Chuck Nelson, a vanguard of NHRA’s Technical Department for more than half a century, died Oct. 30. He was 75.
Until his retirement earlier this year, Nelson, a 2009 honoree at the Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion presented by AAA, was NHRA’s South Central Division tech director since the position was created. Nelson’s dedicated career began at the NHRA Nationals in Oklahoma City in 1958. Nelson was a college student, racing part time in Stockers at local events, when he began working with Ed Davis, NHRA’s first tech director, before being named by Davis as a technical adviser in the Fort Worth, Texas, area.
Nelson had gained a reputation with racers at Southwest tracks as a wonderful conduit to NHRA, helping them interpret and understand the rules, and when Davis left NHRA shortly before the 1960 Nationals in Detroit, Nelson was selected by NHRA founder Wally Parks to be just one of nine attendees at the first official NHRA rules meeting in 1959. Nelson was appointed, along with Darrell Zimmerman and Bill “Farmer” Dismuke, to the event’s technical committee.
Chuck Nelson, second from left, and the Division 4 Certification Team, from left, Bill Carlisle, Division Director Dale Ham, Red Anderson, and Lindy Vencill (1970)
“I was very honored to be invited to attend that meeting,” Nelson said in a 2006 interview. “Of course, we had no idea the sport would still be around all these years later. We knew there was a tremendous interest in the sport, and we were just looking to get our arms around it and get it organized.”
Dismuke moved to California to become NHRA’s national tech director, but because Nelson wanted to continue to pursue his college education, he stayed in Texas. When NHRA created its divisional structure later that year and Dale Ham was named the first Division 4 director, Nelson was the natural choice to fill the role of division tech director.
“Chuck was like a father, brother and best friend all in one,” said Craig Hutchinson, the Division 4 Director from 1988-2011. "I can’t even tell you how much he will be missed. Chuck Nelson dedicated his life to the sport of NHRA drag racing and even when his health was in decline he would find a way to be at the races. For over 50 years Chuck has been overseeing the South Central Division tech, and was instrumental in shaping the sport of NHRA Drag Racing. While I was the division director Chuck was a great partner in running the events; we always used to joke about me running the race and leave tech to him. He was always the consummate professional.”
Nelson stepped down from his post in February but continued to assist current Division Tech Director Jim Anderson.