Born in May 1934, Shirl Greer whose father was a test driver for Henry Ford on the first auto assembly line, developed an early interest in automobiles. As a Tech Sgt. he served the Air Force during the Korean Conflict as an instrument man on P-51. During that time in 1951, he built his first race car, a flathead powered 1939 Ford coupe. Competing with this car gave Shirl the opportunity to further develop his skills both as a mechanic and as a driver.
In a career that spanned from 1950 to 1990. His first appearance in the winner’s circle, at a national event, came while he was competing in the NHRA/NASCAR Speedweek event in Daytona Beach, Florida, in a modified Oldsmobile powered 1932 Ford coupe. After winning his class every night of this event, Shirl was ready to take on bigger and faster competition. In 1960 he drove into the winner’s circle in two different classes at the NHRA/NASCAR Winternationals held in Daytona Beach, Florida. His first win was in a 1940 Willy’s coupe and the other was in a Cadillac powered AA/Gas dragster. He later replaced the 1932 with a 426 Plymouth Wedge powered 1962 Plymouth coupe called “Car 54”.
His next race car was a 426 hemi powered 1965 Dodge Coronet called “Tension”. Greer made the first ever pass down Bristol’s famed “Thunder Valley Dragway” and took home the honors in Top Stock at the track, and he was the first ever Division 2 Top Stock winner. In 1966 the car was radically modified and switch to fuel injection and nitro; it was a forerunner of today’s funny car class. The car was unique in that it was the first non-dragster type car to feature a center steer configuration. The car took Greer to the winner’s circle in the first AHRA Funny Car Championship in Detroit, Michigan, in 1966. Followed by win at the NHRA Spring Nationals in Bristol, Tennessee in 1967. Shirl then switch to a flip top style 1968 Barracuda which was loaned to him by fellow racer “Bunky” Bobo. Greer then obtained a former Ramchargers funny car and built a 1969 Dodge Charger, also named “Tension”; he campaigned that car for several years.
In 1972 Shirl switched over to a blown/injected fuel burning nitro hemi powered Mach 1 Mustang bodied AA/Fuel funny car called “Chain Lightning”. During qualifying, while competing at the 1974 NHRA World Finals in Ontario, California, Shirl suffered a catastrophic explosion and fire that sent him to the hospital with severe burns. Against doctor’s orders, Shirl signed himself out of the hospital the next day and found that while he was in the hospital several of his friends and competitors had rebuilt and repaired the Mustang. Greer won his first round of elimination over Leroy Chadderton giving him just enough points to edge out Paul Smith and Don “The Snake” Prudhomme to become the first ever NHRA points based Funny Car World Champion.
After his shop was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1980, Shirl gave up his role as owner/ builder/driver and took over the driving chores for several owners including: Larry Coogle’s AA/Fuel funny car, Frank Oglesby’s AA/Fuel funny car, Dusty Rhodes’s AA/Fuel funny car, Bissell & Parnell’s AA/Fuel funny car, and Carl Fumereelle’s injected and blown Hemi Chevy powered Batten B-4 Project AA/Fuel funny car.
Shirl also made many contributions to the sport including his unique first-time-center-steer configuration and development of the double wall header design with Doug Thorley to name a couple. Shirl was the only independent, unsponsored, owner/builder/crew chief/driver in the nitro burning AA/funny car class. To top that off, he was very successful competitor in all of his cars.