out of the ballpark. Now we’re on top of CW3, and it’s the tiebreaker. A writer couldn’t write this story as beautifully as it’s been unfolding.”
While Wilkerson’s events have seen a recent explosion in popularity, the promoter is no stranger to the street racing game. Wilkerson began coordinating get-togethers with family and friends over 20 years ago, racing out in the country. But a life-changing experience readjusted his goals.
“The last time I actually sat in the driver’s seat, I got caught up in a wreck,” says Wilkerson. “It put me in a place where I had to think, ‘I got friends and family that are having fun doing this. There’s gotta be a better way.’ That’s where it transitioned to the race track. Just trying to figure out how we can use the security and safety of the track, but still have the idea of the street.”
Keeping that idea of the street required more than just putting on a typical no prep event. Wilkerson wanted his events to be as much about skill and handling a tricky surface as it was having the most money. The solution was running top-end races in the shutdown area of the track, where there is little to no rubber on the surface, thus truly making it the equalizer.
“The back end of the track is so tricky,” Wilkerson says. “You can pour your little puddle of glue, do your burnout, but past the 60-foot you’re back on virgin asphalt. It gives everybody an opportunity. Not saying within the next year, two years, it won’t equal out and become tree-end racing like everything else. But as of right now, it’s fresh and new, and it’s the hottest thing on the market.”
“Hottest thing on the market” may be an understatement. While the Civil War events have been very successful, the jump in payout from $20k to The Come Up’s $250k is staggering. It’s a bridge few, if any, no prep promoters have tried to cross. So why attempt it? For Wilkerson, it’s all about giving back to the drivers that have supported him since day one.
“I like to make people feel special,” says Wilkerson. “I race with guys every day – we work together, I see them at their regular jobs – and I wanted to do something for them to have just as much clout and recognition as these big-time names. I messaged, emailed, texted, or phone called every driver on this list. I was like, ‘Man, I wanna do something for y’all that y’all have not had the opportunity to do.’
“My idea was a $100,000 race, maybe up the car count,” Wilkerson continues. “Well, I told a couple of people, the cat got out of the bag, and I seen five $100,000 races pop up. I don’t like piggybacking. I don’t like doing what others do. I made a few phone calls to guys that have supported me and said, ‘What do y’all think about getting everybody that’s ever been to a Grand Hustle race?’ And at the end of the day, I was like, ‘You know what? I ain’t got nothing to lose, let’s just do it.’ So I put it out there that we were gonna do a quarter million dollar race.”
Although Wilkerson is ultimately the man in charge, by no means does he operate Grand Hustle Racing by himself. He’s got a large team helping him – but perhaps not the team one might expect.
“Scooby Watson is my teammate and brother. We started this together and we are gonna see it through. He’s been there since day one, so everyone sees us as the wonder twins.”
“The whole Grand Hustle crew is family,” Wilkerson says. “My aunt takes care of all the money. I have another aunt that’s over our merchandise, and makes all the calls when I’m not there. Security is my two brothers and two of my uncles. The gate personnel is my daughter and my cousins. I have 5-6 people that I went to high school with, and they’re out there helping us. We’re a family, that’s what it boils down to.”
The family aspect is something that Wilkerson strives to bring to everyone, not just his own relatives. It’s an integral part of Grand Hustle’s success that everyone, no matter how big or small, be valued and treated with respect.
“I see all these people that are super excited about this race, and the biggest thing to me is to show people what they’re worth,” says Wilkerson. “The photographers, videographers, drivers, crews – they work their butts off to get these cars to the track. I have some stress, but I feel they have a whole lot more in this than I do. I’m talking on a cell phone, pushing buttons, texting; they’re turning wrenches, going to their job, playing daddy and mommy. They’re letting kids get in their cars and take pictures. Just to make them feel special in any kind of way, that’s what I got to do as a promoter, as a good person, as a friend. We don’t want the guys coming to the track by themselves. We don’t want the ladies that race or enjoy racing to come by themselves. We want to grab the whole family, have them come out, and enjoy a great event.”